Modelling in Normative Ethics

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice (5):1-25 (2022)
  Copy   BIBTEX


This is a paper about the methodology of normative ethics. I claim that much work in normative ethics can be interpreted as modelling, the form of inquiry familiar from science, involving idealised representations. I begin with the anti-theory debate in ethics, and note that the debate utilises the vocabulary of scientific theories without recognising the role models play in science. I characterise modelling, and show that work with these characteristics is common in ethics. This establishes the plausibility of my interpretation. Taking methodological inspiration from modelling in science gives us new tools for managing idealisations, and a new perspective on pluralism. I demonstrate why this interpretation is a fruitful way of interpreting ethics, by looking at three case studies. First, I return to the anti-theory debate and argue that modelling opens up a new middle ground. Second, I argue that a modelling lens offers a new way of understanding impossibility theorems in population ethics, and their bearing on ethics as a whole. Finally, I show how viewing our work as modelling can be deployed in debates within ethics, using the debate over prioritarianism as an example. I close with further methodological suggestions for those who choose to see themselves as modellers. I discuss the role of counterexamples, our responses to moral disagreement, and the training of new ethicists.

Author's Profile

Joe Roussos
Institute for Futures Studies


Added to PP

109 (#68,527)

6 months
76 (#22,706)

Historical graph of downloads since first upload
This graph includes both downloads from PhilArchive and clicks on external links on PhilPapers.
How can I increase my downloads?