The first chapter of the sixth edition of Principles of Biomedical Ethics is a discussion of what the authors call moral norms. The following topics drew the interest of the LIBERTARIAN BIOETHICS BLOGger: common morality and choosing between conflicting moral norms. I will limit my comments to these two topics, for the remainder of the chapter is merely a summary of medical ethics.
The common morality is defined by the authors as "the set of norms shared by all person committed to morality." The authors describe the common morality as universal, normative, nonnormative, historical, and nonrelative. Hence, Beauchamp and Childress assert that their common morality theory is all things to all people. Objection #1 is the idea that a universal common morality somehow does not apply to persons not committed to morality. I strongly argue that a universal common morality must apply to each person regardless of each person's commitment to morality. Otherwise, the common morality does not apply to Stalin or Hitler or Lincoln. Objection #2 is the idea that the common morality consists of "norms about right and wrong human conduct that are so widely shared that they form a stable (although incomplete) social agreement." This sounds suspiciously like a common morality social contract theory, which is a major problem because plumbline libertarianism rejects the absurdly erroneous social contract theory. In addition, the authors implicitly endorse an appeal to authority (the "widely shared" concept), which is an obvious error of rational thinking. Objection #3 is the complete avoidance of the objective principle that actually underlies the common morality: self-ownership.
I close by commenting on the discussion by the authors regarding choosing between conflicting moral norms. Beauchamp and Childress provide 6 conditions that "must be met to justify infringing one prima facie norm to adhere to another." Objection #1 is that the authors object, in principle, to absolute norm(s). Yet, self-ownership is an absolute norm that underlies the common morality. This rejection of any absolute norm is the reason the authors's theory is so damn complicated, for non-absolute norms are perpetually in conflict. Objection #2 is that the six conditions can be interpreted subjectively. For example, one condition states that the "moral objective justifying the infringement has a realistic prospect of achievement." Because the word realistic cannot be objectively defined this particular condition is not helpful to resolve conflict in a non-arbitrary manner. Objection #3 is the fact that the six conditions remind this libertarian reader of nearly all anti-liberty arguments. Non-libertarians commonly profess support for liberty except in certain conditions or but not in certain conditions or only if certain conditions are applicable. Remedial Right Only theories of secession fall into this category, which is a category plumbline libertarians loathe.
LIBERTARIAN BIOETHICS BLOG
Don Stacy is a 43 yo libertarian writer and physician and bioethics graduate student. His articles have been published by multiple libertarian-themed websites. He practices medicine as a radiation oncologist in Louisville, KY and Jeffersonville, IN.