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Applied ethics is the branch of ethics concerned with the analysis of particular moral issues in private and public life. For example, the bioethics community is concerned with identifying the correct approach to moral issues in the life sciences, such as euthanasia, the allocation of scarce health resources, or the use of human embryos in research.Environmental ethics is concerned with ecological issues such as the responsibility of government and corporations to clean up pollution.Business ethics includes questions regarding the duties or duty of 'whistleblowers' to the general public or to their loyalty to their employers. Applied ethics is distinguished from normative ethics, which concerns standards for right and wrong behavior, and from meta-ethics, which concerns the nature of ethical properties, statements, attitudes, and judgments.
An emerging typology for applied ethics uses six domains to help improve organizations and social issues at the national and global level:
Much of applied ethics is concerned with just three theories:
One modern approach which attempts to overcome the seemingly impossible divide between deontology and utilitarianism (of which the divide is caused by the opposite takings of an absolute and relativist moral view) is case-based reasoning, also known as casuistry. Casuistry does not begin with theory, rather it starts with the immediate facts of a real and concrete case. While casuistry makes use of ethical theory, it does not view ethical theory as the most important feature of moral reasoning. Casuists, like Albert Jonsen and Stephen Toulmin (The Abuse of Casuistry 1988), challenge the traditional paradigm of applied ethics. Instead of starting from theory and applying theory to a particular case, casuists start with the particular case itself and then ask what morally significant features (including both theory and practical considerations) ought to be considered for that particular case. In their observations of medical ethics committees, Jonsen and Toulmin note that a consensus on particularly problematic moral cases often emerges when participants focus on the facts of the case, rather than on ideology or theory. Thus, a Rabbi, a Catholic priest, and an agnostic might agree that, in this particular case, the best approach is to withhold extraordinary medical care, while disagreeing on the reasons that support their individual positions. By focusing on cases and not on theory, those engaged in moral debate increase the possibility of agreement.
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