Institute for Religion & Critical Inquiry

Moral Philosophy & Applied Ethics

Moral Philosophy & Applied Ethics

Research focuses on questions concerning the origins and nature of moral value and theoretical frameworks for the discernment of this value (including interrogation of particular normative ethical models). Particular areas of applied ethics such as healthcare ethics, bioethics, political and social ethics at an individual and a communal level feature in this program.

Questions emanating from the interplay between personal identity and moral agency are explored by considering the extent to which affirming the primacy of individual autonomy trumps moral imperatives. Among these imperatives are individual responsibility for others, the protection of the vulnerable and the development of community.

ACU Funded Projects

Moral Disagreements: Philosophical and Practical Implications

Project Leader: Richard Rowland

Widespread disagreement about moral issues is a salient feature of moral thought and discourse in contemporary pluralistic societies. This project explores the metaphysical, epistemological, and practical implications of moral disagreement and whether deep and fundamental moral disagreements can be overcome.

The project involves the world’s first deliberative poll on a fundamental moral issue. In deliberative polls a large number – at least 200 – people with different views on political and policy issues come together to deliberate about a particular policy issue (such as, for instance, whether we should focus on responses to crime other than imprisonment). Participants are given information about the issue in question that has been rigorously vetted to ensure its neutrality. They deliberate with one another in small and larger groups about the issue in question for 1-2 days. Before the deliberation participants are anonymously polled about the issue that they will subsequently deliberate about. They are then anonymously polled again after the deliberation. Over 70 deliberative polls have been conducted on different policy issues in 24 different countries. And significantly more convergence in the relevant views of participants has been found after the two days of deliberation than before the two days of deliberation.  Although over 70 deliberative polls have been conducted there has yet to be one on fundamental moral issues; all the polls thus far have concerned issues of policy and the probable consequences of various policies rather than the moral desirability, or rightness or wrongness of particular outcomes. In collaboration with members of Stanford University’s Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Canberra University’s Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance this project will conduct the first deliberative polls on fundamental moral issues. These polls will shed light on whether deliberation can help to overcome deep moral disagreement.

Autonomy and Beneficence

Project Leader: David Kirchhoffer

Contemporary morality is largely governed by a paradigm of autonomy. This can be evidenced in medical and research contexts where so-called informed consent is required.

What happens when the logic that being informed assumes is not present or possible? What happens when cultural mores or power relationships compromise the autonomy of the consenter? In such cases is it possible to do the right thing and respect individuals?

By examining instances of cardiac treatment and research where autonomy is compromised this project proposes a multidimensional understanding of personhood that makes a paradigm of beneficence possible without compromising respect for individuals.

Virtue, Reason and Justice

Research Team: Robert Audi, Stewart Braun, Steve Matthews

Moral reasons connect with what we do; virtues with what we are. Can the tension here be resolved? And can this theoretical inquiry bear fruit in answering applied questions that pertain to justice, both morally and politically? This project seeks understanding of the relation between moral reasons and moral virtues.

ACU Rome Seminar Series

ACU Rome Campus, September 2017

Many have argued that we should embrace a form of moral nihilism according to which nothing is morally right, nothing is morally wrong, and nothing is morally permissible. According to this, form of nihilism, often referred to as the moral error theory either (a) moral facts would be metaphysically or epistemically strange and this should lead us to moral nihilism or (b) features of our moral discourse such as the pervasive disagreement that we find about moral issues should lead us to moral nihilism. Recently some have adopted a ‘companions in guilt’ response to the error theory according to which we should not embrace the moral error theory because other facts, which error theorists agree that we should not be skeptics about, have the features that error theorists claim to be strange or to lead to skepticism. Many different companions in guilt arguments have been proposed. For instance, some argue that mathematical facts share the same supposedly strange features as moral facts; others claim that reasons for belief have the features that error theorists allege to be strange but that there must be (or could not fail to be) reasons for us to believe things. And some have claimed that there is just as much disagreements about for instance whether we have free will as there is about moral issues.  But this disagreement whether we have free will should not lead us to the view that there is no fact of the matter about whether we have free will. So, similarly, the disagreement that we find about moral issues should not lead us to conclude that there are no moral facts or truths about morality. The ACU Rome Seminar brings together proponents of the error theory (such as Richard Joyce, Jonas Olson, and Bart Streumer) and proponents of, and commentators on, different companions in guilt arguments (such as Philip Stratton-Lake, Justin Clarke-Doane, and Richard Rowland) to move the debate about these arguments forward in a holistic manner.