Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 253–278 | Cite as

Instrumentalist analyses of the functions of ethics concept-principles: a proposal for synergetic empirical and conceptual enrichment

  • Eric RacineEmail author
  • M. Ariel Cascio
  • Marjorie Montreuil
  • Aline Bogossian


Bioethics has made a compelling case for the role of experience and empirical research in ethics. This may explain why the movement for empirical ethics has such a firm grounding in bioethics. However, the theoretical framework according to which empirical research contributes to ethics—and the specific role(s) it can or should play—remains manifold and unclear. In this paper, we build from pragmatic theory stressing the importance of experience and outcomes in establishing the meaning of ethics concepts. We then propose three methodological steps according to which the meaning of ethics concepts can be refined based on experience and empirical research: (1) function identification, (2) function enrichment, and (3) function testing. These steps are explained and situated within the broader commitment of pragmatic ethics to a perspective of moral growth and human flourishing (eudaimonia). We hope that this proposal will give specific direction to the bridging of theoretical and empirical research in ethics and thus support stronger actualization of ethics concepts.


Empirical ethics Pragmatism Concept analysis Methods Growth Eudaimonia Dewey Peirce 



We would like to thank members of the Pragmatic Health Ethics Research Unit for feedback on a previous version of this manuscript. This article expands on the ideas presented in a short paper published in the American Journal of Bioethics (


Funding for this study was provided by Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé, Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, Kids Brain Health Network, and IRCM Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eric Racine
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
    Email author
  • M. Ariel Cascio
    • 1
    • 3
  • Marjorie Montreuil
    • 1
    • 4
  • Aline Bogossian
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Institut de recherches cliniques de MontréalMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Université de MontréalMontréalCanada
  3. 3.Central Michigan UniversityMount PleasantUSA
  4. 4.McGill UniversityMontréalCanada

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