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Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 37, Issue 6, pp 517–529

First Online: 28 November 2016


Solidarity has for a long time been referred to as the core value underpinning European health and welfare systems. But there has been debate in recent years about whether solidarity, with its alleged communitarian content, can be reconciled with the emphasis on individual freedom and personal autonomy. One may wonder whether there is still a place for solidarity, and whether the concept of justice should be embraced to analyse the moral issues regarding access to health care. In this article, I will answer this question by analysing the normative foundations of the concept of justice, followed by a deeper examination of the concept of solidarity in continental philosophy. More specifically, I will compare the philosophical traditions rooted in Kant with emphasis on autonomy and individual rights to approaches rooted in Hegel with emphasis on individual relations of recognition. In addition, I will present the work of Avishai Margalit on the decent society to criticize a predominantly liberal approach to access to health care. The importance of solidarity lies particularly in its emphasis on relational aspects and the role of recognition in care practices, which are usually ignored in liberal approaches to justice. However, the article will argue that solidarity is not an alternative to a rights-based concept of justice, but must be considered as a necessary complement to it.

KeywordsSolidarity Justice Recognition Ethics Liberalism Communitarianism An erratum to this article is available at

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Author: Ruud ter Meulen


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