Two major recent discussions have raised important questions about our understanding of the moral content of the medical sciences: the discussion concerning what used to be called 'practical philosophy' and that focusing on the nature of modernity and its status in the contemporary world. In this essay, I should like to set out some of the themes of these discussions and to consider their implications for medicine. Although my emphasis will be primarily on medical practice rather than on research, the results are broadly applicable to both areas, and in any case, I believe that the questions concerning the latter cannot be settled until those concerning the former are adequately clarified.