Appropriate Methodologies for Empirical Bioethics: It'S All Relative

Jonathan Ives, Heather Draper

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    69 Citations (Scopus)


    In this article we distinguish between philosophical bioethics (PB), descriptive policy orientated bioethics (DPOB) and normative policy oriented bioethics (NPOB). We argue that finding an appropriate methodology for combining empirical data and moral theory depends on what the aims of the research endeavour are, and that, for the most part, this combination is only required for NPOB. After briefly discussing the debate around the is/ought problem, and suggesting that both sides of this debate are misunderstanding one another (i.e. one side treats it as a conceptual problem, whilst the other treats it as an empirical claim), we outline and defend a methodological approach to NPOB based on work we have carried out on a project exploring the normative foundations of paternal rights and responsibilities. We suggest that given the prominent role already played by moral intuition in moral theory, one appropriate way to integrate empirical data and philosophical bioethics is to utilize empirically gathered lay intuition as the foundation for ethical reasoning in NPOB. The method we propose involves a modification of a long-established tradition on non-intervention in qualitative data gathering, combined with a form of reflective equilibrium where the demands of theory and data are given equal weight and a pragmatic compromise reached.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)249-258
    Number of pages10
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2009


    • normative policy orientated bioethics
    • focus groups
    • integrated ethics
    • empirical bioethics
    • reflective equilibrium
    • ought problem
    • Is
    • methodology


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