The Theory of Common Morality of Bernard Gert
Tom L. Beauchamp and James F. Childress have been increasingly using a moral theory known as “Theory of Common Morality” as a philosophical basis for their four principle approach to biomedical ethics, currently known as principlism. In the latest edition (2013) of their Principles of Biomedical Ethics, they acknowledge the contribution of some previous theorists of common morality. Bernard Gert, a critic of principlism, is one of them. The aim of this paper is to provide a critical analysis of Gert’s Theory of Common Morality, as developed in his book Common Morality. Deciding What to Do (2004). According to Gert, common morality is a moral system that everyone uses implicitly when making decisions and judgments. This system consists, basically, of moral rules, moral ideals and a two-step procedure used intuitively by every person to decide whether a given violation of a rule or ideal is legitimate. There are ten moral rules, which can be collapsed into two basic ones, Do not cause harm (Do not kill; Do not cause pain; Do not disable; Do not deprive of freedom; Do not deprive of pleasure), and Do not violate the trust (Do not deceive; Keep your promises; Do not cheat; Obey the law; Do your duty). Moral rules apply to moral agents, which are constituted by all humans able to fully understand the moral rules, as well as predict the consequences of their eventual violation. It is our understanding that, despite the highly intuitive appeal of Gert’s approach, as well as of Beauchamp and Childress’s, the Theory of Common Morality has some fundamental flaws which are discussed in the article.
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