In This Article Applied Ethics

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Encyclopedias
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • The Rise of Applied Ethics
  • The Method of Applied Ethics
  • Animal Ethics
  • Bioethics
  • Business Ethics
  • Computer and Information Ethics
  • Environmental Ethics
  • Human Enhancement and Ethics
  • Punishment and Ethics
  • War and Ethics
  • World Poverty

Philosophy Applied Ethics
by
Thomas Søbirk Petersen, Jesper Ryberg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0006

Introduction

Applied ethics is a branch of ethics devoted to the treatment of moral problems, practices, and policies in personal life, professions, technology, and government. In contrast to traditional ethical theory—concerned with purely theoretical problems such as, for example, the development of a general criterion of rightness—applied ethics takes its point of departure in practical normative challenges. Along with general overviews and journals, nine central branches of applied ethics are added, with four or five references in connection to each branch. It should be noted that these branches constitute only a selection among the plethora of disciplines within AE. Moreover, there is some overlap among the different areas. For instance, as ethical discussions on these fields are evolving and growing, animal ethics, environmental ethics, and the ethics of human enhancement have developed into separate branches of applied ethics (originally, they were all part of bioethics) with their own anthologies and monographs. Important areas that are not mentioned under separate sections are, for example, “medical ethics,” “feminism,” “research ethics,” and “media ethics.” However, the first three of these subjects are either covered by bioethics or treated separately under other branches such as environmental ethics or human enhancement and ethics and the latter is covered by computer and information ethics.

Textbooks

A number of textbooks exist within applied ethics. But as the field is always expanding and at the same time becoming more and more specialized, it is very difficult to give a fair overview of the most important textbooks within applied ethics. However, there is no doubt that some of the most influential works are the pioneering works Singer 1979 on issues like animal ethics, abortion, and environmental ethics and Glover 1977 on the ethics of causing death and saving lives. A number of textbooks cover a wide variety of subjects within applied ethics, for example, Harris 1985, Oderberg 2000, and Singer 1979. Besides these, splendid textbooks exist that have a more narrow scope, such as Rachels 1986 on euthanasia, Bowie 1989 on business ethics, Sumner 2004 on free speech and pornography, and Husak 2002 on the legalization of drugs.

  • Bowie, Norman. Business Ethics. 2d ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1989.

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    Concise and clearly written introduction to several key subjects within business ethics. Contains topics such as “the right purpose of a business,” “the internal and external regulation of businesses,” and “the use of ethical codes within businesses.”

  • Glover, Jonathan. Causing Death and Saving Lives. London: Penguin, 1977.

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    This is a modern classic within applied ethics. The book gives a lucid introduction to the ethics of abortion, infanticide, suicide, euthanasia, capital punishment, and war. It also contains a concise and introductory chapter on the method of applied ethics.

  • Harris, John. Value of Life: An Introduction to Medical Ethics. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985.

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    An introduction that, due to its time of publication, leaves out many areas that are currently dealt with in medical ethics. However, this is compensated for by an excellent utilitarian treatment of issues such as abortion, euthanasia, artificial reproduction, death, and the morality of sex. All chapters are lucid and readable. This book has been reprinted several times.

  • Husak, Douglas N. Legalize This! The Case for Decriminalizing Drugs. London: Verso, 2002.

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    A very readable book for all interested in not only the moral and empirical complexity surrounding the criminalization of drug use but also the pros and cons of criminalizing acts in general.

  • Oderberg, David S. Applied Ethics: A Non-Consequentialist Approach. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.

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    This volume is a good example of a virtue theory approach to applied ethics. An approach that is less represented in the literature in comparison with the usual utilitarian- or deontological-based literature in applied ethics. In a clear and systematic manner, it treats the following subjects: abortion, animals, euthanasia, capital punishment, and war.

  • Rachels, James. The End of Life: Euthanasia and Morality. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

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    Very clearly written book in which the author argues in favor of euthanasia in certain situations. Available online.

  • Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

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    A remarkably lucid and readable introduction to applied ethics. It covers a wide range of areas such as abortion, animal ethics, civil disobedience, environmental ethics, and our obligations to refugees and world hunger. The book has been reprinted several times, including a 2011 third edition. In this latter edition all chapters have been revised and updated and a new chapter has been added on climate ethics.

  • Sumner, L. W. The Hateful and the Obscene: Studies in the Limits of Free Expression. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004.

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    From a mainly utilitarian perspective, the focus of this book is the ethical perspectives of free speech and pornography. Some legal cases are discussed at length, and the ethical framework of John Stuart Mill’s harm principle is used to focus the discussion.

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