Philosophical Imperialism? A Critical View of North American Principlist Bioethics

  • Carolina Pereira-SáezEmail author
Part of the International Library of Ethics, Law, and the New Medicine book series (LIME, volume 70)


Principlism, the account of Bioethics proposed by Tom Beauchamp and James Childress in their work Principles of Biomedical Ethics, is presented by the authors as a guide to the practice of biomedical Ethics resulting from the determination of four basic moral principles that are part of the common morality, understood, in its turn, as a set of universally shared moral beliefs. In spite of the appeal of the proposal, some objections can be made. This paper seeks to introduce the following question: what authority does the common morality confer to Principlism? Because, if Principlism does not pretend the background of the authority of the common morality, in what way does Principlism contribute to Bioethics?


Prima Facie Moral Belief Moral Norm Moral Intuition Biomedical Ethic 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Beauchamp, T., and J. Childress. 2009. Principles of biomedical ethics, 6th ed. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Beauchamp, T., and J. Childress. 2013. Principles of biomedical ethics, 7th ed. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Campbell, A. 2003. The virtues (and vices) of the four principles. Journal of Medical Ethics 29: 292–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Childress, J. 1994. Principles-oriented bioethics. An analysis and assessment from within. In A matter of principles? Ferment in U.S. bioethics, ed. E. Dubose, R. Hamel, and L. O’Connell. Peabody: Trinity Press International.Google Scholar
  5. Childress, J. 1997. Practical reasoning in bioethics. Blooming/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Clouser, D. 1995. Common morality as an alternative to Principlism. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 5(3): 219–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clouser, D., and B. Gert. 1990. A critique of Principlism. The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 15: 219–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dawson, A., and E. Garrard. 2006. In defence of moral imperialism: Four equal and universal prima facie principles. Journal of Medical Ethics 32: 200–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. DeGrazia, D. 2003. Common morality, coherence, and the principles of biomedical ethics. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 13: 219–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dubose, E., R. Hamel, and L. O’Connell (eds.). 1994. A matter of principles? Ferment in U.S. bioethics. Peabody: Trinity Press International.Google Scholar
  11. Erin, C. 2003. Who needs the four principles? In Scratching the surface of bioethics, ed. T. Takala and M. Häyry, 79–89. Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
  12. Finnis, J. 1983. Fundamentals of ethics. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Finnis, J., J. Boyle, and G. Grisez. 1987. Practical principles, moral truth and ultimate ends. The American Journal of Jurisprudence 32: 99–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fisher, A. 2010. Rethinking Principlism: Is bioethics an American plot? Bioethics Outlook 21(2): 1–12.Google Scholar
  15. Gillon, R. 2003. First among equals. Journal of Medical Ethics 29: 307–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Häyry, M. 2003. European values in bioethics: Why, what and how to be used? Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 24: 199–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Herissone-Kelly, P. 2003. The principlist approach to bioethics, and its stormy journey overseas. In Scratching the surface of bioethics, ed. M. Häyry and T. Takala, 65–78. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi.Google Scholar
  18. Herissone-Kelly, P. 2011. Determining the common morality’s norms in the sixth edition of principles of biomedical ethics. Journal of Medical Ethics 37: 584–587.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Holm, S. 1995. Not just autonomy. The principles of American biomedical ethics. Journal of Medical Ethics 21: 332–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Pereira-Sáez, C. 2007. La perspectiva del estudio del derecho en el pensamiento de Finnis: el punto de vista interno desde y frente a Hart. Archiv für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie 106: 130–138.Google Scholar
  21. Requena, P. 2008. Sobre la aplicabilidad del Principialismo Norteamericano. Cuadernos de Bioética XIX(1): 11–27.Google Scholar
  22. Takala, T. 2001. What is wrong with global bioethics? On the limitations of the four principles approach. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 10: 72–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universidade da CoruñaA CoruñaSpain

Personalised recommendations