PhD defence: Empirical Ethics for Practical Applications

Rasmus Christen Bjerregaard Mikkelsen

PhD defence

Rasmus Christen Bjerregaard Mikkelsen

Title of thesis

Empirical Ethics for Practical Applications


Since the turn of the century, empirical ethics has emerged as a field which contains a substantial literature. This literature is varied both in aims and methods but share the common element that ethical issues are studied via empirical methods, seen as a departure from traditional ethical analysis. Parallel to this development, ethicists are increasingly tasked with producing ethical assessments or recommendations of practice, policy, and research. Due to the applied nature of this task, empirical ethics methods would be an obvious approach to take to answering such questions: The empirical element allows for due consideration of contextual and practical factors which might otherwise be missed in a traditional ethical analysis. Consequently, a subsection has sprung up within the literature of empirical ethics which attempts to develop methodologies to address practical ethical questions by empirical ethics methods.

In this thesis, these methods are assessed and developed upon. Focusing on the dialogical approach which has been spearheaded by Guy Widdershoven and colleagues in the Netherlands, it is found that current methodologies fail to adequately justify their prescriptive conclusions. Issues of bias and meta-ethics hamper this dialogical approach because it attempts to derive ethical conclusions from within its empirical methods. In response, it is found that the real value of an empirical ethics approach does not lie in its ability to generate normativity, but rather in its ability to translate this normativity into practical prescriptive conclusions. What is presented here is an approach to empirical ethics which focuses on stakeholders, context, and structural factors. Here, empirical methods are uniquely useful in establishing the practical ‘decision-space’ within which a prescriptive conclusion must fall. In other words, empirical methods are relied upon to determine what is possible, the ethical analysis is relied upon to determine where the conclusions should fall within this space.

This approach to making practical ethical recommendations is applied in two cases. In the first case, it is argued that a broad consent model should be applied in large-scale biobanks, based both on an ethical analysis of informed consent, and the empirical structural factors of the reality within which these biobanks exist, including economic, social, cultural, and political factors. In the second case, based on an ethical analysis combined with several empirical factors, it is argued that the traditional dichotomy between genetic therapy and genetic enhancement ought to be supplemented by a third category of genetic protection treatments, both in policy and bioethical debate.

In summary, this thesis provides insight into deficiencies in current empirical ethics methodologies and presents an alternative that is perhaps narrower in scope but intended to be both practically useful and methodologically sound. It is hoped that this approach will be a useful tool in developing useful and prescriptive assessments and recommendations of practice and policy.


Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO), University of Copenhagen


Professor Peter Sandøe, Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO), University of Copenhagen


Associate professor Mickey Gjerris, Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO), University of Copenhagen

Assessment Committee:


Associate professor Sune Hannibal Holm, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen

Professor Antje Gimmler, University of Aalborg

Bjørn K. Myskja, Norweigan University of Science and Technology, Trondheim

Master of Ceremony

Assistant professor Søren Stig Andersen, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen

Request a copy of the thesis

If you are interested in a full copy of the thesis, please contact the PhD student or the PhD Secretary .

The defence is open to all.

If you are interested in a full copy of the thesis, please contact the PhD student or the PhD Secretary.


No. The defence will be held in person at Kongelunden, Rolighedsvej 23, 1958 Frederiksberg C.




No. The doors close when the defence starts and will not be opened again until the defence is finished.
You cannot leave early either unless there is an emergency.



It is not allowed to take pictures or record the defence without prior agreement with the PhD student and supervisors.



There is usually a reception after a defence. We kindly ask you to contact the PhD student if you want to know the location of the reception.