Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 81–90 | Cite as

Towards an empirical ethics in care: relations with technologies in health care

  • Jeannette PolsEmail author
Scientific Contribution


This paper describes the approach of empirical ethics, a form of ethics that integrates non-positivist ethnographic empirical research and philosophy. Empirical ethics as it is discussed here builds on the ‘empirical turn’ in epistemology. It radicalizes the relational approach that care ethics introduced to think about care between people by drawing in relations between people and technologies as things people relate to. Empirical ethics studies care practices by analysing their intra-normativity, or the ways of living together the actors within these practices strive for or bring about as good practices. Different from care ethics, what care is and if it is good is not defined beforehand. A care practice may be contested by comparing it to alternative practices with different notions of good care. By contrasting practices as different ways of living together that are normatively oriented, suggestions for the best possible care may be argued for. Whether these suggestions will actually be put to practice is, however, again a relational question; new actors need to re-localize suggestions, to make them work in new practices and fit them in with local intra-normativities with their particular routines, material infrastructures, know-how and strivings.


Empirical ethics Care ethics Intra-normativity Ethnography Telecare 



A word of thanks to the ‘Philosophy of Care’ group for their comments and suggestions, and to the two anonymous reviewers for the journal for their constructive feedback. The work on empirical ethics in care is a collective project, for which I thank Dick Willems, Ingunn Moser, Hilde Thygesen, Annemarie Mol, Daniël Lopez, Juan Carlos Aceros, Miquel Domenech, Christine Ceci and Mary Ellen Purkis.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Section of Medical Ethics, Department of General PracticeAcademic Medical CentreAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Sociology AnthropologyUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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