Research can be connected to ethics in a number of ways. Where research bears on a specific premise in a normative argument, the connection is very tight. Learn more about that sort of research here. A slightly looser connection obtains between ethics and research that aims to increase our understanding of a situation, event, institution, etc. so that we might be in a position to offer our better action guiding advice.
The same sort of tightness arises between ethics and research that aims to increase our toolbox for diagnosing a situation or our means for implementing interventions or treatments. In a nutshell, such research contributes to our ability to make life better for someone or some group. You can learn more about that type of research and its connection to funding here.
An even looser connection is found in research projects that aim to explore ethically relevant issues. Learn more about that sort of research here. And, looser still is the connection to ethics in research that simply aims to push us to reflect on and think about an ethically relevant issue. Call this encouragement research. Here, we’ll focus on the value of this sort of research and exactly what it looks like.
Films, theatre productions, photos, books, magazines, albums, songs, and other types of media inundate our lives. They capture a variety of genres and thematic moments that can and often do sit with us as we pause to appreciate them. Sometimes they encourage us to re-evaluate, re-package, or investigate a thought, feeling, or experience. Encouragement research, then, does just that with respect to an ethically relevant idea, emotion, or event.
In some ways the looser connection widens the path to funding. For instance, the research doesn’t need to speak to a specific premise in a specific normative argument nor does it have to transmit understanding or lead to the creation of new technology. However, there are limits. An individual might be correct that someone reading her essay on the history of violence in Iceland could be encouraged to think more deeply about the various morally relevant aspects of violence and our reaction to it. But, it is unlikely that she will find funding for the project on the basis of such a tenuous connection to ethics.<Hence, those interested in finding funding for Encouragement Research must show that the point of the project is to motivate reflection or thought about an ethically significant issue or premise. So, while an essay simply on the history of violence in Iceland might not count, an essay on the history of violence in Iceland written in such a way that its aim is to push us to ask normative questions like, ‘Should we respond to violence in the manner typical throughout Iceland’s history?’ or ‘Is a society where violence is taboo subject matter better than one in which violence is openly discussed and regularly seen?’. Likewise, a photograph that captured an exchange of money between two persons might be too loosely connected to ethics whereas a photograph or project that draws our attention to the concept of beneficence or charity and moves us to further reflection along those lines likely bears the right sort of relationship to ethics to count as a piece of Encouragement Research.
The links below help to fill out your understanding of encouragement research 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.