Carnegie Mellon University
Methodology in Theoretical and Applied Ethics

Methodology in Theoretical and Applied Ethics

At the heart of both ethical theory and applied ethics is the recognition that the choices, activities, and emotional responses of persons are both shaped by and expressive of value commitments. Frequently, however, the content of these commitments and the role they play in deliberation and decision making remains largely implicit. A central goal of both ethical theory and applied ethics, therefore, is to reflect explicitly on questions of value and to consider whether there are methods or procedures for deliberation and inquiry that can facilitate moral problem solving. Different methods of ethics can therefore be distinguished by the answers they give to a range of questions, such as: Where does moral value come from? What should an ethical theory attempt to accomplish? What role, if any, should comprehensive moral theories play in deliberations about practical moral problems? Is there a method for conducting moral inquiry that can achieve convergence to a sound solution without relying on a comprehensive moral theory?

Research on methodological questions in theoretical and applied ethics at Carnegie Mellon is distinctive for the way it integrates a unique set of disciplinary perspectives. London’s work in this area incorporates insights from moral psychology, mechanism design, and civic republicanism to investigate the role of institutional design in creating a space in which cooperative relationships can flourish and embody basic values of respect and moral equality. London and Zollman have used game theoretic tools to explore questions of justice and fairness in the context of international research and to demonstrate practical advantages of a Kantian conception of human dignity over a more Hobbesian alternative. Cavalier's work on deliberative democracy and citizen engagement uses theories of group dynamics, democratic deliberation, and empirical research methods to investigate the promise and pitfalls of participatory democracy.