This paper shows how critical realism can be used to integrate empirical data and philosophical analysis within ‘empirical bioethics’. The term empirical bioethics, whilst appearing oxymoronic, simply refers to an interdisciplinary approach to the resolution of practical ethical issues within the biological and life sciences, integrating social scientific, empirical data with philosophical analysis. It seeks to achieve a balanced form of ethical deliberation that is both logically rigorous and sensitive to context, to generate normative conclusions that are practically applicable to the problem, challenge, or dilemma. Since it incorporates both philosophical and social scientific components, empirical bioethics is a field that is consistent with the use of critical realism as a research methodology. The integration of philosophical and social scientific approaches to ethics has been beset with difficulties, not least because of the irreducibly normative, rather than descriptive, nature of ethical analysis and the contested relation between fact and value. However, given that facts about states of affairs inform potential courses of action and their consequences, there is a need to overcome these difficulties and successfully integrate data with theory. Previous approaches have been formulated to overcome obstacles in combining philosophical and social scientific perspectives in bioethical analysis; however each has shortcomings. As a mature interdisciplinary approach critical realism is well suited to empirical bioethics, although it has hitherto not been widely used. Here I show how it can be applied to this kind of research and explain how it represents an improvement on previous approaches.
Health Care Analysis – Springer Journals
Published: Feb 26, 2015
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