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What is an Ethicist?

By Jason C. Chavis
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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An ethicist is someone who uses judgment to find the correct ethical decisions in a specific situation. Generally, ethicists use the tradition of ethical codes to provide advice and guidance to organizations and communities from a position of authority. Most of the time, but not always, the concept is merged with that of moral principles. Some of the most prominent fields that use ethicists are the medical, legal and religious communities. Most ethicists are considered to operate within the parameters of the philosophical discipline.

Ethical codes vary drastically between different cultures, making the role of an ethicist a position of controversy between different groups. What may be morally and ethically viable to one set of people may not be to another. This has created a situation of cultural tension between certain factions of humanity. Additionally, it has also led to a rise in the late 20th century and early 21st century of many prominent debates between theologians and legal historians, especially when it comes to topics like the influence of religion in society.

Ideology plays a central role in the judgment of an ethicist. One of the principles of those taking part in ethical decisions and opinions often point to is human potential rather than the situation faced by humanity on a daily basis. This drives conflict in the field by creating different dimensions of what the moral implications of the present have to do with the ultimate situation in which people may find themselves in the future. For example, when a nation invades another to liberate its people, the moral obligation of the time seems just. However, an ethicist may point that in an ideal world, war would not be necessary and indeed may cause more long-term harm than good.

For much of the history of mankind, ethicists have worked at some capacity to explore the correct judgments made by people. To accomplish this, many questions need to be asked, some of which are simply rhetorical. While most people would not question the ethically wrong position Nazi-Germany took when it committed genocide on the Jewish community in World War II, a further question lies in whether it is ethical to use the medical research garnered from the scientific experimentation conducted on the victims themselves. The first question is basically an easy ethical choice, while the second can be more complicated due to its long-term implications.

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