, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 157-179

Delimiting the concept of research: an ethical perspective

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It is important to be able to offer an account of which activities count as scientific research, given our current interest in promoting research as a means to benefit humankind and in ethically regulating it. We attempt to offer such an account, arguing that we need to consider both the procedural and functional dimensions of an activity before we can establish whether it is a genuine instance of scientific research. By placing research in a broader schema of activities, the similarities and differences between research activities and other activities become visible. It is also easier to show why some activities that do not count as research can sometimes be confused with research and why some other activities can be regarded only partially as research. Although the concept of research is important to delimit a class of activities which we might be morally obliged to promote, we observe that the class of activities which are regarded as subject to ethical regulation is not exhausted by research activities. We argue that, whether they be research or not, all the activities that are likely to affect the rights and interests of the individuals involved and impact on the rights and interests of other individuals raise ethical issues and might be in need of ethical regulation.