A method in search of a purpose: the internal morality of medicine

J Med Philos. 2001 Dec;26(6):643-62. doi: 10.1076/jmep.26.6.643.2997.


I begin this commentary with an expanded typology of theories that endorse an internal morality of medicine. I then subject these theories to a philosophical critique. I argue that the more robust claims for an internal morality fail to establish a stand-alone method for bioethics because they ignore crucial non-medical values, violate norms of justice and fail to establish the normativity of medical values. I then argue that weaker versions of internalism avoid such problems, but at the cost of failing to provide a clear sense in which their moral norms are internal or can ground a comprehensive approach to moral problems. Finally, I explore various functions that an internal morality might serve, concluding with the observation that, while there may be a core of good sense to the notion of an internal morality of medicine, our expectations for it must be drastically lowered.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Morals*
  • Philosophy, Medical*
  • Physician's Role*
  • Professional Practice
  • Social Responsibility
  • Social Values*