Reflective equilibrium and empirical data: third person moral experiences in empirical medical ethics

Bioethics 24 (9):490 - 498 (2010)
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In ethics, the use of empirical data has become more and more popular, leading to a distinct form of applied ethics, namely empirical ethics. This ‘empirical turn’ is especially visible in bioethics. There are various ways of combining empirical research and ethical reflection. In this paper we discuss the use of empirical data in a special form of Reflective Equilibrium (RE), namely the Network Model with Third Person Moral Experiences. In this model, the empirical data consist of the moral experiences of people in a practice. Although inclusion of these moral experiences in this specific model of RE can be well defended, their use in the application of the model still raises important questions. What precisely are moral experiences? How to determine relevance of experiences, in other words: should there be a selection of the moral experiences that are eventually used in the RE? How much weight should the empirical data have in the RE? And the key question: can the use of RE by empirical ethicists really produce answers to practical moral questions?In this paper we start to answer the above questions by giving examples taken from our research project on understanding the norm of informed consent in the field of pediatric oncology. We especially emphasize that incorporation of empirical data in a network model can reduce the risk of self-justification and bias and can increase the credibility of the RE reached



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