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A critical appraisal of Engelhardt on the "enlightenment project"

Laurence McCullough

pp. 3-12

This chapter provides a critical appraisal of Engelhardt's conception of "the Enlightenment project" as a quest for certainty in bioethics. The chapter begins with an elaboration of the elements of this conception and its purported sole alternative in morality, nihilism. The critical appraisal begins with an account of a competitor Enlightenment project. There was no single Enlightenment, as Engelhardt apparently assumes, but multiple national Enlightenments. This is both historically and philosophically important; the Scottish and English Enlightenments, it turns out, provide an alternative Enlightenment project, in which reason does not play the dominant role. The result is, not a quest for certainty in morality, but a quest for reliability. There is, historically and philosophically, a third alternative to the quest for certainty in bioethics; namely, the quest for reliability in bioethics. The chapter then shows how, in a very important sense, Engelhardt's bioethics can be read as itself very much an Enlightenment project. The Foundations, it turns out, are deeply in philosophical debt, methodologically, to the German Enlightenment and its conception of Reason. The chapter closes with an account of the attraction of a bioethics of reliability for the ethics of the health care professions and for health policy.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-18965-9_1

Full citation:

McCullough, L. (2015)., A critical appraisal of Engelhardt on the "enlightenment project", in L. M. Rasmussen, A. S. Iltis & M. J. . Cherry (eds.), At the foundations of bioethics and biopolitics, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 3-12.

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