Applied ethics

Applied ethics refers to the practical application of moral considerations. It is ethics with respect to real-world actions and their moral considerations in the areas of private and public life, the professions, health, technology, law, and leadership.[1] For example, the bioethics community is concerned with identifying the correct approach to moral issues in the life sciences, such as euthanasia, the allocation of scarce health resources, or the use of human embryos in research.[2][3][4] Environmental ethics is concerned with ecological issues such as the responsibility of government and corporations to clean up pollution.[5] Business ethics includes questions regarding the duties or duty of 'whistleblowers' to the general public or their loyalty to their employers.[6] Applied ethics is distinguished from normative ethics, which concerns standards for right and wrong behavior, and from meta-ethics, which concerns the nature of ethical properties, statements, attitudes, and judgments.[7]

Modern approach

Much of applied ethics is concerned with three theories:

  1. Utilitarianism, where the practical consequences of various policies are evaluated on the assumption that the right policy will be the one which results in the greatest happiness. This theory's main developments came from Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill who distinguished between an act and rule utilitarianist morality. Later developments have also adjusted the theory, most notably Henry Sidgwick who introduced the idea of motive or intent in morality, and Peter Singer who introduced the idea of preference in moral decision making.
  2. Deontological ethics, notions based on 'rules' i.e. that there is an obligation to perform the 'right' action, regardless of actual consequences (epitomized by Immanuel Kant's notion of the Categorical Imperative which was the centre to Kant's ethical theory based on duty). Another key deontological theory is Natural Law, which was heavily developed by Thomas Aquinas and is an important part of the Catholic Church's teaching on Morals.
  3. Virtue ethics, derived from Aristotle's and Confucius's notions, which asserts that the right action will be that chosen by a suitably 'virtuous' agent.

One modern approach which attempts to overcome the seemingly impossible divide between deontology and utilitarianism (of which the divide is caused by the opposite takings of an absolute and relativist moral view) is case-based reasoning, also known as casuistry. Casuistry does not begin with theory, rather it starts with the immediate facts of a real and concrete case. While casuistry makes use of ethical theory, it does not view ethical theory as the most important feature of moral reasoning. Casuists, like Albert Jonsen and Stephen Toulmin (The Abuse of Casuistry 1988), challenge the traditional paradigm of applied ethics. Instead of starting from theory and applying theory to a particular case, casuists start with the particular case itself and then ask what morally significant features (including both theory and practical considerations) ought to be considered for that particular case. In their observations of medical ethics committees, Jonsen and Toulmin note that a consensus on particularly problematic moral cases often emerges when participants focus on the facts of the case, rather than on ideology or theory. Thus, a Rabbi, a Catholic priest, and an agnostic might agree that, in this particular case, the best approach is to withhold extraordinary medical care, while disagreeing on the reasons that support their individual positions. By focusing on cases and not on theory, those engaged in moral debate increase the possibility of agreement.

See also


  1. ^ "Applied Ethics" Oxford Bibliographies. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  2. ^ "Disability and Health Care Rationing" Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  3. ^ "Voluntary Euthanasia" Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  4. ^ "Ethics of Stem Cell Research" Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  5. ^ "Environmental Ethics" Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  6. ^ "Business Ethics" Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  7. ^ "Applied Ethics" Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  • Chadwick, R.F. (1997). Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics. London: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-227065-7.
  • Singer, Peter (1993). Practical Ethics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43971-X. (monograph)
  • Cohen, Andrew I. (2005). Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-1548-3.
  • LaFollette, Hugh (2002). Ethics in Practice (2nd Edition). Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-22834-9.
  • Singer, Peter (1986). Applied Ethics. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-875067-6.
  • Frey, R.G. (2004). A Companion to Applied Ethics. Blackwell. ISBN 1-4051-3345-7.

