, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 407-417
Date: 09 Jun 2011

Who is Authorized to Do Applied Ethics? Inherently Political Dimensions of Applied Ethics

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Abstract

A standard view in ethics is that ethical issues concern a different range of human concerns than does politics. This essay goes beyond the long-standing dispute about the extent to which applied ethics needs a commitment to ethical theory. It argues that regardless of the outcome of that dispute, applied ethics, because it presumes something about the nature of authority, rests upon and is implicated in political theory. After internalist and externalist accounts of applied ethics are described, “mixed” approaches are considered that contain inevitable political dimensions. A feminist alternative, Walker’s metaethic of responsibility, shows that authority is best understood as relational and that situations of unequal power are therefore often the places where applied ethics arises. Furthermore, in a democratic society, commitments to democracy should shape the account of authority, and, thus, the nature of applied ethics as well.