Over the past two decades, applied ethics has turned increasingly toward theories that explore ethical questions faced by a variety of professions and away from classic moral concerns. Abraham Edel, Elizabeth Flower, and Finbarr O'Connor utilize examples of professional, public policy, and personal decision making to illustrate the strengths and limitations of the application of ethics in a rapidly changing world.
They first discuss the emergence of applied ethics and how it functions within a philosophical tradition. They are not concerned, however, with solving the problems they expose, but with employing them as a means to critique applied ethics. Using human rights and health and welfare issues, the authors examine the subsequent ethical stumbling blocks that surround the "moral order" of these social concerns. Through a historical discussion of the abundant ethical theories posited since the Enlightenment, they suggest ways to decide which can serve as intellectual tools for applied ethics and consider how knowledge and experience enter into any moral decision.
Turning to the factors pertinent in the analysis and solution of moral problems, they dissect the underlying influences on the practice of ethics, the way in which a moral problem is diagnosed and its relevant contexts established, the ensuing conflicts between the concerns of the individual and of society, and the degree of inventiveness in issues of morality. The authors suggest that, instead of viewing theory as a set consequence derived from prior applications, relating theory to practice will engage a process of mutual aid, from which each element will learn, refining and improving the other. Author note:
Abraham Edel is Research Professor, University of Pennsylvania, and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, City University of New York.
Elizabeth Flower is Professor of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania.
Finbarr O'Connor is Professor of Philosophy, Beaver College. The three collaboratively edited Morality, Philosophy, and Practice: Historical and Contemporary Readings and Studies.