How has Philosophical Applied Ethics Progressed in the Past Fifty Years?



Applied ethics is relatively new on the philosophical scene, having grown out of the various civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s, as well as the student demand that college courses be relevant. Even today, there are those who think that there are no philosophically interesting practical ethical questions, and that applied ethics is not a branch of philosophy at all. This article rejects that view, both because some of the most interesting and respectable philosophers in the world have worked in applied ethics and because applied ethics has been the source of many difficult conceptual questions in theoretical ethics and even metaphysics. These include the grounds for moral status, human identity, how to conceive rights in general and the right to life in particular, the question whether existence itself can be a harm (the nonidentity problem), and the nature of moral principles.