Applied ethics

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

3. Method

One method of reasoning employed in applied ethics may be compared to that of a designer who starts with a blueprint, but has to adapt it to the materials to hand and to the situations in which it is required. There is some resemblance in this case to the Hegelian method of dialectical reasoning, as well as to the method of reflective equilibrium favoured by such contemporary writers as Rawls (1971), in which intuitions in response to particular cases are measured against principles, causing them to be revised and their implications for particular cases again reappraised (see Moral justification §2). According to this view of the subject, the method of applied ethics is neither purely deductive nor purely inductive. For others, however, the deductive model is more powerful, and the question to be answered in any particular case is simply which (inviolable) principle it falls under. Others again would favour the inductive model, according to which, by clearly seeing what is right in particular cases, it becomes possible to formulate a general principle encompassing these and other particular judgments (see Universalism in ethics §3).

In general, discussion of ethical theories in applied ethics aims to pursue, in the direction of the highest degree of generality and abstraction, the question of what humans should do. In practice, discussion of theories is often confined to their implications for the resolution of particular problems, since applied ethics characteristically seeks to answer the broad question with a much greater degree of particularity.

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

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