Bioethics is best viewed as both a second-order discipline and also part of public discourse. Since their goals differ, some bioethical activities are more usefully viewed as advancing public discourse than academic disciplines. For example, the “Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights” sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization seeks to promote ethical guidance on bioethical issues. From the vantage of philosophical ethics, it fails to rank or specify its stated principles, justify controversial principles, clarify key terms, or say what is meant by calling potentially conflicting norms “foundational.” From the vantage of improving the public discourse about bioethical problems and seeking ethical solutions in the public arena, however, this document may have an important role. The goals and relations between bioethics as a second-order discipline and public discourse are explored.

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