The overall aim of this thesis is to show how some ideas in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics can be interpreted and used as a productive way to approach a number of pressing issues in bioethics. Articles I-II introduce, and endorse, a social constructivist perspective on rights (as opposed to the more traditional natural rights idea). It is investigated if the existence of property-like rights to biological material would include the moral right to commodification and even commercialisation. Articles III-V discuss similar questions and more specifically champion the application of an Aristotelian virtue ethics perspective. The articles are preceded by an introductory essay on some of the central themes in the Nicomachean Ethics. This section also includes a very brief account of what the connection between virtue ethics and a theory of social construction, including rights, could look like. The thesis seeks to show that if read somewhat creatively many of the ideas in the Nicomachean Ethics make for a highly useful approach to modern moral problems. It should be noted, however, that this thesis in no way claims to be an exegetic, or a complete, study of the Nicomachean Ethics.
Article I deals with ownership of biological material from a philosophical, as opposed to a legal, perspective. It is argued that a strand in liberal political theory that treats property relations as socially constructed bundles of rights, as developed by e.g. Felix Cohen and Tony Honoré, is well suited for discussions on ownership of biological material.
Article II investigates which differences in biological material might motivate differences in treatment and ownership rights. The article draws on the social constructivist theory of ownership which was developed in Article I.
Article III employs virtue ethics to explain why it is morally permissible to donate but not to sell organs such as kidneys. It is suggested that the former action will bring the agent closer to a state of human flourishing.
Article IV argues that virtues like philia, justice, beneficence and generosity — traditionally all seen as other-regarding — contain strong self-regarding aspects. The central claim is that these self-regarding aspects of the other-regarding virtues are necessary components of complete virtue and thus that the fully virtuous agent has to act virtuously both in her dealings with herself and others.
Article V applies the ideas that were developed in Article IV to the case of living organ donations to next of kin. It is proposed that such an act, although noble and fine, is supererogatory, rather than obligatory, as the donor is morally entitled to be partial to herself. This argument is made against the backdrop of a discussion on some Aristotelian ideas on philia and partiality.