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Publisher: Wipf and Stock

H. Tristram Engelhardt, JR.


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Bioethics and Secular Humanism - The Search for a Common Morality

Bioethics is vitally important in our day because it represents the critical expression of interest in the proper use of medical science to provide health care. Secular humanism is important because it is a central factor in constructing a common morality that does not make special to such things as religious assumptions.

The argument of this book, therefore, will be of profound interest to all who are concerned for the well-being of humanity in today's world.

Imagine, the author says, Roman Catholics and committed atheists disputing over proper abortion policies. Imagine individuals who wish to organize a for-profit surrogate mother service, confronting individuals who view such endeavors as exploitation of women. To what moral premise to they appeal? Are power and influence the deciding factors, or is it possible to establish certain principles to which all may appeal?

To answer, Professor Engelhardt examines the various meanings of secularity and humanism, clearly showing how complex they are. Alongside this he demonstrates the diversity of bioethics and the problems of laying a foundation for it. Based on these considerations, he identifies which ways forward are the most promising.

The urgency of the task is clear. New Biomedical possibilities are surfacing at the very time that demands to contain healthcare costs pose difficult ethical problems.


"Englehardt at his best- and that's outstanding. In the current debate about the role of religion and reason in bioethics, Engelhardt’s examination of the possibilities and limitations of secular humanism in bioethics is important. While stressing the limitations of secular humanism as a content-full position, he defends it as a 'content-less perspective for peaceable negotiation among moral strangers.' His central thesis is compelling, and he argues for it in a provocative, imaginative and rigorous way. This profound book deserves a wide audience, and I recommend it with great enthusiasm." -James F. Childress, Professor of Religious Studies in the University of Virginia


"What may be the fundamental work in bioethics for our time. Instead of despairing over the moral fragmentation of the 'postmodern' condition, Englehardt argues persuasively for a common faith in the efficacy of a shared human rationality, which he characterizes as 'secular humanism,' giving his concept a surprising new reading. The book is essential reading not only for philosophers, theologians, physicians, and other health care providers, and policy makers, but for all of us who are concerned with the human response to human suffering, illness, and need." -Marx W. Wartofsky, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York

H. Tristram Englehardt, Jr., is Professor in the Department of Philosophy, Rice University, and Professor Emeritus, Departments of Medicine and Community Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.