Integrated Empirical Ethics: Loss of Normativity?
van der Scheer, Lieke
Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy: A European Journal 2004; 7(1): 71-79
An important discussion in contemporary ethics concerns the relevance of empirical research for ethics. Specifically, two crucial questions pertain, respectively, to the possibility of inferring normative statements from descriptive statements, and to the danger of a loss of normativity if normative statements should be based on empirical research. Here we take part in the debate and defend integrated empirical ethical research: research in which normative guidelines are established on the basis of empirical research and in which the guidelines are empirically evaluated by focusing on observable consequences. We argue that in our concrete example normative statements are not derived from descriptive statements, but are developed within a process of reflection and dialogue that goes on within a specific praxis. Moreover, we show that the distinction in experience between the desirable and the undesirable precludes relativism. The normative guidelines so developed are both critical and normative: they help in choosing the right action and in evaluating that action. Finally, following Aristotle, we plead for a return to the view that morality and ethics are inherently related to one another, and for an acknowledgment of the fact that moral judgments have their origin in experience which is always related to historical and cultural circumstances.