External links

Bridge ethics

Contract bridge can be a friendly, informal social game, or a highly competitive mind-sport when in formal club or tournament play. The rules require players to conduct themselves ethically and to be courteous at all times. The rules of the game and expectations for ethical play are codified in the official Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge and its published interpretations; the rules define which actions at the table are and are not permitted and remedies for rule infractions and irregularities. Players are expected to respect the norms of social courtesy and behavior; duplicate bridge sponsoring organizations (clubs, regional, national, zonal and world organizations) can define additional standards for player's conduct, including the penalties for violation of personal conduct such as rudeness and other breaches of discipline not covered by applicable civil laws. Some aspects of the rules may be interpreted more strictly in a high-level tournament than in an informal social game.


Casuistry () is a process of reasoning that seeks to resolve moral problems by extracting or extending theoretical rules from a particular case, and reapplying those rules to new instances. This method occurs in applied ethics and jurisprudence. The term is also commonly used as a pejorative to criticize the use of clever but unsound reasoning, especially in relation to moral questions (as in sophistry). The word casuistry derives from the Latin noun casus ("case" or "occurrence").

The Oxford English Dictionary says, quoting Viscount Bolingbroke, Viscount (1749), that the word "[o]ften (and perhaps originally) applied to a quibbling or evasive way of dealing with difficult cases of duty." Its textual references, except for certain technical usages, are consistently pejorative (e.g., "Casuistry destroys by distinctions and exceptions, all morality, and effaces the essential difference between right and wrong").

Descriptive ethics

Descriptive ethics, also known as comparative ethics, is the study of people's beliefs about morality. It contrasts with prescriptive or normative ethics, which is the study of ethical theories that prescribe how people ought to act, and with meta-ethics, which is the study of what ethical terms and theories actually refer to. The following examples of questions that might be considered in each field illustrate the differences between the fields:

Descriptive ethics: What do people think is right?

Meta-ethics: What does "right" even mean?

Normative (prescriptive) ethics: How should people act?

Applied ethics: How do we take moral knowledge and put it into practice?


Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns matters of value, and thus comprises the branch of philosophy called axiology.Ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime. As a field of intellectual inquiry, moral philosophy also is related to the fields of moral psychology, descriptive ethics, and value theory.

Three major areas of study within ethics recognized today are:

Meta-ethics, concerning the theoretical meaning and reference of moral propositions, and how their truth values (if any) can be determined

Normative ethics, concerning the practical means of determining a moral course of action

Applied ethics, concerning what a person is obligated (or permitted) to do in a specific situation or a particular domain of action

Gross National Happiness

Gross National Happiness (also known by the acronym: GNH) is a philosophy that guides the government of Bhutan. It includes an index which is used to measure the collective happiness and well-being of a population. Gross National Happiness is instituted as the goal of the government of Bhutan in the Constitution of Bhutan, enacted on 18 July 2008.The term Gross National Happiness was coined in 1972 during an interview by a British journalist for the Financial Times at Bombay airport when the then king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, said "Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product."In 2011, The UN General Assembly passed Resolution "Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development" urging member nations to follow the example of Bhutan and measure happiness and well-being and calling happiness a "fundamental human goal."In 2012, Bhutan's Prime Minister Jigme Thinley and the Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon of the United Nations convened the High Level Meeting: Well-being and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm to encourage the spread of Bhutan's GNH philosophy. At the High Level meeting, the first World Happiness Report was issued. Shortly after the High Level meeting, 20 March was declared to be International Day of Happiness by the UN in 2012 with resolution 66/28.Bhutan's Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay proclaimed a preference for focus on more concrete goals instead of promoting GNH when he took office, but subsequently has protected the GNH of his country and promoted the concept internationally. Other Bhutanese officials also promote the spread of GNH at the UN and internationally.


Humanitarianism is an active belief in the value of human life, whereby humans practice benevolent treatment and provide assistance to other humans, in order to better humanity for moral, altruistic and logical reasons. It is the philosophical belief in movement toward the improvement of the human race in a variety of areas, used to describe a wide number of activities relating specifically to human welfare. A practitioner is known as a humanitarian.

Ideal (ethics)

An ideal is a principle or value that one actively pursues as a goal, usually in the context of ethics, and one's prioritization of ideals can serve to indicate the extent of one's dedication to each. For example, someone who espouses the ideal of honesty, but is willing to lie to protect a friend, demonstrates not only devotion to friendship, but also belief in its supersedence of honesty in importance.

