Oral Presentation Australasian Association of Bioethics & Health Law and New Zealand Bioethics Conference

Ethics as Culture; Euthanasia and Gun Control (971)

Ben Gray 1
  1. University of Otago Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

In his books Sapiens and Homo Deus, Yuval develops his thesis that humans have succeeded as a species because groups of people with language and abstract thought developed shared stories that enabled them to live together in larger groups than was possible for the great apes.

Broadly the stories fell into three groups:

  1. Stories that explained the world; where food was to be found, when to plant crops according to season, how to catch fish, how to use tools. These stories in the modern world are now largely the domain of science
  2. Stories that were developed to enable living together in larger groups. Harari gives two good examples. Money and the corporation, both of which only “exist” in legislation and practice. Other examples would be shared weights and measures.
  3. Stories describing “right behaviour”, the domain of ethics.

I would argue that what he is describing here is culture, and that ethics is not only culture bound but an inherent feature of a particular culture.

For this presentation I want to demonstrate the utility of this hypothesis in considering two current ethical debates; Euthanasia and Gun Control.

This hypothesis determines that the goal is to work out how people who disagree (who have different cultural views on an issue) can live together.

Relevant questions are:

  1. Why do the disagreeing parties hold their particular view?
  2. How to move forward despite disagreement; the ethics of compromise.
  3. What are the limits to the use of power?


  1. Harari YN. Homo deus : a brief history of tomorrow. First U.S. edition. ed. New York, NY: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; 2017.
  2. Harari YN. Sapiens : a brief history of humankind. First U.S. edition. ed. Purcell J, Watzman H, Gower N, editors. New York, NY: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers; 2015.