Applied ethics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L005-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 15, 2024, from

1. Definitions

While the name ‘applied ethics’ is comparatively new, the idea is not. Philosophy has traditionally concerned itself with questions both of personal morality (what should I do?) and public morality (what is the good society?), but while these questions are fundamental to applied ethics, they could also be said to characterize ethics in general. Applied ethics is therefore distinguished commonly as that part of ethics that gives particular and direct attention to practical issues and controversies.

In the private sphere, ethical issues include, for example, matters relating to the family (see Family, ethics and the), or to close personal relationships (see Friendship), the care of the old or disabled, the raising of the young, particularly where matters of morality are concerned, or personal ethical problems arising for the individual in the work-place. In the public sphere, applied ethics may involve assessing policy in the light of the impact of advances in biomedical technology (see Life and death; Risk; Technology and ethics), or assessing international obligations and duties to future generations in the light of environmental problems (see Future generations, obligations to; Population and ethics). The public arena includes, too, a range of issues for the plural society, such as ethnicity or gender in relation to discrimination, cultural understanding and toleration; more widely still, it may extend to issues of interest also to political philosophy, such as terrorism and the ethics of war. In all these matters, the concern of applied ethics is not only to supply a personal ethical perspective, but also to provide guidelines for public policy.

Applied ethics includes, as well, the area of professional ethics; it examines the ethical dilemmas and challenges met with by workers in the health care field – doctors, nurses, counsellors, psychiatrists, dentists – and by a wide range of workers in other professions including lawyers, accountants, managers and administrators, people in business, police and law enforcement officers. Specific ethical issues such as confidentiality, truth-telling, or conflicts of interest may arise in all or any of these areas, and most professions seek to codify their approaches and provide guidance for their members.

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

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