Bioethics and the Moral Authority of Experience

Am J Bioeth. 2023 Jan;23(1):12-24. doi: 10.1080/15265161.2022.2127968. Epub 2022 Oct 11.


While experience often affords important knowledge and insight that is difficult to garner through observation or testimony alone, it also has the potential to generate conflicts of interest and unrepresentative perspectives. We call this tension the paradox of experience. In this paper, we first outline appeals to experience made in debates about access to unproven medical products and disability bioethics, as examples of how experience claims arise in bioethics and some of the challenges raised by these claims. We then motivate the idea that experience can be an asset by appealing to themes in feminist and moral epistemology, distinguishing between epistemic and justice-based appeals. Next, we explain the concern that experience may be a liability by appealing to empirical work on cognitive biases and theoretical work about the problem of partial representation. We conclude with preliminary recommendations for addressing the paradox and offer several questions for future discussion.

Keywords: Conflict of interest; Philosophy; and rehabilitation; chronic conditions; disability; feminist ethics; narrative ethics; research ethics.

MeSH terms

  • Bioethics*
  • Feminism
  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Social Justice