Empirical data and moral theory. A plea for integrated empirical ethics.

Bert Molewijk*, Anne M. Stiggelbout, Wilma Otten, Heleen M. Dupuis, Job Kievit

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Ethicists differ considerably in their reasons for using empirical data. This paper presents a brief overview of four traditional approaches to the use of empirical data: "the prescriptive applied ethicists," "the theorists," "the critical applied ethicists," and "the particularists." The main aim of this paper is to introduce a fifth approach of more recent date (i.e. "integrated empirical ethics") and to offer some methodological directives for research in integrated empirical ethics. All five approaches are presented in a table for heuristic purposes. The table consists of eight columns: "view on distinction descriptive-prescriptive sciences," "location of moral authority," "central goal(s)," "types of normativity," "use of empirical data," "method," "interaction empirical data and moral theory," and "cooperation with descriptive sciences." Ethicists can use the table in order to identify their own approach. Reflection on these issues prior to starting research in empirical ethics should lead to harmonization of the different scientific disciplines and effective planning of the final research design. Integrated empirical ethics (IEE) refers to studies in which ethicists and descriptive scientists cooperate together continuously and intensively. Both disciplines try to integrate moral theory and empirical data in order to reach a normative conclusion with respect to a specific social practice. IEE is not wholly prescriptive or wholly descriptive since IEE assumes an interdepence between facts and values and between the empirical and the normative. The paper ends with three suggestions for consideration on some of the future challenges of integrated empirical ethics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-69
Number of pages15
JournalMedicine, health care, and philosophy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004

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