In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section 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 and Climate Ethics
  • Neuroethics
  • Criminal Justice Ethics
  • War and Ethics
  • World Poverty

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Philosophy Applied Ethics
Thomas Søbirk Petersen, Jesper Ryberg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0006


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 six to eight references in connection to each branch. It should be noted that these branches constitute only a selection among the plethora of disciplines within applied ethics. Moreover, some overlap is found among the different areas.


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, undoubtedly some of the most influential works are the pioneering books 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 Broom 2012 on climate change, Bowie 2017 on business ethics, Sumner 2004 on free speech and pornography, and Husak 2002 on the legalization of drugs.

  • Bowie, Norman. Business Ethics: A Kantian Perspective. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press 2017.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781316343210

    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.”

  • Broom, John. Climate Matters: Ethics in a Warming World. New York: Norton, 2012.

    Very clearly written book in which the author not only presents an overview of climate science but also argues how we as individuals or as a political collective should solve the problems of global warming.

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

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

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

    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.

    DOI: 10.3138/9781442681439

    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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