For the Common Good: Philosophical Foundations of Research Ethics

ISBN : 9780197534830

Alex John London
480 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Mar 2022
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The foundations of research ethics are riven with fault lines emanating from a fear that if research is too closely connected to weighty social purposes an imperative to advance the common good through research will justify abrogating the rights and welfare of study participants. The result is an impoverished conception of the nature of research, an incomplete focus on actors who bear important moral responsibilities, and a system of ethics and oversight highly attuned to the dangers of research but largely silent about threats of ineffective, inefficient, and inequitable medical practices and health systems. In For the Common Good: Philosophical Foundations of Research Ethics, Alex John London defends a conception of the common good that grounds a moral imperative with two requirements. The first is to promote research that generates the information necessary to enable key social institutions to effectively, efficiently, and equitably safeguard the basic interests of individuals. The second is to ensure that research is organized as a voluntary scheme of social cooperation that respects its various contributors' moral claims to be treated as free and equal. Connecting research to the goals of a just social order grounds a framework for assessing and managing research risk that reconciles these requirements and justifies key oversight practices in non-paternalistic terms. Reconceiving research ethics as resolving coordination problems and providing credible assurance that these requirements are being met expands the issues and actors that fall within the purview of the field and provides the foundation for a more unified and coherent approach to domestic and international research. This is an open access title available under the terms of a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license. It is free to read at Oxford Scholarship Online and offered as a free PDF download from OUP and selected open access locations.


1. Introduction
2. Fear of the Common Good and the Neglect of Justice
3. The Anvil of Neglect and the Hammer of Exploitation
4. The Common Good & the Egalitarian Research Imperative
5. Two Dogmas of Research Ethics
6. The Integrative Approach to Assessing and Managing Risk
7. A Non-paternalistic Model of Research Ethics and Oversight
8. Avoiding Justice: Research at the Auction Block
9. The Human Development Approach

About the author: 

Alex John London is the Clara L. West Professor of Ethics and Philosophy and Director of the Center for Ethics and Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. An elected Fellow of the Hastings Center, Professor London's work addresses ethical and philosophical questions at the foundations of medicine, biotechnology and artificial intelligence. His more than 100 published papers or book chapters have appeared in Mind, The Philosopher's Imprint, Science, JAMA, The Lancet, The BMJ, PLoS Medicine, Statistics In Medicine, The Hastings Center Report, and numerous other journals and collections. He has served as an ethics expert in consultations with numerous national and international organizations including the World Health Organization, the World Medical Association, the World Bank, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. National Academy of Medicine. He is also co-editor of Ethical Issues in Modern Medicine, one of the most widely used textbooks in medical ethics.

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