Research that Contributes to Our Ability to Improve Lives

Though some research is aimed directly at supporting a particular premise in a normative argument, most research is more loosely related to ethics and normative claims.  It is this sort of research to which ethicists, policy analysts, and others turn to determine which course of action, policy, treatment program, aid initiative, etc. is best.

Some of that research attempts to expand our understanding of issues that are morally complex. For instance, research that details the ways in which tribal norms close off access to certain goods can help us determine the impact of certain types of aid.  Likewise, those attempting to determine which policy is most likely to strengthen a community rather than shatter it or disadvantage it often look to research projects that speak to the policy at issue, its implications, and the likely consequences of requiring folks to live by it.

Along the same lines, some research aims to provide us with tools or products that can be used to improve well-being. For instance, research that leads to the production of a prosthetic hand with increased dexterity aims at giving individuals in need of prosthetic hands the opportunity to pursue a certain life that they may find more enjoyable or fulfilling.  Likewise, a study that leads to the production of software for making more accurate predictions about when and where an earthquake of significant magnitude will occur can help us as we attempt to avoid catastrophes.

Of course, those involved may not have aimed at contributing to our ability to improve lives. And, that’s fine. Whether it implicitly or explicitly does so, it falls into this category of research. The concern for securing funding is whether you can make the connection explicit.  Also, the more direct the connection is between the research project and our ability to improve life the more valuable it is to those who might use it and those who might fund. To secure that tight connection, it is best to talk to an ethicist like our Assistant Director, Adam R. Thompson (  As these individuals are philosophers who specialize in value theory, they are in a good position to see exactly how your research might bear on quality of life issues.

The links below help to fill out your understanding of research that contributes to our ability to improve lives in three ways. The first offers some concrete examples of this sort of research.  The second lists examples of places that you might find funding opportunities for such research. And, the third delineates some approaches to help you make the link between your interests and ethics.

Example of Research Example of Funding Ops Checklist