Abstract: Bioethics has made a compelling case for the role of experience and empirical research in ethics. This may explain why the movement for empirical ethics has such a firm grounding in bioethics. However, the theoretical framework according to which empirical research contributes to ethics—and the specific role(s) it can or should play—remains manifold and unclear. In this paper, we build from pragmatic theory stressing the importance of experience and outcomes in establishing the meaning of ethics concepts. We then propose three methodological steps according to which the meaning of ethics concepts can be refined based on experience and empirical research: (1) function identification, (2) function enrichment, and (3) function testing. These steps are explained and situated within the broader commitment of pragmatic ethics to a perspective of moral growth and human flourishing (eudaimonia). We hope that this proposal will give specific direction to the bridging of theoretical and empirical research in ethics and thus support stronger actualization of ethics concepts.


Racine, E., Cascio, M.A., Montreuil, M. et al. Instrumentalist analyses of the functions of ethics concept-principles: a proposal for synergetic empirical and conceptual enrichment. Theor Med Bioeth 40, 253–278 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11017-019-09502-y