Thesis: Ethical Theory &amp Moral Practice

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[. . .] Their work shouldn't be interpreted as a move to jettison the pursuit of objectivity, however. Rather, it is an effort to identify how "to triangulate across multiple fallible perspectives" (Trocham, 2006) in order to achieve objectivity. According to Trocham (2006), objectivity can be obtained through the efforts of many individuals -- through the conscientious critique of science by truth-seekers in their respective fields -- and not by any one individual. Trocham reminds the reader that "[w]e never achieve objectivity perfectly, but we can approach it" (2006).

Empiricism -- as a methodological assumption of the epistemological paradigm -- is a limited means of acquiring truth and knowledge. Therefore, an exploratory review of literature is an apt choice. Gastmans (1998) and Beauchamp (2007) reveal ethical theory and moral practice to be a refreshing perspective that can heal many of the current rifts in the healthcare industry, and especially within bioethics. A cohesive vision, such as that presented by Beauchamp and Gastmans, is both necessary and desirable in healthcare in which ethical theory cannot be distinguished from moral practice. Theory without practice has no relevance; moral practice without theory has no guidance.

A widening schism. Ethical theory and moral practice is a hybrid construct that melds the historical, theoretical base of ethics with the ever-changing demands of contemporary praxis. This new construct -- termed ethical theory and moral practice -- seems rooted in the perception of an evolving schism between theory and practice in a number of scientific fields. For instance, the relationship between bioethics and philosophical ethical theory has been described as "contingent and fragile" (Beauchamp 2007, p. 209). Certainly, there are examples where practitioners are able to condition their work on the basis of the philosophical theories prevalent in their field of endeavor, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that philosophical theories can be neatly severed from their application in clinical practice.

According to Beauchamp (2007), published literature in the field of bioethics from over the course of the past twenty-five years illustrates a "successful and stable marriage" between philosophical ethical theory and applied ethics in multiple fields including healthcare (p. 209). However, "the marriage is troubled. Divorce is conceivable and perhaps likely," notes Beauchamp (2007, p. 209). The philosophical works of Ruth Macklin, Norman Daniels, and Gerald Dworkin were dominant in Beauchamp's research. Beauchamp's research conclusion was that the work of these major philosophers reveals a potentially dangerous schism between ethical theory and moral practice. The danger is especially acute in the healthcare industry because the implications of the gap have a profound impact on the lives of individuals.

Bioethics may be morphing into a "more interdisciplinary and practical field," whereas, ethical theory may retreat into the realm of the lofty philosophy department (Beauchamp 2007, p. 209). Musschenga & Heeger (n.d.) argue that what is needed is an amalgamation of "theoretically relevant 'practical' ethics and practically relevant 'theoretical' ethics" such as that described by Beauchamp (2007).

Ethical theory and moral practice has emerged as a salve to reduce the cognitive dissonance between the theoretical ideals and the practical realities -- as such, ethical theory and moral practice is a bridge spanning the theory-practice gap.

Symbiotic mutualism. Ethical theory and moral practice is a relatively new and emerging theory that attempts to thoroughly synthesize and integrate both theory and practice. In organic terms, ethical theory and moral practice can be thought of as symbiotic mutualism -- an arrangement in which benefits accrue to both through their association. This configuration is preferable to a symbiotic commensalism in which one side benefits from the association, while the other does not benefit or, at least, is not harmed.

Lines of distinction. Ethical theory and moral practice are distinct from applied ethics. Although applied ethics is similar to ethical theory and moral practice, in that both are concerned ultimately with the impact of theory on clinical practice, applied ethics resembles more what Beauchamp (2007) refers to as the "interdisciplinary and practical" field of bioethics (p. 209). Bioethics and applied ethics share in common a specific focus on issues that are definitively and unavoidably controversial. This would rule out ethical theory as an exploratory philosophical discipline, and precludes scholars from pursuing abstract lines of thinking to create best practice guidelines. Ethical theory and moral practice recognizes the weaknesses inherent in completely distinguishing theory from practice.

