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Title: On the Fragile Relationship between Empirics and Ethics
Author(s): DRAULANS, Veerle
Journal: Ethical Perspectives
Volume: 17    Issue: 2   Date: 2010   
Pages: 145-182
DOI: 10.2143/EP.17.2.2049262

Abstract :
As early as the interwar period, several moral theologians and philosophers were preoccupied with a new and important question: what might the recently established field of social sciences mean for ethical reflection. Since the middle of the 1970’s, a group of practical theologians has reflected on the relationship between empirics and practical theology, establishing among other things the Journal of Empirical Theology in the process. The approach for the empirically oriented practical theologian remained unequivocal: the issues and goals of their research were explicitly theological. Ethicist, however, were confronted with a different reality. A dynamic that had been evolving over decades in the domains of economics and medicine, for example, attracted new dialogue partners into the debate: prudent ethical judgement now presupposed interdisciplinary consultation, with input from the world of law, the economy, medicine and engineering, to name but a few. The swift advance of a host of variants related to Evidence Based reflection made the question of the relationship between empirics and ethics all the more urgent. What might empirics mean for ethical reflection and what might ethics have to offer to empirically oriented research? To what extent are we dealing here with two distinct disciplines, with unbridgeable methodological and intellectual backgrounds and points of departure? The present contribution holds a number of theoretical differences between both disciplines up to inspection and illustrates the significance thereof on the basis of the so-called ‘Kohlberg debate’. It will become clear in the course of the article, moreover, that several different theoretical responses to the question of the relationship between the two are possible, running from strict separation, through a ‘marriage of convenience’ to an appeal for integration and openness towards a hybrid approach. Ethicists who make use of empirical research in their analyses, however, clearly continue to have difficulty in being explicit and precise when it comes to the relationship between both disciplines and the significance of empirical data for ethical reflection.

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