What is Development Ethics?

International development ethics is ethical reflection on the ends and means of local, national and global development. IDEA is forging a consensus on the tasks and methods of this relatively new discipline. The following is how one IDEA member sees our interrelated concerns:

Levels of Value Issues

1) The recognition of value issues as an important part of development discourse. These issues are not peripheral, mere extras after the technical and economic analyses have been done. They ought to be at the very heart of all development thinking.

2) The careful defense of basic normative theories, whether secular or religious, that justify a model of local, national, or global development. For example, such theories appeal to social justice, human rights, basic needs, and theological understandings of the human condition.

3) The application of values to concrete decision making, whether at the level of donor organization or grassroots communities. There is a vast agenda on the “ethics of the means” – both how to realize goals and what ethical limits must be observed in pursuing goals.

Types of Value Inquiry

The above value issues can be taken up in a number of different but complementary ways.

1) Reflection: Philosophical thinking can clarify what development is; it can defend normative positions by critical and rational thinking about ethical alternatives; it can identify the complexities involved in the rational choice of means. Philosophical and theological reflection can provide a basic understanding of the human condition and of morally relevant facts.

2) Application: the social scientist, technologist, economist, medial expert, or agriculturalist can integrate their expertise with properly articulated values to make their prescriptions and policies more ethically authoritative.

3) Practice: the committed development worker or policy maker engaged with concrete problems can gain from more abstract thinking and at the same time keep such reflection firmly rooted in and informed by development practice.

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