Methodological Pragmatism in Bioethics: A Modest Proposal?

  • Bart Gremmen
Part of the The International Library of Environmental, Agricultural and Food Ethics book series (LEAF, volume 3)


Modesty is a virtue that is hard to find in philosophy. When a philosopher describes his own proposal as “modest”, this immediately arouses my suspicion. Only other people can judge if your proposal (or something else) is modest or not. In most cases an author has his reasons for claiming this, and is trying to influence the reader in a certain direction. Andrew Light’s proposal can be said to be modest in the sense that he does not want to put the kind of pragmatic reforms in applied ethics under the fully unfurled banner of “Pragmatism”. This may be explained by the fact that pragmatism is something of a problem child: some, rather negative, connotations are evoked when arguments are tied to the tradition of pragmatism in a debate. However, Light’s general claim is not modest at all: good bioethics is necessarily pragmatic. In this way the pragmatists are becoming not just one more group in bioethics next to consequentialists, deontologists, and principalists, but pragmatism becomes a feature of all schools in bioethics. I disagree with both of Light’s claims.


Virtue Ethic Environmental Ethic Moral Intuition Ethical Perspective Applied Ethic 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2002

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  • Bart Gremmen

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