Thick and Thin Methodology in Applied Ethics

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This paper uses the distinction between thick and thin ethical concepts to illuminate the philosophical discourse referred to as “applied ethics.” It explores what thick ethical concepts have to offer in terms of a method for discussing issues in applied ethics. By focusing on thick ethical concepts, applied ethics can avoid the pitfall of creating a conceptual gap between empirical discourse and normative discourse. Applied ethics, the paper argues, is linked to philosophical and anthropological aspirations that have traditionally sought to uncover the thick normative vocabulary relevant to particular practices and cultures. By focusing on thick descriptions, applied ethics discloses the rich normative meaning of our social practices and social relations. The concepts used therein are often unintelligible apart from the particular social practices through which their meaning is manifested. Accordingly, thick ethical concepts are philosophically useful for adopting a nonrepresentational conception of language, which underlies the expression of meaning of particular social practices.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)474-488
Number of pages15
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • applied ethics
  • methodology
  • thin and thick concepts

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy


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