Commentary on Macer

- Masahiro Morioka

International Research Center for Japanese Studies
3-2 Oeyama-cho, Goryo, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto 610-11, JAPAN

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 5 (1995), 146.
Darryl Macer divides the concept of bioethics into two categories, descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive bioethics shows us how people view life, and prescriptive bioethics tells us how we should act toward life. Macer argues that descriptive bioethics can offer us rich data for creating universal prescriptive bioethics. However we should note that it is logically impossible to draw prescriptive bioethics directly out of descriptive bioethics, in other words, "value" out of "facts."

Secondly, I think it is misleading to use the word "descriptive bioethics" for original data acquired through anthropological or sociological studies or the International Bioethics Survey etc.. Instead we should call these data simply "data concerning people's views and attitudes toward life," and distinguish these descriptive data from prescriptive ethics. We don't have to have two bioethics.

A third problem is that if we want to make prescriptive bioethics we don't know the sound way of using observational data when creating international prescriptive bioethics (I prefer the word "international" to "universal"). For example, in every country people love "violence", "vice", and "celebrity." How should we treat these "vicious" reality of our human nature? When creating prescriptive bioethics, if we refuse some "descriptive data" as "vicious" ones, this means that we imported another value standard from somewhere outside the data. This may be criticized as arbitrary reasoning.

I agree with Macer that collecting original data is important in international bioethics, but we must resolve lots of difficult conceptual problems in how we use observations of behaviour, and "data" in bioethics.

Go to commentary by Leavitt
Go back to EJAIB November 1995
Go back to EJAIB
The Eubios Ethics Institute is on the world wide web of Internet: