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Keywords:

  • ethical theory;
  • naturalism;
  • empirical ethics;
  • methodology;
  • social science

ABSTRACT

Like any discipline, bioethics is a developing field of academic inquiry; and recent trends in scholarship have been towards more engagement with empirical research. This ‘empirical turn’ has provoked extensive debate over how such ‘descriptive’ research carried out in the social sciences contributes to the distinctively normative aspect of bioethics. This paper will address this issue by developing a practical research methodology for the inclusion of data from social science studies into ethical deliberation. This methodology will be based on a naturalistic conception of ethical theory that sees practice as informing theory just as theory informs practice – the two are symbiotically related. From this engagement with practice, the ways that such theories need to be extended and developed can be determined. This is a practical methodology for integrating theory and practice that can be used in empirical studies, one that uses ethical theory both to explore the data and to draw normative conclusions.