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We do not share this line of argument in general, but we think that it is indeed necessary to reflect on this phenomenon, especially with an ethical eye. After all, ethicists and ethics institutions interfere with public and political dimensions in manifold ways. At the same time, however, it is not clear whether ethics expertise exists, at all, what it consists in, and how its increasing political influence can be justified.

How can ethical expertise be understood, modified and expanded in order to strengthen the current trend—a trend that seems reasonable and desirable to many ethicists? In recent social research and policy, critical debates about social scientific expertise and the interrelation of science and society have led to an increasing inclusion of public views and experiences.

In this article, we will argue that there are good methodological and normative reasons for bioethics to take an analogical way by including public views of and attitudes towards biomedicine. This is in line with the recent trend of including empirical studies more directly into bioethical reasoning. The list of ethics experts and ethics committees is expanding, especially in medicine e. Schicktanz They are appointed or implemented on local, regional, national or even international levels.

Their legitimization follows an expertocratic pattern as it is common in many contexts of contemporary policy making Reck : Their political influence is not justified with reference to democratic procedures such as majority votes, but with expertise. In this sense, it is usually supposed that trained scientists examine causal, functional or statistic relations in nature and society with technically sophisticated equipment and laborious procedures, accumulating—it is supposed—solid knowledge about facts and probabilities.

Of course, this concept of scientific knowledge—related with truth and objectivity—is highly disputable, e. Nevertheless, as modern societies are characterised by uncertainty and risk, scientific knowledge seems to be highly important, if not indispensable. The idea and necessity of policy advice by specific experts is rather widespread and in general uncontroversial.

However, the application of the expertocratic model to the field of ethics causes serious difficulties and perplexities for an overview, see Steinkamp et al. In contrast to more traditional notions of scientific expertise, it is less obvious what ethics expertise consists in or what its basis and its quality standards are. After all, ethics is not primarily concerned with facts, but with values and norms.

Ethics expertise : history, contemporary perspectives, and applications - Ghent University Library

Furthermore, the notion of ethical expertise contravenes modern egalitarian sensibilities—one of the leading paradigms of modern ethics, itself Lagerspetz ; Scofield : As almost everybody has some set of moral values and principles, it is not clear how anyone can claim universal expertise in this area.

And if so: For what reasons? What specific kind of knowledge or competence do ethics experts have Birnbacher ? And what political role and influence should they play Delkeskamp-Hayes ? In order to answer these questions, a first crucial distinction has to be made between ethics expertise and moral expertise. It presupposes the distinction of morality as a set of rules and values actually guiding individual life and social interaction—and ethics as its normative reflection, justification or critique in view of validity, desirability and legitimacy.

Insofar as this distinction presupposes the expert-lay-divide, it needs at least some clarification: On the one hand, public moral positions and arguments almost always seem to entail some sort of ethical reasoning. Instead, in everyday life we observe that—at least occasionally—we are reflecting on moral intuitions or rules, are arguing about them and trying to justify them with reference to higher order principles. In this respect, the strict distinction between morality and ethics can be called into question. There is no clear demarcation line between lay moralities and ethical academic reflection, but rather a continuous interactive spectrum: both involve normative reasoning and discussion, albeit to a different extent and on different levels of theoretical sophistication.

This also holds true in the converse perspective: Normative ethical reasoning obviously does not float in a social vacuum. It is performed by concrete persons with their own moral convictions and situated in socio-cultural contexts which often involve specific social roles and moral rules. In the academic discourse, different approaches to ethics expertise have been formulated:. However, the reliance on and trust in ethical expertise depends on the meta- ethical approach or philosophical school one belongs to: Only partisans of rationalism and cognitivism share the idea that strong justification allows the rational assessment of good and bad arguments.

Partisans of more relativistic, theological or pragmatic ethics approaches might see wisdom and experience as relevant criteria.

Aristotle & Virtue Theory: Crash Course Philosophy #38

Thus, we have to bear in mind that even within the ethics community itself, there is neither consensus on the ultimate criteria nor the certainty that all ethics expertise can fulfil these criteria. Therefore, we want to point out the general need of a self-critical discussion of the idea of ethics expertise in ethical debates.

