About the Center

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Shunzo Majima (Deputy Director, CAEP)

North10, West7
Graduate School of Letters
Hokkaido University

Tel: ++81-11-706-4088

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Introduction to Center for Applied Ethics and Philosophy

Tomoyuki YAMADA
Director and Professor, Department of Philosophy,
Graduate School of Letters,
Hokkaido University

The Center of Applied Ethics and Philosophy (CEAP) was established in April 2007. The center has two main purposes: one is to run the Graduate Program in Applied Ethics (GPAE) and the other is to promote a wide variety of research and education concerning applied ethics at the University. The first purpose is to oversee the Graduate Program in Applied Ethics sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). The grant from MEXT terminated at the end of the 2007 Japanese fiscal year (technically March 2008). However, it is our imperative to continue the program thereafter in order to educate and train young philosophers and ethicists with a contemporary perspective of applied ethics. The second purpose is to conduct applied ethics education not only at the School of Letters but also at other Graduate Schools. Currently, we run several classes of applied ethics at the Graduate Schools of Agriculture and of Life Sciences. Inevitably, however, there are limitations in terms of the availability of human resources to teach applied ethics classes at each Graduate School. Nevertheless, it is also our imperative to train highly skilled professionals equipped with ethical minds. In order to achieve this goal, we will utilize the inter-faculty education system at the graduate level, where, for example, medical students can take classes hosted by the Graduate School of Economics.

In order to explain our stance toward research and education in applied ethics, we may start from the following question: what is applied ethics? It is David Hume who once said: "it is only from the selfishness and confined generosity of men, along with the scanty provision nature has made for his wants, that justice derives its origin." Little has changed since Hume's time in that ethical problems occur when the selfishness and confined generosity of human beings are combined with the scarcity of resources. In order to overcome the scarcity of resources, we have utilized science and technology; as a result of this, our society is now called a "high-tech society." However, ironically, this type of society makes us more strongly aware of the limitations of natural resources on the earth. This trend is epitomized by the fact that "sustainability" is considered to be a keyword that unites different fields of science. In the meantime, it is ethics, including economic and political philosophy that has dealt with the problem of human selfishness. It has become common sense that contemporary society needs a new ethic, in other words, a new manner of thinking and action. However, what should such an ethic be? The problem affects all areas of human activities; various interests are entangled in a complex way. Therefore it is very difficult to indicate a solution to the problem.

Then, how should we pursue research and education at our center? The question, "what is applied ethics?", was discussed at the first International Conference of Applied Ethics in February 2007. In my view, applied ethics, as its name suggests, is not an activity to apply some principle to actual problems in order to find the solutions to them. Perhaps, applied ethics works in this way; however, it is in a very limited way. In those days, it was practical philosophy that undertook ethical tasks through philosophical reflections. If applied ethic plays a role in practical philosophy in our time, then its activity would inevitably be philosophical. The activity of research in applied ethics is to philosophically reflect on such conceptions as life and health, foundations of responsibility for nature, human beings and society, the nature of science and technology, and the ideals of business activities.

In the meantime, every science should be ethics-based. This idea does not simply mean that we must observe research ethics and prevent misconduct. Since scientific research is also a human activity, and its outcome can drastically change human life and society, scientists and engineers in every field always face ethical problems. Here we have to deal with the fundamental question: what is science for? Our attitude for considering this question in a purposeful way should be called "ethics-based." In Leben des Galilei, Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) criticized scientists and engineers who were involved in the production of atomic bombs. Contemporary scientists must not repeat Galileo's grief.

In conclusion, bringing depth to applied ethics requires a strong background in practical philosophy and respectively, sciences should also strive to become ethics-based sciences. This is our center's vision.