Abstract

This paper explores the problem of universalism and particularism in contemporary ethics, and its relationship to Christian bioethics in particular. An ethic of human dignity is outlined, which, it is argued, constrains moral discourse in the broad sense – thus meeting the demands of universalism – but which is at the same time amenable to a variety of particularist interpretations – thus acknowledging the current shift toward historicism, traditionalism, and culture. The particularist interpretations that are of central concern here are those provided by historic Christianity. The eventual goal is to indicate how a Christian conception of human dignity can have universal normative relevance both as a standard against which to assess competing particularist conceptions, and as a practical guide for everyday living. A Christian conception of dignity will in turn have significant implications when addressing contemporary issues in bioethics. These are ambitious goals, and a full explication of the ideas presented will not be possible in this context. Nevertheless, there is value in getting a bird's-eye view of the landscape before one goes about scaling the mountains and exploring the valleys. The present essay is intended as a general geography of the moral terrain in which an ethic of dignity in general, and a Christian perspective on dignity in particular, can provide normative guidance.

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