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Relating to Carpenter’s Virtuous Research Ethics Committee

Virtue Ethics in the Conduct and Governance of Social Science Research

ISBN: 978-1-78714-608-2, eISBN: 978-1-78714-607-5

Publication date: 19 April 2018


The chapter reflects on the strengths and limitations of David Carpenter’s proposal to support the work of research ethics committees through consideration of the virtues required by their members. Carpenter’s approach has many strengths, responsibilising researchers and ethics committees, and increasing the scope for robust and active theoretical engagement with ethical issues. I bring two alternative perspectives on research ethics to bear on this discussion. First, I discuss work in care ethics and relational ethics, approaches to ethics that have some similarities with virtue ethics but also distinct differences. Bruce Macfarlane’s text, on which Carpenter draws, notes care ethics briefly. I offer a more detailed consideration of what this perspective can offer, both for research ethics and for the virtuous research ethics committee. This helps to identify the relationships that are missing from a virtue ethics focus. Further, a context sensitive relational approach suggests ways in which we can strengthen Carpenter’s proposals to help research ethics committees select between competing principles or virtues. Second, my research ethics expertise is in undergraduate teaching for a multidisciplinary course, and an enquiry-based learning programme, which allows students in mixed discipline groups to plan, conduct, report and present their own original social research. The research skills training provided includes an interactive introduction to research ethics, what they are for and why they matter. Since we aim to offer practical guidance to research ethics committees when they consider what they should do and how this should be done, such a first principles approach may be useful.




This chapter is developed from my contribution to an Academy of Social Sciences and British Sociological Association Symposium (Coverdale, 2015), which was presented alongside Carpenter’s (2015) paper. My contribution on the day intended to provoke discussion, and this chapter has benefited enormously from the ideas raised on the day by other participants.


Coverdale, H.B. (2018), "Relating to Carpenter’s Virtuous Research Ethics Committee", Emmerich, N. (Ed.) Virtue Ethics in the Conduct and Governance of Social Science Research (Advances in Research Ethics and Integrity, Vol. 3), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 127-140.



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