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St Cross Special Ethics Seminar: Benjamin Gregg


How should members of a liberal democratic political community, open to value pluralism, decide bioethical issues that generate deep disagreement? Reasoned debate will not often generate an answer equally accepted to all participants and affected persons. One political means of reaching binding because authoritative decisions are majoritarian democratic institutions. Its core feature is proceduralism, the notion both that no rule is acceptable apart from a formal method, and that the acceptable method yields an acceptable rule; a rule is acceptable by virtue of being the outcome of an agreed-upon procedure. This approach is distinctly political and presupposes values such as legitimacy, order, stability, individual freedom, equality, and toleration of difference. Although not value neutral, it makes agreement and collective action possible in ways that bioethics oriented principally on pre-political ethical and moral values cannot. I demonstrate the usefulness of this approach with several examples.


Benjamin Gregg (B.A. Yale University, Ph.D. Princeton University Ph.D., D. Phil. Free University of Berlin) teaches political and social theory, informed by political science and sociology, at the University of Texas Austin but also in Germany, Japan, China, and Austria. Two of his books, Thick Moralities, Thin Politics (Duke 2003) and Coping in Politics with Indeterminate Norms (SUNY 2003), confront challenges of social justice in complex modern societies, especially in liberal democratic states. Another two books, Human Rights as Social Construction (Cambridge 2012) and The Human Rights State (Pennsylvania 2016), analyze problems and prospects for justice across national borders. He has also published over forty peer-reviewed articles. He is currently writing a book titled Human Nature as Cultural Design: The Political Challenges of Genetic Enhancement and has presented aspects of this project at invited lectures in the USA, Europe, Asia, and South America. He is currently pursuing this project as an academic visitor at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and at the Ethox Centre.