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date: 15 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

The professional field of bioethics arose in the late 20th century, but many of its substantive characteristics were anticipated, even guided, by pragmatism in general and John Dewey specifically. Bioethics speaks to conditions of wellness and affliction, and these conditions occur within human experience and differ for each human being. Dewey’s moral philosophy is grounded on contextual experience—or “soft” particularism—in order to develop and identify ethical norms. This is brought into stark relief when he discusses healthcare and the practice of physicians, where Dewey implores us to remember that “health” is not a concept to be understood abstractly but must be seen within the context of living individuals. Physicians, in turn, are reminded that their own practices must not focus narrowly on basic science and simple mechanics, but must be “artistic,” using those sciences “to furnish . . . tools of inquiry into the individual case.”

Keywords: bioethics, “soft” particularism, living individual, John Dewey, wellness, affliction, healthcare

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