Applied Ethics – Definition and Types

This post defines the term applied ethics and discusses its branches i.e. bioethics, animal ethics, environmental ethics, business ethics, etc.

What is applied ethics?

Applied ethics is one of the three branches of ethics i.e. meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics. It is an attempt to understand the application of ethics in practical life. In other words, it examines what moral decisions people make when they come across a new and complex situation. 

Life is always in flux. Unlike other animals, mankind has developed itself from the stone ages to today’s civilized by the mere use of intellect. This development would be possible without some norms that he had set for his day-to-day conduct with other fellow human beings.  

Today we live in an era of technology and a scientifically advanced world.  Consequently, we also encounter newer and complex problems that humanity did not have to face. Climate change, war, cloning, covid-19, etc. are some of the problems humankind finds itself in a dilemma when it comes to their redressal. 

They are not the only problems people face in life but they are among the most complex issues that humanity faces today. An attempt to understand these problems is pivotal for an individual and a society as a whole to avoid repercussions and reach a viable solution. 

Where do we examine new and complex problems and attempt to find viable solutions? It is applied ethics that attempts to understand these problems and suggest remedial measures to be taken.  

What are different types of applied ethics?

The ethical theorists have classified applied ethics into the four main sub-branches of bioethics, animal ethics, environmental ethics, and business ethics.

1. Bioethics

It is a branch of applied ethics that deals with the application of ethics in connection with human life and its well-being. We can also define it as the application and implications of ethics to the field of medicine and healthcare (health-related life science). 

What are the ethical challenges related to the trial treatments and use of drugs?  

Trial treatments and application of new drugs Involve human subjects which may result in ethical issues such as to:

  • ensure voluntary participation after taking informed consent.
  • deal with side effects after the trial
  • ensure the benefits of treatment as per patient needs. 
  • serve the health requirements of all, particularly the deprived sections of society. 

2. Animal ethics

Animal ethics is a branch of ethics that deals with the treatment of animals by human beings. To put it in other words, it attempts to understand human-animal relationships. 

Some of the important ethical areas related to animal ethics are animal rights, animal welfare, animal law, animal cognition, wildlife conservation, and animal suffering. 

One may ask if animals enjoy any moral status. Unfortunately, there is hardly any state where animals exist at the core of moral values. They seem to exist at our moral peripheries instead. In developed countries, some organizations seem to accord animals strong ethical status, but a major part of the countries are least bothered in this regard. 

There is also a category of people in the world who exist in between. They are not sure whether animals should enjoy a moral status given by human beings or they should be taken for granted. 

3. Environmental ethics

Environmental ethics is a branch of applied ethics that deals with the moral relationship of human beings to their environment. In other words, it deals with the value and moral status of the environment.

4. Business ethics

Business ethics deals with the ethical issues and moral dilemmas that different businesses encounter in their conduct with customers.  It involves a mechanism of standards and norms that are instrumental in winning customer confidence. 

Business ethics reflect in law e.g. minimum wage, harassment-free workplace, environmental regulations, etc. are law embedded standards for companies to follow.  Similarly, the behavior of the company should also exhibit ethical values in the treatment of its employees.

Organizational attitudes and behavior have a profound impact on the employees as well as the smooth functioning of the company.  To put it in simple words, business ethics are all about how the company treats its employees and customers. 

Why are business ethics important?

Business ethics are important because they have long-term effects on different levels. For instance, if a company engages in immoral conduct, such as its failure to put customer privacy safeguards in place which in turn may lead to a breach of confidential data. 

In this era of information technology and media, investor awareness on social, political, governance and eco issues has increased. Hence, any company may jeopardize its reputation by bypassing the basic business ethics that it ought to follow. 

With a tarnished image, the company may face a considerable trust deficit, a decline in demand for its products/services, a decrease in the value of its shares, etc. 

Thus business ethics are very important to ensure that the production of services or goods aligned with the customer’s needs. And that they have no or reduced impact on the environment, societal norms, etc. 

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I am a social activist and educationist. I write on politics, culture, education and economy.

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