Theology and Philosophy

Xavier Symons - 16 September

A Defence of Communitarian Appeals to Culture


In the early 2000s several prominent bioethicists wrote extensively about the relevance of the communitarian-liberal debate to the field of bioethics. Discussion of this topic has since waned, in part due to a perception that the insights to be gained from the debate have been exhausted. In this paper, I wish to suggest that there are aspects to communitarian bioethics that are deserving of more attention; in particular, I believe we should give greater credence to the methodological insights latent in communitarian thought. In this paper I will argue that we should heed the ‘communitarian imperative’ to consider how our individual bioethical policies affect the moral culture and shared social values of a community. My claim is, specifically, that we have good reason to always consider the effects of our biomedical policy on the shared values implicit in local social praxis. To support this claim, I will describe how consideration of the ‘moral culture’ of a society can guide us in our evaluation of two specific bioethical issues: the commercial sale of human organs, and, more controversially, sex-selective abortion. I will argue that consideration of the moral standards of society in both cases provides us with valuable insights into the potentially negative effects of liberalising our bioethics policy.


Xavier Symons is a higher degree research student at Australian Catholic University.