On ethical principles for social research

Hammersley, Martyn (2015). On ethical principles for social research. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 18(4) pp. 433–449.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13645579.2014.924169


In some quarters today there are arguments to the effect that research ethics codes should be formulated in terms of principles, rather than specific prescriptions and proscriptions. This derives in part from what is probably the most influential approach to bioethics: principlism. What is provided here is an exploration of the nature of ethical principles as these relate to social research, and of the debates around them. It is argued that principles are useful, so long as they are treated as reminders of what ought to be taken into account, rather than as premises from which specific ethical judgments can be derived. At the same time, it is concluded that any move towards formulating codes in terms of principles is likely to make little difference in practice for researchers under the present regime of ethical regulation.

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