This does not imply a plea for the abolition of ethics in public debates. One consequence of this process was the discovery and inclusion of the public, its perspectives, attitudes and experiences, not only as an object, but as a subject of research Lengwiler , and as an agent of policy also beyond parliamentary representation. This turn indicates a fruitful route for other disciplines, too, including ethical reflection and bioethics as a form of policy advice.

PUS with its focus on public attitudes to the participatory idea of actively engaging the public Bauer et al. The shift from one paradigm to the next was induced by crises and normative concerns. After briefly sketching these paradigm shifts, we want to explicate their underlying normative motives in order to gain orientation for the debate on ethics expertise.

When social research on the uptake of science among the general public started in the late s, its primary concern was of an educational nature: The general public should be informed about scientific methods and knowledge so that they were enabled to act as competent citizens in a science based society e. Bybee et al. Under the impression of results from the British Bodmer Report Royal Society , the focus of PUS research shifted from measuring and increasing public knowledge about science to examining and influencing public attitudes towards science Bodmer Nevertheless, the underlying deficit model still remained rather influential.

Thus, it was presumed that public ignorance about science leads to irrational reservations and fears and therefore nurtures anti-scientific or anti-technological attitudes Sturgis and Allum However, on the background of various technological crises e. Chernobyl, Sellafield, BSE in the s, the normative assumptions on the relation of science and society and the role and status of science and scientific expertise implicit in the deficit model were discussed critically Wynne Furthermore, it is based on—often implicit—normative assumptions about what the public is, at all, and why it should be taken into account or engaged Gerhards et al.

Insofar as these assumptions are justified, they are relevant for bioethical reasoning, as well.

They can motivate a normative interest in public views of, attitudes towards and interactions with moral questions and problems in the context of biomedicine, e. The concept includes public concerns about scientific and technological developments, but also comprises all other forms of argumentation, justification and normative judgement, e. Raz and Schicktanz In a broader sense, the term could also be used to denominate social research on public views of and attitudes towards the role of ethics and ethicists in many social and political contexts—a field hardly investigated, so far.

After all, there seems to be no direct way of deriving normative conclusions from socio-empirical observations, of inferring from what people believe to be morally right to what really is right. To be perfectly precise, it would even be better to label it socio-empirical ethics, because in applied bioethics, also empirical facts from natural sciences are integrated, but this is not the issue of this paper.

Let us start with some general considerations about empirical ethics. In general, many arguments in favour of empirical ethics are methodological. They claim that the epistemic quality of ethical theorizing improves by including additional empirical information. Thus, socio-empirical research can function as a trigger of ethical reflection. It can point to remote or emerging moral problems Levitt For example, the statistic finding that there is a significant gender imbalance in living organ donation can give rise to moral concerns about justice and exploitation between men and women which have not been discussed in the ethics of organ transplantation, before Schicktanz et al.

Furthermore, many applied ethical arguments rely on certain socio-empirical assumptions. Empirical research can be employed to examine and thus strengthen or criticize these premises. Finally, empirical research can increase the context-sensitivity of ethical reasoning by highlighting relevant framework conditions and factors of concrete practical decisions Musschenga This is also important since most normative theories involve the idea that considered judgements and ethical orientations should eventually be implemented in social reality, and the corresponding approaches to moral education and implementation also rely on empirical information Birnbacher Of course, these three lines of argument do not answer the question whose opinion is of particular importance: Do e.

And do natural scientists have a more valid opinion about what could be future risks of biotechnology than social scientists? The first intuitive answer might be that it depends on the context of the questions to be answered. But as we will show later, this is insufficient. It is particularly important to make sure that the opinions of those who will be affected by the decisions in different ways are sufficiently considered on the levels of problem identification, examination of empirical premises and application of normative directives.

