Managing ethical uncertainty: implicit normativity and the sociology of ethics

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Abstract

This paper illustrates and discusses the idea of ‘implicit normativity’, and specifically its relevance to the management of ethical uncertainty. In particular I consider (i) the role implicit normativity plays in masking and containing potential ethical uncertainty and (ii) the contrast and boundary between implicit normativity and ‘overt ethics’ where ethical contestation – as well as particular processes and agents - are highlighted as salient. Using examples I show how the idea of implicit normativity can be applied not only to specific practices but also to whole fields of practice. The notion of ‘moral settlements’ – along with the explanatory role of the threat of ‘chaos’ - is introduced and elucidated to develop these points. I argue that attention to the management of ethical uncertainty shows the critically important contribution that an ambitious sociology of ethics can make to clinical ethics, including by helping to formulate and drive home questions about the ‘ethics of ethics’. The account presented here has resonances with work that seeks to use sociological lenses to move beyond conventional bioethics, including Petersen’s (2013) call for a ‘normative sociology’.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 30 Aug 2019

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