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Applied ethics

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(Aerial view of the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters, Langley, Virginia.)

(Aerial view of the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters, Langley, Virginia.)

Applied ethics is a branch of ethics that applies its principles to a particular set of circumstances and practices, taking into account the general criteria of ethics.

Applied ethics can be deduced in particular from normative ethics, through the way of establishing codes of ethics, taking into account the rules of law, theories of the social contract, or other types of criteria. Normative ethics, however, can not have the ambition to mark the resolution of the so-called “regular” problems, i.e. those for which pre-exists a rule. The resolution of the so-called “irregular” problems, where the norm is non-existent, mute or insufficient, must be based on clear and practicable values; these values ​​must be in consensus within the company or organization.

Practical examples of fields of application are:

  • business ethics, which includes a set of components that include:
    • ethics in economic intelligence,
    • financial ethics
    • legal ethics, illustrated, among other examples, by the code of ethics of lawyers,
    • the ethics of computing,
  • bioethics,
  • the ethics of the environment,
  • animal ethics,
  • medical ethics,
  • ethics and education,
  • ethics and state management.

Corporate social responsibility is not itself an ethic, but in order to be more effective, it must be based on ethical standards, particularly in business ethics.

Many considerations of applied ethics are also at stake in human rights discussions.

The main difficulty, along with formal applied ethics, is the possibility of disagreement about what constitutes the true theory or principles to be applied, which leads to solutions to specific problems that are not universally acceptable to all participants. For example, a strict deontological approach will never allow a patient to be misled about his condition, whereas a utilitarian approach may consider this possibility. A deontologist will arrive with a solution very different from that of a utilitarian, under the same conditions.

A modern approach to addressing such issues is casuistry. The casuistry attempts to establish a plan of action to respond to particular facts by a form of reasoning on a case by case basis. By doing so, with a real study of the facts, it increases the possibility of agreement between stakeholders based on explicit moral codes. The abuse of this method may, however, present certain dangers, as we have seen in history: in the absence of a posteriori for the modes of action (on new cases in too great number, complex and irreducible ), it may lead to errors of assessment. (Contingency and discernment were the problem, for example, of the Red Cross in its case-by-case history during the Second World War.)

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