Completed Research Groups

The Research Group

Modern science and technology have immensely expanded our conscious freedom of choice in the last couple of decades. Current levels of energy consumption may cause lasting damage to future generations; we can now purposefully interfere with phenomena of consciousness in some respects; and even life itself, albeit only in its primitive form, can be produced in vitro.

In the debate on the greenhouse effect or on genetically modified plants, for instance, it is necessary to reflect on the ethical aspects of this kind of engineering. This likewise applies to the positive and desired consequences of technological innovation, e.g., in the field of medical technology. Thus, the average life expectancy in the developed countries has risen enormously thanks to modern science and technology – and now poses essentially new questions concerning the treatment of old and sick people.


Connecting Moral Philosophy with Applied Ethics

Both the desire of the individual to align their own behaviour with specific ethical standards and the requirements of individual protagonists and decision-makers necessitate professional discourse on the topic of morals. That discourse should not only go beyond discussion within moral disciplines such as philosophical ethics and the Christian code of social conduct, but also incorporate specialist areas, such as medicine, science, technology, and economics. The objective of this Research Group is to foster interdisciplinary discourse of this type. Rather than dealing with applied ethics and moral philosophy separately, the Research Group aims to connect the various ethical disciplines with one another in way that bears fruit.

Ethically correct behaviour requires more than just codified norms and general behavioural instructions or guidelines. The application of general rules in complex practical scenarios – whether as part of day-to-day clinical decisions on the continuation of life-prolonging therapy or political rulings on the scope of greenhouse gas reductions – necessitates a specific set of knowledge and skills. In addition, acting agents must possess competence that enables them to recognise situations as ethically significant. It therefore appears highly appropriate to refer back to the Aristotelian principle of phronesis, which makes stakeholders sensitive to the interplay between general rules and specific practical scenarios.

Different areas – different approaches?

This Research Group’s objective is to investigate how ethics can be imparted in practical scenarios in various areas of applied ethics, including biological, medical, healthcare, technological, environmental, scientific and economic ethics. In the field of medicine, for example, its direct link to practical cases makes casuistry a suitable approach to both student education and patient consultation. By way of contrast, the focus of environmental and technological ethics sometimes shifts away from the individual: moral subjects are often institutions, whereas the subject of moral reflection can take the form of entire generations or sections of the population. Is it conceivable to apply the casuistic approach used in medicine to this layer, where the individual is far less significant? Which approaches are suited to the collective layer of the discussion? The aims of this Research Group can be summarised as follows:

  • The different, generally separate approaches adopted by the various ethical disciplines are to be supplemented by a joint moral and cognitive concept, thus ensuring that substantial sections of applied ethics focus more closely on practical scenarios;
  • The attractiveness of the Aristotelian principle of phronesis as the foundation for a concept of the aforementioned type is to be discussed, with opportunities to use the notion of “power of judgement” to the benefit of the various ethical disciplines to be identified;
  • The tangible ways in which this type of “good sense” can be applied in the various areas associated with practical ethics are to be explored, and in particular the extent to which it can be a “learned” virtue.
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