Applied ethics

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Applied ethics is the sub-area of normative ethics that is located between general ethics and the investigation of specific individual cases or case types from the point of view of morality and ethics. It uses the basic terms, principles and justifications of general ethics and empirical knowledge and laws in areas of human practice in order to arrive at cross-case ethical statements and to provide assistance in making concrete judgments. Applied ethics is divided into various area ethics , which are dedicated to the investigation of individual areas of life and fields of action. Applied ethics is sometimes understood as a generic term for the various area-specific ethics.

The term is terminologically criticized many times: on the one hand, because ethics is always practice-related, on the other hand, because it is "diffuse" and thus gives the (false) impression that a logical deduction from general principles to individual areas is possible. Concrete ethics , practical ethics or problem-oriented ethics are also used as synonyms .


Applied ethics, understood as an aid to correct moral decision-making in specific situations - not just as the sum of area ethics, but also as everyday ethics - has been practiced since ancient times. The German philosophers Ralf Stoecker , Christian Neuhäuser and Marie-Luise Raters name examples of ethical treatises for evaluating specific behavior and the like. a. Lesson Seneca , the Essays of Michel de Montaigne or John Locke's Letter Concerning Tolerance . They also include the casuistic considerations of Christian ethicists, including Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas . According to Matthias Lutz-Bachmann , the discipline of applied ethics can be understood as a reaction to earlier casuistry by attempting to find or develop practical principles, norms and rules across all cases that act as “middle principles” for typical action situations and areas provide ethically justified assistance.

A rapidly growing interest in applied ethics has been recorded since the 1960s and 1970s, recognizable by its rapidly growing scope and its institutionalization in the form of specialist journals, institutes and societies. According to Stoecker, Neuhäuser and Raters, one can speak of applied ethics as an independent philosophical discipline since then. It first developed in the USA out of the search for ethically justified judgments on topics such as the Vietnam War , racial discrimination , abortion , the interventionist foreign policy of the USA and moral dilemmas that the increasing possibilities of medicine raised.

Individual and social ethics


Individual ethics and social ethics are the essential dimensions and perspectives of applied ethics. The distinction is of theological origin. Even today, Christian social ethics is to be regarded as the most important characteristic. The socio-ethical dimension also dominates in area ethics.

While individual ethics deals with the individual from the point of view of his rights, duties and virtues and the effects of his actions on himself and often argues in terms of virtue ethics, social ethics deals with the social order as a whole. What is negotiated is the relationship between the right action of the individual as a person and the social conditions of a good life .

In his ethics in the way the sciences look at people and society , Leopold von Wiese distinguishes between a "pathetic" and an "unpathetic" characteristic:

“Depending on whether you think of the pathetic or the unpathetic direction in individual or social ethics, you get different images. Sometimes pathetic individual ethics are combined with non-pathetic social ethics or pathetic social ethics with non-pathetic individual ethics. An unsatisfied need escapes from one sphere to the other. "

- Leopold von Wiese

Competing approaches

Recently, an expansion of perspectives to include institutional ethics has been sought. Above all, the institutions that "constitute the space of the social" are examined, both abstractly, for example the market, and specifically in the political field.

Another important impetus in the development of applied ethics is the growing interest in questions of environmental and animal welfare , which came from Rachel Carson's work “ The Silent Spring ” (1962) and Peter Singer'sAnimal Liberation. The Liberation of Animals ”(1975) moved into the focus of public and politics.


Applied ethics primarily includes the investigation of moral questions in various areas of application, the most important of which is medical ethics. Beyond such area ethics, which are often aimed at specific professional groups, Stoecker, Neuhäuser and Raters also include everyday ethics as applied ethics. Questions about the correct way people deal with one another, such as whether and under what circumstances one can lie, are therefore also part of applied ethics from this point of view. In addition, there are various overarching issues that connect the area ethics and which, according to Stoecker, Neuhäuser and Raters, are also a topic of applied ethics. This includes, for example, the moral status of people and animals.

In general, applied ethics is the attempt to help people in concrete situations to make morally correct decisions. For this purpose, it provides the exemplary moral discussion of individual cases, justification models and terms. In doing so, she wants to support the decision-making process as to the basic moral category in which a character inclination, an intention, a motive, a rule of action or an action falls, whether something is “forbidden”, “permitted” or “required”. “Permitted” actions can be further differentiated into “desirable” and morally “neutral” or indifferent. Actions that are desirable but not required include those that are reasonable for the agent, but whose failure to do so is not further reprehensible (for example, picking up other people's garbage), and those that the agent would have to undertake at the cost of enormous sacrifices demanding would be unreasonable ( supererogation ). Such superogatory acts are particularly praiseworthy. Desirable and required actions are also referred to collectively as “good”, morally forbidden “bad”.

Applied ethics is based on general ethics , from which it derives its basic theoretical concepts and principles. However, in order to be able to offer guidance in practical, social and political questions, it must go beyond the academic investigation of moral concepts, principles and justification possibilities and include findings of the respective subject area in its considerations. At the same time, it is not simply a matter of applying the results of ethical considerations, which are used as an instrument to solve practical questions, but ethical reflection is always part of the effort to practice applied ethics.

