Specified principlism: what is it, and does it really resolve cases better than casuistry?

J Med Philos. 2000 Jun;25(3):323-41. doi: 10.1076/0360-5310(200006)25:3;1-H;FT323.


Principlism has been advocated as an approach to resolving concrete cases and issues in bioethics, but critics have pointed out that a main problem for principlism is its lack of a method for assigning priorities to conflicting ethical principles. A version of principlism referred to as 'specified principlism' has been put forward in an attempt to overcome this problem. However, none of the advocates of specified principlism have attempted to demonstrate that the method actually works in resolving detailed clinical cases. This paper shows that when one tries to use it, specified principlism fails to provide practical assistance in deciding how to resolve concrete cases. Proponents of specified principlism have attempted to defend it by arguing that it is superior to casuistry, but it can be shown that their arguments are faulty. Because of these reasons, specified principlism should not be considered a leading contender in the search for methods of making justifiable decisions in clinical cases.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Multiple
  • Bioethics*
  • Decision Making
  • Esophageal Atresia
  • Ethics*
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Morals
  • Patient Care
  • Philosophy*
  • Philosophy, Medical
  • Treatment Refusal