A critique of principlism

J Med Philos. 1990 Apr;15(2):219-36. doi: 10.1093/jmp/15.2.219.


The authors use the term "principlism" to refer to the practice of using "principles" to replace both moral theory and particular moral rules and ideals in dealing with the moral problems that arise in medical practice. The authors argue that these "principles" do not function as claimed, and that their use is misleading both practically and theoretically. The "principles" are in fact not guides to action, but rather they are merely names for a collection of sometimes superficially related matters for consideration when dealing with a moral problem. The "principles" lack any systematic relationship to each other, and they often conflict with each other. These conflicts are unresolvable, since there is no unified moral theory from which they are all derived. For comparison the authors sketch the advantages of using a unified moral theory.

MeSH terms

  • Beneficence
  • Bioethics*
  • Ethical Analysis*
  • Ethical Relativism
  • Ethicists
  • Health Policy / trends
  • Humans
  • Medical Laboratory Science / trends
  • Moral Obligations
  • Morals*
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Philosophy, Medical*
  • Principle-Based Ethics*
  • Research
  • Social Justice
  • United States