Outlining the field - a research program for empirically informed ethics

Markus Christen*, Mark Alfano

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


“What is the right thing to do?” This question echoes through the centuries and millennia of human history. It alludes to the sometimes disturbing moral dilemmas humans face, and it has produced elaborate ethical theories of the virtues people should foster, the norms societies should promote, and the states of affairs at which people should aim. It is therefore unsurprising that human behavior in moral contexts has become a topic of empirical research. The last two decades have witnessed a substantial increase in empirical research on morality—in particular using psychological and neuroscientific methods. But the endeavor of promoting an empirically informed ethics raises various questions. This chapter structures them with respect to the subject-matter, the kinds of empirical methodologies and data that could be useful for ethics, and the types of problems and fundamental questions of ethics for which an empirical approach could be particularly fruitful. It also outlines what is at stake when empirical insights are taken seriously by normative theorists. Furthermore, this chapter serves as an introduction to the other contributions in this book, as it arranges them into a general framework of empirically informed ethics, which can be called a “research program”. Section 1.2 presents the phenomenon that empirically informed ethics tackles, which is, we propose, a thorough explanation of ‘moral agency’ in all its facets. In this section, we also discuss how the understanding of ethics itself influences the role of empirical knowledge for ethics. In Sect. 1.3, we draw some important methodological distinctions, in order to help clarify the kinds of empirical research that may be relevant to ethics. In Sect. 1.4, we provide an overview of the different kinds of data that can inform ethics in various ways. Finally, in Sect. 1.5, we present several problems that we consider particularly important for an empirical approach to ethics.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEmpirically informed ethics
Subtitle of host publicationmorality between facts and norms
EditorsMarkus Christen, Carel van Schaik, Johannes Fischer, Markus Huppenbauer, Carmen Tanner
Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
PublisherSpringer, Springer Nature
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9783319013695
ISBN (Print)9783319013688
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameLibrary of Ethics and Applied Philosophy
ISSN (Print)1387-6678


  • Ethical Leadership
  • Ethical Theory
  • Moral Agency
  • Moral Behavior
  • Moral Philosophy


Dive into the research topics of 'Outlining the field - a research program for empirically informed ethics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this