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Wallerstein, R.S. (1976). Introduction to Symposium on 'Ethics, Moral Values and Psychological Interventions'. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 3:369-372.

(1976). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 3:369-372

Introduction to Symposium on 'Ethics, Moral Values and Psychological Interventions'

Robert S. Wallerstein

There may be no better way to begin, to set the frame of reference, and at the same time, the point of departure for our joint effort here to discuss ethics and morals within one of the contexts of science, than to quote the distinction advanced by Joseph Fletcher (1971) in his widely remarked article on 'Ethical Aspects of of Genetic Controls'. There he stated:

The essential difference between science and ethics is that science is descriptive and ethics is prescriptive. Science deals with what is, in the indicative mood. Ethics deals with what ought to be, in the imperative mood. Scientific theories and statements depend for their validity upon verification (are they correct?); ethical theories and statements depend upon justification (do they conduce to the good?).

What a beautifully simple and elegant distinction. Were all the issues in the juxtaposition of ethical and moral concerns with scientific activities and the dialectical tensions to which these issues give rise, all truly as clearcut as Fletcher's lucid statement promises, much or most of what is to follow at the present symposium would be unnecessary. But the human experience is always more complex and more confounded than the oversimplifications that pass for our ways of ordering and comprehending it, and it is this that will be the subject matter of our panel here today—the intermingling and the inextricable intertwining of scientific endeavour with ethical and moral presuppositions and implications, sometimes overt and sometimes covert, with all the problems and all the conflicts in judgements to which this leads for us all.

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