The preoccupation with topics of applied ethics has increased in recent times, mainly because of the more and more pressing problems in the fields of technology , the environment and society . In practice, the close connection between applied ethics and current political and social discourses - such as is given in political advisory bodies - means that there is no longer a clear distinction between these areas. The task of applied ethics can shift from examining the quality of arguments to establishing social consensus . This raises the plurality of ethical theories as a hurdle. Since an agreement on a certain ethical theory is usually not to be expected, the search for so-called middle principles that are in harmony with different theories is an important means of overcoming this hurdle. The four principles of Beauchamp and Childress in bioethics are exemplary : respect for patient autonomy, the non-harm rule, the duty of care and a demand for justice. However, an agreement on middle principles does not yet mean their justification and moral validity; it cannot replace their critical reflection and justification. In addition, their meaning in specific decision-making situations often still needs to be clarified, especially since conflicts between different principles are possible. Against this background, the search for coherent justifications has gained particular importance in applied ethics.

Domain ethics

Areas of applied ethics have developed in very different contexts and along significantly different issues, so that it is not possible to systematize them according to a uniform principle. Some can be distinguished by their reference to certain scientific disciplines or occupational fields. Medical and bioethics are of particular importance here. Technology ethics, which is geared towards the areas of activity of engineers and technicians, can be assigned to a large number of sub-disciplines - but not always clearly - such as media or information ethics. Another division is based on social fields of action, the areas of political ethics or business ethics can be understood in this way.

The following subject areas do not claim to be complete and are divided into the following areas:


Numerous ethics councils in companies, organizations and institutions are supposed to examine ethical aspects of their work and, if necessary, ensure that they are. Some of them are enshrined in law, such as the German Ethics Council .

In the scientific field, the following ethics institutes should be mentioned for the German-speaking area:


Web links

Introductions and overviews


  1. ^ A b Otfried Höffe : Lexicon of Ethics, 7th edition. Munich, Beck 2008, ISBN 978-3-406-56810-7 : applied ethics
  2. a b c d Introduction . In: Ralf Stoecker, Christian Neuhäuser and Marie-Luise Raters (eds.): Handbook of Applied Ethics . JB Metzler'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung and Carl Ernst Poeschel Verlag, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-476-02303-2 , p. 2-11 .
  3. Martin Gessmann (ed.): Philosophical dictionary. 23rd edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2009: Ethics, applied. : "Pleonasm"
  4. Gerd Grübler: Applied ethics. In: Breitenstein / Rohbeck (ed.): Philosophy. Slaughterer; Stuttgart, Weimar 2011, p. 303
  5. Cf. Gerd Grübler: Applied Ethics. In: Breitenstein / Rohbeck (ed.): Philosophy. Slaughterer; Stuttgart, Weimar 2011, p. 303
  6. ^ Matthias Lutz-Bachmann: Ethics (=  basic philosophy course . Volume 7 ). Reclam, 2013, ISBN 978-3-15-018474-5 , 4 Applied Ethics.
  7. Thomas Gutmann and Michael Quante : Individual, Social and Institutional Ethics , p. 2, accessed on April 21, 2019.
  8. Leopold von Wiese: Ethics in the view of the sciences of man and society , Bern, Francke, p. 143.
  9. For example by Thomas Gutmann and Michael Quante : Individual, Social and Institutional Ethics , accessed on April 21, 2019.
  10. Brenda Almond: Applied Ethics . In: Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy . 5 Historical Context, doi : 10.4324 / 9780415249126-L005-1 ( ).
  11. Reinold Schmücker: Basic categories of moral evaluation . In: Ralf Stoecker, Christian Neuhäuser and Marie-Luise Raters (eds.): Handbook of Applied Ethics . JB Metzler'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung and Carl Ernst Poeschel Verlag, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-476-02303-2 , p. 14-16 .
  12. a b c Marcus Düwell: III Applied or area-specific ethics - Introduction . In: Marcus Düwell, Christoph Hübenthal and Micha H. Werner (eds.): Handbook Ethics . 3. Edition. Metzler, 2011, ISBN 978-3-476-05192-9 , pp. 243-247 .
  13. Jens Badura: Coherentism . In: Marcus Düwell, Christoph Hübenthal and Micha H. Werner (eds.): Handbook Ethics . 3. Edition. Metzler, 2011, ISBN 978-3-476-05192-9 , 6. Ethical coherentism and practice-related ethics, p. 201-203 .
  14. Uwe Meier (Ed.): Agrarian ethics - Agriculture with a future. Erling Verlag, July 2012. Further selection of sources on agricultural ethics on the website of the University of Vienna, Research Center for Ethics and Science under Applied Ethics - Agrarian Ethics.
  15. ^ University of Vienna, Research Center for Ethics and Science: Welcome to IEE - Interdisciplinary
  16. Berr, Karsten (ed.): Architecture and planning ethics. Approaches, perspectives, points of view . Springer, Berlin 2017, ISBN 978-3-658-14972-7 , pp. 206 .
  17. ^ Müller, Albrecht: Planning ethics. An introduction for spatial planners, landscape planners, urban planners and architects . A. Francke Verlag, Tübingen 2017, ISBN 978-3-8252-4875-8 , p. 127 .
  18. Hendler, Sue (Ed.): Planning ethics: a reader in planning theory, practice, and education . Rutgers, New Jersey 1995, ISBN 0-88285-151-9 , pp. 374 .
  19. Reinhard Lay: Ethics in Care. A textbook for basic, advanced and advanced training . 2nd Edition. Schlütersche Verlagsgesellschaft., Hannover 2012, ISBN 978-3-89993-271-3 (467 pages).
  20. Ethics Center of the University of Zurich
  21. Berlin Institute for Christian Ethics and Politics (ICEP)
  22. ^ Institute for Ethics & Values ​​in Giessen
  23. ^ Institute for Science and Ethics (IWE), Bonn
  24. ^ German Reference Center for Ethics in the Biosciences (DRZE), Bonn
  25. University of the Media
  26. ^ Institute for Ethics and Social Studies