The belief in ideals is called ethical idealism.

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University promotes research and dialogue in ten major ethics focus areas: Bioethics, Business Ethics, Campus Ethics, Character Education, Government Ethics, Internet Ethics, Journalism and Media Ethics, Leadership Ethics, Social Sector Ethics, and Technology Ethics. The Center develops many practical tools, including a framework for ethical decision making, materials for practice-oriented ethics training programs in the tech industry called Ethics in Technology Practice, and several MOOCs on ethics. The Center also offers public talks, workshops, and training, in addition to sponsoring activities on the SCU campus for students, faculty, and staff. The Center was created by an endowment from Apple Inc. co-founder Mike Markkula and his wife Linda Markkula.

Media ethics

Media ethics is the subdivision of applied ethics dealing with the specific ethical principles and standards of media, including broadcast media, film, theatre, the arts, print media and the internet. The field covers many varied and highly controversial topics, ranging from war journalism to Benetton ad campaigns.

Media ethics involves promoting and defending values such as a universal respect for life and the rule of law and legality.Literature regarding the ways in which specifically the Internet impacts media ethics in journalism online is scarce, thereby complicating the idea for a universal code of media ethics.

Normative ethics

Normative ethics is the study of ethical action. It is the branch of philosophical ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act, morally speaking.

Normative ethics is distinct from meta-ethics because it examines standards for the rightness and wrongness of actions, while meta-ethics studies the meaning of moral language and the metaphysics of moral facts; and it is distinct from applied ethics in that the former is more concerned with 'who ought one be' rather than the ethics of a specific issue (such as if, or when, abortion is acceptable).

Normative ethics is also distinct from descriptive ethics, as the latter is an empirical investigation of people’s moral beliefs. In this context normative ethics is sometimes called prescriptive, rather than descriptive ethics. However, on certain versions of the meta-ethical view called moral realism, moral facts are both descriptive and prescriptive at the same time.

Most traditional moral theories rest on principles that determine whether an action is right or wrong. Classical theories in this vein include utilitarianism, Kantianism, and some forms of contractarianism. These theories mainly offered the use of overarching moral principles to resolve difficult moral decisions.

Nursing ethics

Nursing ethics is a branch of applied ethics that concerns itself with activities in the field of nursing. Nursing ethics shares many principles with medical ethics, such as beneficence, non-maleficence and respect for autonomy. It can be distinguished by its emphasis on relationships, human dignity and collaborative care.

Philosophy Documentation Center

The Philosophy Documentation Center is a non-profit publisher and resource center that provides access to scholarly materials in applied ethics, classics, philosophy, religious studies, and related disciplines. It publishes academic journals, conference proceedings, anthologies, and online research databases, often in cooperation with scholarly and professional associations. It also provides membership management and electronic publishing services, and hosts electronic journals, series, and other publications from several countries.

Philosophy of sport

Philosophy of sport is an area of philosophy that seeks to conceptually analyze issues of sport as human activity. These issues cover many areas, but fall primarily into five philosophical categories: metaphysics, ethics and moral philosophy, philosophy of law, political philosophy, and aesthetics. The philosophical perspective on sport originated in Ancient Greece, having experienced a revival in the latter part of the 20th century with the work of Paul Weiss and Howard Slusher.A philosophical perspective on sports incorporates its metaphysical relationships with art and play, ethical issues of virtue and fairness and more broadly sociopolitical.

Priscilla Cohn

Priscilla N. Cohn is Emerita Professor of Philosophy at Pennsylvania State University. She is the associate director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, and co-editor with of the Centre's Journal of Animal Ethics. She began teaching Philosophy at Bryn Mawr College where she gained her PhD on the work of Heidegger. She has taught Philosophy for more than 35 years, and has written on animals, environmental issues, and ethical problems, as well as on contemporary philosophers and the history of philosophy, publishing in both English and Spanish.

