Re-Reasoning Ethics

From Basic Bioethics

Re-Reasoning Ethics

The Rationality of Deliberation and Judgment in Ethics

By Barry Hoffmaster and Cliff Hooker

How developing a more expansive, non-formal conception of reason produces richer ethical understandings of human situations, explored and illustrated with many real examples.





How developing a more expansive, non-formal conception of reason produces richer ethical understandings of human situations, explored and illustrated with many real examples.

In Re-Reasoning Ethics, Barry Hoffmaster and Cliff Hooker enhance and empower ethics by adopting a non-formal paradigm of rational deliberation as intelligent problem-solving and a complementary non-formal paradigm of ethical deliberation as problem-solving design to promote human flourishing. The non-formal conception of reason produces broader and richer ethical understandings of human situations, not the simple, constrained depictions provided by moral theories and their logical applications in medical ethics and bioethics. Instead, it delivers and vindicates the moral judgment that complex, contextual, and dynamic situations require.

Hoffmaster and Hooker demonstrate how this more expansive rationality operates with examples, first in science and then in ethics. Non-formal reason brings rationality not just to the empirical world of science but also to the empirical realities of human lives. Among the many real cases they present is that of how women at risk of having children with genetic conditions decide whether to try to become pregnant. These women do not apply the formal principle of maximizing expected utility (as advised by genetic counselors) and instead imagine scenarios of what their lives could be like with an affected child and assess whether they could accept the worst of these scenarios.

Hoffmaster and Hooker explain how moral compromise and a liberated, extended, and enriched reflective equilibrium expand and augment rational ethical deliberation and how that deliberation can rationally design ethical practices, institutions, and policies.


$45.00 X ISBN: 9780262037693 320 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • Re-Reasoning Ethics is one of the most technical and detailed contemporary accounts of ethical naturalism within applied and empirical ethics. It will be useful for researchers doing applied ethics in general and medical ethics in particular, and especially so for those engaged in methodological research at the boundaries of ethics, philosophy, the sciences, and social sciences where interfaces exist between the descriptive and the normative. Although the book is ostensibly a work of moral philosophy, it may also be useful to scholars approaching ethics from the sciences and social sciences, rather than from philosophy.

    Alex McKeown

    Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford

  • The scholarship of this book is sound and the work is original. A little-appreciated feature of bioethics as a field is its long-standing focus on issues of method and justification for practical normative conclusions. This makes bioethics, as a field, at once concerned with the kind of practical ethics questions the authors highlight, and meta-ethical issues about the nature of reasons, deliberation, and justification. Re-Reasoning Ethics provides a refreshingly robust and thorough discussion at both levels of analysis, and contributes a new paradigm and voice to those critical of the 'applied ethics' approach: ethics as design for flourishing.

    Clair Morrissey

    Associate Professor of Philosophy, Occidental College

  • The standard framework of formal reasoning based on various principles constitutes an unrealistic, and, thus, uninformative, framework for reasoning and rationality. In Re-Reasoning Ethics, Hoffmaster and Hooker develop a model of nonformal reason, based on judgment, that provides an alternative notion of rationality. This model is developed and applied within philosophy of science and ethics, demonstrating its power and ability to capture genuine reason in human beings, and, thus, its superiority over standard formal models.

    Mark H. Bickhard

    Henry R. Luce Professor of Cognitive Robotics and the Philosophy of Knowledge, Lehigh University