The most fundamental assumption posited by ethical theory and moral practice is that "distinctions between theory and practice are, to a large extent, artificial" (Musschenga & Heeger, n.d.). It is, however, increasingly difficult to define this separation as advances in science and technology pose decisions of such caliber that they are intrinsically and heavily-weighted by ethics and morality. This is especially true in the social sciences, nursing, education, and other fields in which daily decisions are unavoidably moral decisions. The effectiveness of professional choices related to counseling and related practices depends directly on awareness of ethical theory. It would be impossible to make choices that impact the lives of others without taking a moral or ethical stance. Although some issues have more controversial implications, such as abortion or euthanasia, nearly all moral choices made in a clinical or professional practice are on some level moral ones. Thus, another key assumption of ethical theory and moral practice is that best practices in all social science fields are linked to morality.

Theory informs moral practice. Without negating the importance of theory in developing best practice methodologies, theory depends on moral practice in action -- essentially, theory informs a moral practice. Another core assumption of ethical theory and moral practice is that the social sciences are replete with ethical and moral issues. This is as true for education as it is for psychology. For example, it is impossible to treat patients in a clinical setting without ascribing to the rules of moral practice such as confidentiality and informed consent. It is also impossible to develop school curricula without making moral choices about how to best teach children the tools with which to become responsible adults. Theory provides a framework by which professional organizations like the American Psychological Association or private institutions such as a hospital craft their ethical policies. It is rightly assumed that ethical issues within the social sciences must be addressed from the level of theory.

Interdisciplinary vectors converge. Ethical theory and moral practice are applicable to all social sciences fields. The capacity of ethical theory and moral practice to be applied to fields as disparate law, sociology, and medicine makes it possible for philosophical theory and moral practice to coexist comfortably, neglecting the importance of neither one -- as in the symbiotic relationship discussed above. Education, psychology, and criminology all benefit from a rich body of philosophical work coupled with a thorough integration of theory and practice. Ethical theory and moral practice enables what cannot be accomplished via normative ethical theories alone, or by evidence-based practice alone.

Ethical theory and moral practice "seeks interdisciplinary cooperation between ethics, theology and empirical disciplines such as medicine, economics, sociology, psychology and law," (Musschenga & Heeger n.d.). The central problem that ethical theory and moral practice addresses may be what Beauchamp (2007) calls the problem of practice itself. In the healthcare fields, the problem of practice is especially apparent -- it is a problem of omission. "The actual moral difficulties and issues presented in health policy and the health professions when decisions must be made about a proper action or policy," (Beauchamp 2007).

The theory is therefore broad in scope. Ethical theory informs moral practice in potentially any field. Moreover, virtually any aspect of ethical theory can be applied to any field. Ethical theories such as utilitarianism are built into the frameworks of professional codes of ethics, and they necessarily impact daily practice. Debates about ethical theory have a strong bearing on the social sciences, especially psychology. For example, Merritt (2000) responds to a recent trend in psychology in which virtue ethics are dismissed with a "deflationary challenge" to their merits (p. 365). Merritt (2000) argues that virtue ethics, such as those developed by Aristotle and Hume, have a strong bearing on psychological behavior and should not be discounted. In fact, the implications of virtue ethics on the psychological professions range from how the criminal justice system addresses issues such as rehabilitation.

The scope of ethical theory and moral practice is sufficiently broad to cover civilian and military law. Snow (2009), for instance, refers to the application of Stoicism as an ethical theory on the moral practice of soldiers. In particular, Snow (2009) discusses the implications of ethical theory on the Abu Gharib incident in which American soldiers tortured prisoners in Iraq. Examining the soldiers' behavior in light of ethical theory helps to reframe the issue, understand how to properly prosecute the offenders, and how to develop more robust systems of leadership and accountability within the military. Moreover, ethical… [END OF PREVIEW]

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