A. Iltis, Ph.D. in Philosophy, Professor
Wake Forest University, Department of Philosophy, Center for Bioethics,
Health & Society, Winston-Salem (USA)
For Aristotle, ethics and politics are inseparable. The polis is essential to fostering the good life and exists for a moral purpose. Contemporary bioethics in the west reflects an account of the state that, like Aristotle’s state, has a substantial role to play in enforcing an account of the good life. Bioethics in the west has its origins largely in the political setting and remains politically oriented. Efforts to describe a common morality that transcends particular religious commitments dominate much of the bioethics literature and the work of public bioethics. Such efforts have failed, and the result is a politically active bioethics that seeks to use the authority of the state to enforce a particular account of the good life. This account of the good life rejects and undermines many religious commitments, despite claiming to be universal and neutral. This happens both at the national level and at the international level through various organizations such as the United Nations. In the west we inherited a view from Aristotle that the politics and ethics are intimately connected and that the state should foster the good life. This view of the state has been applied inappropriately in light of the fact that the contemporary state has little in common with Aristotle’s polis. We should be cautious of contemporary bioethics’ efforts to promulgate a common morality through the secular state.
Keywords: Aristotle, bioethics, common morality, ethics, polis, politics