Critical bioethics: beyond the social science critique of applied ethics

Bioethics. 2004 Apr;18(2):120-143. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2004.00385.x.


This article attempts to show a way in which social science research can contribute in a meaningful and equitable way to philosophical bioethics. It builds on the social science critique of bioethics present in the work of authors such as Renee Fox, Barry Hoffmaster and Charles Bosk, proposing the characteristics of a critical bioethics that would take social science seriously. The social science critique claims that traditional philosophical bioethics gives a dominant role to idealised, rational thought, and tends to exclude social and cultural factors, relegating them to the status of irrelevancies. Another problem is they way in which bioethics assumes social reality divides down the same lines/categories as philosophical theories. Critical bioethics requires bioethicists to root their enquiries in empirical research, to challenge theories using evidence, to be reflexive and to be sceptical about the claims of other bioethicists, scientists and clinicians. The aim is to produce a rigorous normative analysis of lived moral experience.

MeSH terms

  • Bioethics*
  • Empirical Research*
  • Ethical Theory*
  • Interdisciplinary Communication*
  • Methods
  • Philosophy
  • Social Sciences*