She was made full Professor in Philosophy at Pennsylvania State University in 1982, and was made Professor Emerita at Pennsylvania State University Abington in 2001. She has pioneered courses in animal ethics and lectured on five continents. For three years, 1990-1993, she was Director of the Summer School Course in animal rights at Complutense University (Madrid) at El Escorial – which were the first courses of their kind in Spain. She also taught at the Graduate School Course on Applied Ethics at the University of Santiago de Compostela in 1991. One of her books, Etica aplicada (Applied Ethics, 1981) written with José Ferrater Mora, contained the first essay on animal rights published in Spain. She has published 7 books, including: Contraception in Wildlife, Book I., edited with E. D. Plotka and U. S. Seal, in 1996 and Ethics and Wildlife in 1999, both published by The Edwin Mellen Press.Complutense University of Madrid in 1990..Her interest in wildlife is reflected in her work as the founder and director of PNC, Inc a nonprofit animal rights foundation that organised the first international conference on contraception in wildlife in the United States and initiated and funded the first PZP fertility control study on white-tailed deer. She has been a board member of The Fund for Animals and Humane USA. PAC.

R. M. Hare

Richard Mervyn Hare (; 21 March 1919 – 29 January 2002), usually cited as R. M. Hare, was an English moral philosopher who held the post of White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford from 1966 until 1983. He subsequently taught for a number of years at the University of Florida. His meta-ethical theories were influential during the second half of the twentieth century.

Hare is best known for his development of prescriptivism as a meta-ethical theory, the analysis of formal features of moral discourse justifying preference utilitarianism.

Some of Hare's students, such as Brian McGuinness, John Lucas and Bernard Williams, went on to become well-known philosophers. Peter Singer, known for his involvement with the animal liberation movement,(who studied Hare's work as an honours student at the University of Melbourne and came to know Hare personally whilst he was an Oxford B.Phil, graduate student) has explicitly adopted some elements of Hare's thought, though not his doctrine of universal prescriptivism.

Social responsibility

Social responsibility is an ethical framework and suggests that an entity, be it an organization or individual, has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large. Social responsibility is a duty every individual has to perform so as to maintain a balance between the economy and the ecosystems. A trade-off may exist between economic development, in the material sense, and the welfare of the society and environment, though this has been challenged by many reports over the past decade. Social responsibility means sustaining the equilibrium between the two. It pertains not only to business organizations but also to everyone whose any action impacts the environment. This responsibility can be passive, by avoiding engaging in socially harmful acts, or active, by performing activities that directly advance social goals. Social responsibility must be intergenerational since the actions of one generation have consequences on those following.Businesses can use ethical decision making to secure their businesses by making decisions that allow for government agencies to minimize their involvement with the corporation. For instance if a company follows the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines for emissions on dangerous pollutants and even goes an extra step to get involved in the community and address those concerns that the public might have; they would be less likely to have the EPA investigate them for environmental concerns. "A significant element of current thinking about privacy, however, stresses "self-regulation" rather than market or government mechanisms for protecting personal information". According to some experts, most rules and regulations are formed due to public outcry, which threatens profit maximization and therefore the well-being of the shareholder, and that if there is not an outcry there often will be limited regulation.Some critics argue that corporate social responsibility (CSR) distracts from the fundamental economic role of businesses; others argue that it is nothing more than superficial window-dressing, or "greenwashing"; others argue that it is an attempt to pre-empt the role of governments as a watchdog over powerful corporations though there is no systematic evidence to support these criticisms. A significant number of studies have shown no negative influence on shareholder results from CSR but rather a slightly negative correlation with improved shareholder returns.


Stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. The concepts of stewardship can be applied to the environment and nature, economics, health, property, information, theology, etc.

The Moral Maze

The Moral Maze is a live discussion programme on BBC Radio 4, broadcast since 1990. Since November 2011, it has also been available as a podcast.

Work ethic

Work ethic is a belief that hard work and diligence have a moral benefit and an inherent ability, virtue or value to strengthen character and individual abilities. It is a set of values centered on importance of work and manifested by determination or desire to work hard. Social ingrainment of this value is considered to enhance character through hard work that is respective to an individual's field of work.

Applied ethics
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