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February 12, 1992

Bioethics and Secular Humanism: The Search for a Common Morality

Author Affiliations

University of Arizona College of Medicine Tucson

JAMA. 1992;267(6):870. doi:10.1001/jama.1992.03480060116046

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In their book The Abuse of Casuistry, Jonsen and Toulmin describe how the members of the President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research were able to agree on moral actions, although they were not able to agree on the ethical reasoning behind their decisions. These representatives of society's moral spectrum exemplified the premise of Tristram Engelhardt's new book, that secular humanism is the route through which individuals with differing values, "moral strangers" in his terms, can peaceably come together to agree on a common path for a pluralistic, postmodern society. What makes our society postmodern is that it is governed by "neither the institutions of religious totality that marked the Middle Ages nor the convictions of rational totality that marked the modern age."

Engelhardt, an "unreconstructed Texan," set for himself a daunting task, to find or develop a rational basis for ordering