pp. 179-180 in Human Genome Research and Society
Proceedings of the Second International Bioethics Seminar in Fukui, 20-21 March, 1992.

Editors: Norio Fujiki, M.D. & Darryl R.J. Macer, Ph.D.


Copyright 1992, Eubios Ethics Institute All commercial rights reserved. The copyrights for the employees of the US Government, are subject to other copyright arrangements. This publication may be reproduced for limited educational or academic use, however please enquire with Eubios Ethics Institute.

Three sorts of ethics

Natuhiko Yosida,
Professor, Dept. of Philosophy, Ochanomizu University, JAPAN


The solution of any ethical problem usually presupposes the existence of one or several value systems.

In the case where one assumes there is only one right value system, it is not always easy to find the fundamental postulates of the value system. Even the adherents to the system usually have rather vague notions of these postulates. Only when they are forced to solve some concrete problems, for instance, they have to decide whether they should encourage the promoters of the Human Genome Research Project or not, they begin to try to get a precise and detailed formulation of the fundamental postulates of their value system.

Suppose they have succeeded in this task and have got a consistent and well organised set of postulates. Still it is not always easy to get the right answer to a given ethical problem starting from this set of postulates. As most mathematicians too well know, it can be a very difficult task to decide whether a given proposition is deducible from a neatly organised axiomatic system for a mathematical theory. It is often the case that many able mathematicians devote much time and labour to this kind of task and yet can not find the right answer.

It is sometimes said that this is the era of peaceful coexistence of many value systems and the assumption of only one right value system should be ended. This view makes the solution of ethical problems more difficult. Firstly, one must find precise formulations of plural sets of postulates for value systems instead of one single set. Secondly, one must make several valid deductions each of which starts from its own set of postulates. Thirdly, one must find a solution of the original ethical problem which is compatible with any of the results of the deductions.

It will be a great help to anyone who is tackling these difficult works to join this kind of conference, listen to the lectures or other participants, and to discuss with them. Some of the participants of this conference seemed to be firm believers of a single value system and rather optimistic on the possibility of finding valid deductions. On the other hand, there were other participants who seemed to respect the peaceful coexistence of different value systems and were trying to find solutions which are compatible with any of the systems. And still other people seemed to be of the opinion that ethical problems which face medical doctors and patients are so strongly tied with individual situations that one cannot solve them starting from any general principles. It will be a very difficult task to find solutions to the problems discussed at this conference which can satisfy these three groups simultaneously.

Now, Japanese people seem to have been rather tolerant towards the difference of religion. The only one great counter example is the persecution of Christians which took place in Japan several hundred years ago. But it should be added that Christians of those days were intolerant towards people of other convictions and Japanese Christians who joined this group of intolerant people of their own will. On the other hand, many Japanese seem not to respect freedom of speech. Some Japanese are very eager to maintain some discrimination based on birth, which still exists in present Japan in spite of the often mentioned egalitarian tendency of Japanese society. This kind of ambiguity towards pluralism might explain to some extent the above mentioned coexistence of three different attitudes towards the ethical problems at the conference. But there were also participants from abroad and they were not monolithic either. So, this ambiguity might be more or less prevalent over the whole world and be the main cause of the confusion related to the problems of bioethics in general and ethical problems linked with human genome research in particular. If so, it might be wise to try to get the real picture of this confusion for a while and not to be hasty to remove this confusion.


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