Volume 6 · Number 3 · Pages 370–380
The Bioethical Dimension of Maturana’s Thought

Rossella Mascolo

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Context: Introduced in 1970, bioethics is now more and more commonly used since it applies to a variety of concepts belonging to traditional Western thought. Just like other dualisms that are typical of traditional Western thought (e.g., mind/body, subject/object, philosophy/science), bioethics is developing in areas that are mostly isolated from each other, with each argument restricted to its specific space, without affecting the general concept of bioethics. It is also characterized by the dualism ought/being. Purpose: I maintain that the definition of a relevant moral criterion should include the whole scope of thinking and the whole adopted perspective. Consequently, the current conception of bioethics should be changed. Such an alternative view objects to the fragmentation of knowledge. In this way, specifically in bioethics, our way of living and life itself acquire an ethical dimension. Maturana’s theory is expected to be a useful instrument for dealing with the difficulties that the concept of “bioethics” brings. Method: First, traditional bioethics and its way of dealing with some of its typical problems are discussed. Then, Maturana’s epistemology, including his emphasis on the observer, his biology of cognition located in “languaging,” and his ethics of love are described. Its features, such as trust and respect, will be highlighted, taking into account his modality of speaking as a biologist, exposed to the risk of “naturalistic fallacy” but dispelling it thanks to – I argue – the radical difference between Maturana’s theory and the traditional Western epistemology. Results: Maturana’s definition of ethics leads to the conclusion that the whole of living is ethics, the whole of life is ethics, and there is no separation existing between the “ought” and the “being.” Bioethics, and also ethics, dissolve themselves in the circularity of the living, which operates in the living-acting of each human being in the systemic texture they belong to and which they contribute to creating in an open-ended process of “languaging.”

Key words: bioethics, ethics, post-Cartesian theory of knowledge, love, facts/values, ought/being, naturalistic fallacy, autopoiesis, traditional Western thought, observer


Mascolo R. (2011) The bioethical dimension of Maturana’s thought. Constructivist Foundations 6(3): 370–380. http://constructivist.info/6/3/370

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