Moral Strangers, Proceduralism, and Moral Consensus

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This essay is meant to honor H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. and acknowledge the influence of his work in my wrestling with the philosophical, moral, and political predicament of Western culture. I recognize my debt to Tris in my intellectual development and in my scholarship, particularly in framing a proceduralist approach to ethics. That said, I also outline some points of divergence. While I am sympathetic with his diagnosis of the predicament of Western culture and its implications for bioethics, I raise some critical points concerning the notion of moral strangers and his approach to procedural ethics. First, I outline Tris’ diagnosis of the nature of secular morality in Western culture, which by default is procedural, and examine the concept of moral strangers. Second, I critically assess Tris’ proceduralism and argue that his framework does not take into account the possibility of overlapping frameworks between various moral communities. Hence, third, I argue for a weak form of proceduralism, which allows the establishment of moral discourse through a web of partial understandings of moral issues, in spite of moral disagreements. I conclude my essay by recognizing the significance of Tris’ criticism of mainstream bioethics and underscore the importance of his legacy for the future of the field.

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