Applied Ethics

By Sudheer Kumar K|Updated : November 5th, 2020

Applied ethics topic is included in UPSC IAS Mains GS Paper-IV (Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude) syllabus. As UPSC is asking at least one question from applied ethics topic, it is very important to understand what applied ethics is and different areas of applied ethics so that answering Ethics case studies and theory part would be easy.

Applied Ethics

Applied Ethics means the application of ethical theories to specific real-world situations and issues.

Applied ethics is about how people achieve moral outcomes in specific situations.

Hence it is concerned with the evaluation of particular situations and problems that involve significant moral judgment.

For an issue to be considered as an ethical issue, it should meet two criteria:

  1. The issue should be a controversial
  2. Significant ethical issue is involved


Areas of Applied Ethics


Bioethics is the study of controversial ethical issues emerging from advances in biology and medicine. The major bioethical issues include GM crops, stem cell therapy, gene therapy, cloning, human genetic engineering etc.

Many religious communities have developed rules and standards with regard to ethical issues concerning biological life. For instance,

  • Abortion is a worldwide controversial issue, some in favour and some against.
  • Proponents say no child is a child and no mother is a mother before birth of a child and hence Abortion is moral.
  • Opponents say since human life is conceived at zygote stage, killing or abortion is unethical.
  • It is a practice of intentionally ending a life so as to relieve pain and agony. There is no medicine to some diseases like brain-dead. People with brain-dead will have to be in a vegetative state for years.
  • Naturalists argue that anything that interferes with the naturalness of life is
  • Some argue by choosing their life and death, they can experience freedom and pleasure.


Developmental Ethics

Development ethics studies ideas like development and the implications of different kinds of social-economic change.  The key issues include economic models like capitalism and inclusive growth, poverty reduction, the gap between rich and poor and human rights etc.


Environmental Ethics

The debate between development and environment is not a recent phenomenon. Environmental ethics studies implications of development on environment and diversity. Key areas of study include sustainable development, climate change and environmental management.


Corporate Ethics

  • It’s a branch of applied ethics. It analyses the ethical issues that arise in the corporate field and companies.
  • It deals with business policies and practices regarding controversial issues including corporate governance, bribery, insider trading, discrimination, corporate social responsibility, and fiduciary responsibilities. 
  • Issues like the balance between marketing and social responsibility.
  • For instance, scam by ICICI bank MD Chanda Kochchar, Infosys fiasco, and Volkswagen pollution defeating systems etc.


Organisational Ethics

  • Organizational ethics is nothing but ethics of an organization, and it is how an organization responds to internal or external stimuli. 
  • Organizational ethics expresses the values of an organization to its employees and/or other entities irrespective of governmental and/or regulatory laws.
  • A code of ethics within an organization is a set of principles that are used to guide the organization in its decisions, programs, and policies.
  • There are at least four elements that aim to create an ethical culture and behaviour of employees within an organization. These elements are:
    • code of ethics and standards
    • ethics training for executives, managers, and employees
    • availability of ethical situational advice
    • confidential reporting systems

According to 'Global Integrity Survey 2020’, Covid-19 pandemic has led to a reduced focus on ethical behaviour from senior management and weakening compliance processes and controls.

Military Ethics

Military ethics judges and justifies military actions from an ethical point of view. It defines and develops the principles of good behaviour or code of conduct for individual military personnel and groups.

Military Ethics encompasses an evaluation of all areas of military conduct including:

  • What shall be the laws of war
  • Decision on the initiation of war
  • Decision on who is targeted in warfare
  • Decision of choice of weaponry etc.


Political Ethics

  • It is also called political morality. It refers to the practice of making moral judgements with regards to political actions and political agents.
  • It is of two types:
  • Ethics of Process: It deals with political officials and the ways they follow.
  • Ethics of Policy: It is related to judgements about policies and laws.
  • Some critics argue that ethics has no place in politics. If politicians are to be effective in the real world, they cannot be bound by moral rules. They have to pursue the national interest.
  • Some others argue that we should not pay so much attention to politicians and policies but should instead look more closely at the larger structures of society where the most serious ethical problems lie
  • Advocates of political ethics respond that while structural injustice should not be ignored, too much emphasis on structures neglects the politicians who are responsible for changing them.


Media Ethics

  • Media evolved over a period to an extent there are as many electronic media channels as entertainment channels.
  • Areas in Media ethics:
    • Issues of moral principles and values as applied to the conduct, roles, and content of the mass media, in particular, journalism ethics and standards and marketing ethics; paid news and also the field of study concerned with this topic.

    1. News coverage: It includes issues such as:

  • Impartiality, objectivity, balance, bias, privacy, and the public interest.
  • Stereotyping, taste and decency, obscenity, freedom of speech, advertising practices such as product placement,
  • Legal issues such as 

    2. At Institutional level, It includes:

  • Debates over media ownership and control, commercialization, accountability, the relation of the media to the political system, issues arising from regulation or censorship and 

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