Besides these three general arguments in favour of integrating empirical research into bioethical reflection, there is also a more polarized controversy about empirical ethics. This controversy deals with the role of socio-empirical studies for the normative justification of ethical principles Musschenga On this level, there is traditionally serious scepticism about the relevance of empirical research.

Ethics Expertise: History, Contemporary Perspectives, And Applications 2005

The main line of critique is based on the natural fallacy-argument and objects that it is logically incorrect to derive normative judgements from empirical facts. However, this criticism does not recognize that most of the relevant contemporary ethical conceptions actually already argue for the inclusion of the public in one way or the other, as long as the ethical decision is not merely seen as an individual one, but also has a public, social dimension.

In this spirit, an interactive, deliberative conception like Discourse Ethics combines a general concept of rationality with the principle of being affected, arguing that only those norms which could theoretically achieve the rational consent of all persons affected can claim genuine legitimacy Habermas And an important consequentialistic position like Preference Utilitarianism demands that the preferences of those affected by decisions have to be considered Singer However, the ethical consideration of those who are affected is often done in a rather schematic and abstract way.

On the other hand, other ethical approaches challenge this idea and question whether schematic impartiality can really do justice to all relevant positions. Thus, in common sense-based, hermeneutic, pragmatist, and Aristotelian approaches such as Communitarianism, common morality and concrete public perspectives are usually seen as a methodologically indispensable starting point and normative source for ethical reflection Kuczewski And in feminist and care ethics, the specific points of view and relations of those involved in a concrete situation are particularly important and are defended against ethical reasoning based on abstract principles Held As we have seen, contemporary ethics already provides manifold normative arguments for including public perspectives in one way or the other.

This epistemological scepticism seems particularly striking when it comes to bioethical conflicts: Who could really claim—e. As we have argued earlier Schicktanz et al. On the other hand, it can also be used to denote a mostly negative emotional reaction that involves feelings like dismay, concern and empathy with the suffering of others. Many affected persons claim to have exclusive insights which rest e. For our purpose, these experiences should be communicable on an inter-personal level. Of course, these epistemological claims need consideration as being affected may not lead to a superior perspective, but merely to a different one.

But without denying the effects of communication, compassion, role reversal and mediated experience, there is a strong plausibility that some particular experiences cannot sufficiently be reconstructed from an external point of view. According to the philosopher and legal scholar Melissa Williams, a fair and just public discourse needs at least some direct representation of the voices of those who are minorities or live in dependence because the majority groups here experts do not share their particular history and experience of being dominated, marginalized, or excluded and are therefore likely to lack the ability of understanding their specific situation and concerns Williams , p.

In the context of medicine, this argument is very striking. Thus, patients share experiences of asymmetries, pain, dependence, fears, and helplessness which are often ethically relevant, but are not sufficiently considered by doctors who want to work efficiently, successfully and time saving. All the above mentioned theories amount to a theoretical argument for transforming individual, subjective reasoning into an inter-subjective process which allows the abstraction from own interests and experiences.

Therefore, deliberative and argumentative conceptions of directly including the public, its views and attitudes, by means of socio-empirical research and public participation are particularly important for ethical reasoning. At the same time, the methodology of including public views and attitudes shifts to the centre of normative concern.


There are at least three major problems Schweda and Schicktanz , pp. Following the politico-ethical ideal of autonomy as self-determination and self-development as an actively engaged agent, those affected by a decision should have a say in the decision making process. Therefore, the identification of informants and the composition of samples, that is, the question of who should be included in the research design, turn out to be issues of high normative relevance: Who should take part in an interview, participate in a focus group or attend a participatory setting?

To answer these questions, we have to decide whose voices should count in a given situation and justify our decision especially in cases of limited research resources. In the case of organ transplantation, for example, there has been quite a lot of socio-empirical research on public attitudes. In this perspective, the general public is only taken into consideration insofar as they are perceived as potential donors whose morally problematic reluctance to donate their organs has to be overcome, e. Their own viewpoints and interests as persons potentially affected by organ donation often do not receive a corresponding degree of attention—which is ethically quite problematic.

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