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Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract. 2015 Dec;20(5):1371-83. doi: 10.1007/s10459-014-9563-z. Epub 2014 Oct 16.

Relevance of the rationalist-intuitionist debate for ethics and professionalism in medical education.

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Department of Psychology, Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego, CA, USA.
Josiah C. Trent Professor of Medical Humanities, Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities and History of Medicine, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.
Department of Medicine, MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, The University of Chicago, 5841 S. Maryland Ave, MC 5000, Chicago, IL, 60637, USA.


Despite widespread pedagogical efforts to modify discrete behaviors in developing physicians, the professionalism movement has generally shied away from essential questions such as what virtues characterize the good physician, and how are those virtues formed? Although there is widespread adoption of medical ethics curricula, there is still no consensus about the primary goals of ethics education. Two prevailing perspectives dominate the literature, constituting what is sometimes referred to as the "virtue/skill dichotomy". The first perspective argues that teaching ethics is a means of providing physicians with a skill set for analyzing and resolving ethical dilemmas. The second perspective suggests that teaching ethics is a means of creating virtuous physicians. The authors argue that this debate about medical ethics education mirrors the Rationalist-Intuitionist debate in contemporary moral psychology. In the following essay, the authors sketch the relevance of the Rationalist-Intuitionist debate to medical ethics and professionalism. They then outline a moral intuitionist model of virtuous caring that derives from but also extends the "social intuitionist model" of moral action and virtue. This moral intuitionist model suggests several practical implications specifically for medical character education but also for health science education in general. This approach proposes that character development is best accomplished by tuning-up (activating) moral intuitions, amplifying (intensifying) moral emotions related to intuitions, and strengthening (expanding) intuition-expressive, emotion-related moral virtues, more than by "learning" explicit ethical rules or principles.


Medical character education; Moral intuitionism; Moral psychology; Professionalism; Relationship-centered care; Social intuitionist model; Virtue ethics

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