Contrasted with metaethics and normative ethics is applied ethics. Whereas metaethics analyses ethical concepts and ethical reasoning, and normative ethics studies the norms used in making ethical judgments, in applied ethics we employ ethical considerations to guide individual and collective conduct in areas like law, business, medicine, and sports.
Sports ethics, which is probably the newest field in applied ethics, analyzes the practices of sports leagues, teams, and individuals in order to understand the rightness or wrongness of those practices. Cheating is one practice that is frequently examined.
Philosophers have used metaethical principles to understand and define cheating of various kinds and normative principles to evaluate the practice. One kind of cheating prevalent in sports today is the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PED). At the outset, you can distinguish the issues of the
Different sports have different tolerances toward the use of PED. So you find an almost “anything goes” attitude toward steroid use in the National Football League and, until quite recently, major-league baseball. By contrast, both cycling and track and field athletes have been subject to strict policies about PED and face extreme sanctions for their use.
Philosophers fitting in the category of formalists might claim that “games” are activities in which a formal set of rules come into play and these rules determine what is sporting behavior and good sportsmanship. So formalists, as Robert Simon has explained in his book
Several normative positions would likely regard cheating as immoral. Kant's categorical imperative would inquire about universalizing a maxim to cheat. It could not be universalized, since — like his case about lying — no one would trust that anyone playing the game was playing fairly. Any consequentialist ethic would judge the short- or long-term consequences of an action by its results. How could those results favor cheating? Long-term the game is weakened, with the integrity of competition sacrificed for short-term “goods” like selfishness and greed.
Jose Canseco blew the whistle on some of his baseball brethren who used steroids. His book
Euthanasia is one philosophical issue in medical ethics. University of Alabama philosopher James Rachels sets out the following example in his book
Two considerations might lead one to argue that his action was moral. One, Harold Donnelly's action seems to have been motivated by mercy; he wanted to relieve his brother's suffering. Two, his brother Matthew had asked to die. Accordingly, you could say that Harold “killed” his brother. He was, after all, the agent of his death. But notice that you would be more hesitant to conclude that he “murdered” his brother. If you define murder as the “wrongful killing of a human being,” then it does not follow logically that Harold's act can be classified as murder, since to make that claim you would first need to show — and not merely assume — that Harold's killing of Matthew was wrong.
Besides these preliminary moral considerations, there are at least two philosophical views about whether Harold acted morally in killing his brother Matt. One, the dominant moral tradition in our society would maintain that Harold's action was wrong. The dominant moral tradition is the Christian tradition. The Christian tradition holds that human life is a gift from God. As such, life is, in effect, entrusted to us from God and you are not at liberty to dispose of life as you wish. The thinking continues that only God can decide when life will end.
The early church prohibited all killing, believing that Jesus' teaching on the subject permitted no exceptions. Rachels explains that in later times exceptions were made, permitting capital punishment and killing in war. But other kinds of killing, including suicide and euthanasia, remained absolutely forbidden. Thus this tradition forbids what Harold Donnelly did. He intentionally killed an innocent person; thus what he did was wrong.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a retired physician who assisted in more than 120 suicides, could be defended by utilitarian moralists because he ended the suffering of his patients. When asked, Kevorkian said he practiced “medicide.” He claimed that his intention was to “end the suffering of agonized human beings.”
A second moral position does not make use of the Christian tradition. The moral philosophy known as utilitarianism bids you to undertake a kind of cost-benefit analysis and asks which of the choices available to Harold Donnelly will produce the best overall consequences. Put another way, it asks: Which action will produce the greatest balance of happiness over unhappiness for all concerned? Surely Matthew Donnelly's happiness is central, since he is the person most affected.
If Harold does not kill Matthew, he will live on, perhaps for as long as a year, blind, mutilated, and in continual pain. Further, Matthew has already said that his pain is so great that he desires to die. Since killing him would put an end to his insufferable misery, utilitarians conclude that euthanasia may be the most merciful and morally right thing to do. Their argument might be summarized as:
The morally right thing to do, on any occasion, is whatever could bring about the greatest balance of happiness over unhappiness.
On at least some occasions, the greatest balance of happiness over unhappiness may be brought about by mercy killing.
Therefore, on at least some occasions, mercy killing may be morally right.
Utilitarianism shifts the focus of the debate from the issue of moral rules (e.g., about killing or obeying or disobeying God's will, whatever that is) and puts happiness (or pleasure or “well-being) front and center.
Business ethics is yet another field in applied ethics. Philosophers working in this field have applied traditional ethical frameworks like utilitarianism, deontology, and egoism to a broad range of business topics. These topics include advertising and at what point the claims made by advertisers are exaggerated or lying and unethical. The ethics of affirmative action and sexual harassment are also popular topics, along with a dozen others. One perennially interesting topic is whether an employee should “blow the whistle” on the corporation or some other employee suspected of wrongdoing.
First off, is it obligatory for an employee to blow the whistle? What if blowing the whistle leads to one's own physical harm or will contribute to the corporation's losing money?
You can focus on one kind of whistle-blowing:
You could argue that people have a moral obligation to prevent serious harm to others if they are able to do so without doing serious harm to themselves. In fact, one could argue that as the cost of whistle-blowing increases, the obligation to blow the whistle decreases.
If by blowing the whistle you stand a serious chance of losing your job, being physically harmed, having your reputation maligned, and so on, then you must include all of this in your moral calculation.
Utilitarianism is the normative ethical theory most likely to favor blowing the whistle. This is because individuals blowing the whistle often undertake a cost-benefit analysis before blowing the whistle.