Applied ethics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L005-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

Applied ethics is marked out from ethics in general by its special focus on issues of practical concern. It therefore includes medical ethics, environmental ethics, and evaluation of the social implications of scientific and technological change, as well as matters of policy in such areas as health care, business or journalism. It is also concerned with professional codes and responsibilities in such areas.

Typical of the issues discussed are abortion, euthanasia, personal relationships, the treatment of nonhuman animals, and matters of race and gender. Although sometimes treated in isolation, these issues are best discussed in the context of some more general questions which have been perennial preoccupations of philosophers, such as: How should we see the world and our place in it? What is the good life for the individual? What is the good society? In relation to these questions, applied ethics involves discussion of fundamental ethical theory, including utilitarianism, liberal rights theory and virtue ethics.

‘Applied ethics’ and ‘applied philosophy’ are sometimes used as synonyms, but applied philosophy is in fact broader, covering also such fields as law, education and art, and theoretical issues in artificial intelligence. These areas include philosophical problems – metaphysical and epistemological – that are not strictly ethical. Applied ethics may therefore be understood as focusing more closely on ethical questions. Nevertheless, many of the issues it treats do in fact involve other aspects of philosophy, medical ethics, for example, including such metaphysical themes as the nature of ’personhood’, or the definition of death.

    Citing this article:
    Almond, Brenda. Applied ethics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L005-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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