Research Ethics and Empirical Ethics


This module considers the range of ethical issues associated with the conduct of research on humans and animals, and empirical methods in ethics.

Programme details

Under the first heading, the module will consider a range of different kinds of research and research methodologies, including medical and social science research and the spread of issues that each of these contexts present.

Specifically it will consider the core set of ethical concepts and principles that are relevant in research ethics and the ethical arguments associated with trade-offs that often must be made between consent, risk of harm to participants, overall scientific benefit and social justice.

The module will then turn to empirical ethics, a growing field of applied ethics research, which seeks to utilise the analysis of empirical data to inform ethical analysis. The development of approaches to empirical ethics is largely driven by a feeling that traditional ‘philosophical’ ethics is too abstract, and too far removed from the lived reality of moral problems, to be useful in the resolution of concrete practical ethical dilemmas.

Empirical ethics seeks to address this perceived weakness by ensuring that ethical analysis is grounded in empirical data. In so doing, it involves directly connecting philosophical enquiry with social scientific analysis in a range of different ways.

The module considers the range of underlying accounts of empirical ethics, and attempts to articulate how these accounts might shape empirical ethics as a distinct discipline. In particular, the module will consider (i) the philosophical justifications for empirical ethics, (ii) the methodologies that follow from such justifications, and (iii) practical methods and research activities adopted by empirical ethicists.


Description Costs
Short course fee 2022-23 £2220.00
Students enrolled on MSt in Practical Ethics (22-23) £1730.00


Dr Michael Dunn

Module lead


Until September 2021, Dr Michael Dunn is an Associate Professor at the Ethox Centre, University of Oxford, where he is also the director of medical ethics and law education in Oxford University’s clinical school and director of the Ethox Centre’s graduate training programme in bioethics. In January 2022, Michael will take up a new academic position in the Centre for Biomedical Ethics at the National University of Singapore. Michael is an academic health care ethicist, and his current research focuses primarily on the ethical dimensions of community-based and long-term health and social care practice, management and law – both in the UK and internationally.


Michael has authored over 80 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters in the fields of bioethics, medical ethics and law, and health/social care services research. His two most recent books are Medical Ethics: A very short introduction (Oxford University Press, 2018) and Empirical Bioethics: Theoretical and practical perspectives (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

Dr Mark Sheehan

Module lead

Biomedical Research Centre Ethics Fellow, The Ethox Centre and James Martin Research Fellow, Institute for Science & Ethics, University of Oxford

Mark Sheehan is Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) Ethics Fellow at the Ethox Centre and a James Martin Research Fellow in the Institute for Science and Ethics. He received his PhD in Philosophy from The City University of New York, where his PhD thesis was on the nature of moral judgements.

Prior to his PhD, he received an MA (Hons) and a BA (Hons)/BSc from the University of Melbourne. Prior to coming to Oxford he was a lecturer in the Centre for Professional Ethics at Keele University, Ethics Fellow at the Mt. Sinai Medical School, New York and Adjunct Lecturer in the Philosophy Department at The City College of New York.

As BRC Ethics Fellow, Mark is involved in Research Ethics and Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) across the Oxford NIHR BRC themes. This involvement includes discussions with researchers about research ethics issues in their work, collaborating on research proposals with ethical components and conducting research on issues in research ethics, ethics generally and PPI that engage with the research themes within the BRC. As a member of the Institute for Science and Ethics, Mark is involved in research identifying and critically analysing ethical issues and problems arising in stem cell science, cloning, artificial reproduction and genetics.

The Institute is part of the Oxford Martin School and so he is also involved in a number of collaborations with other parts of the School. Mark has set up and teaches (with the considerable help of colleagues) a series of sessions on research ethics aimed at researchers in the Medical Sciences Division and at the Oxford Radcliffe Hospital. From Hilary term 2011 he will lead (again with the help of colleagues) a seminar series in the Centre for Doctoral Training in Healthcare Innovation in the Institute for Biomedical engineering on the ethics and biotechnology.

He also teaches Medical Ethics and Law to the Graduate Entry Medical students at the Medical School and lectures on the Medical Law and Ethics course in the Law School.

He has published in such journals as the Journal of Applied Philosophy, the Journal of Medical Ethics, the Cambridge Quarterly on Healthcare Ethics and the American Journal of Bioethics. With colleagues from the Centre for Professional Ethics at Keele University, he has just completed an EU-funded textbook on research ethics.

He is a member of the Advisory Group for National Specialised Services (AGNSS) and the Thames Valley Priorities Forum (MOBBB) for the South Central Strategic Health Authority. He also sits on the University’s Social Sciences and Humanities Inter-Divisional Research Ethics Committee and is an external member of the Goldsmith’s Research Ethics Committee.

He is a Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy at St. Benet’s Hall.

Current Research Themes: 1.Research Ethics and Governance 2.Ethics and Reproductive Technologies 3.Ethical issues in Resource Allocation 4.Commercialisation and Health 5.Methodology in Applied Ethics and Bioethics

Teaching methods

This course consists of an intensive teaching week in Oxford to include lectures, seminars, discussion groups and student presentations.

The teaching week will be fully supported online via a Virtual Learning Environment to include essential readings, texts and online lectures. Students can continue discussions when away from Oxford using the online forums.

Students will also have access to:

  • Oxford's Libraries online learning resources
  • Facilities available at the Department for Continuing Education:
    • Graduate Room with study space, printing facilities, lockers and refreshments
    • Library 
    • Computer resource room
    • Common room and bar
    • Dining room

Assessment methods

Assessment for each module will be based on a written assignment, which shall not be of more than 3,500 words.

This course can be taken with or without academic credit. All participants who satisfy the course requirements will receive a Certificate of Attendance. Those opting to take the course for credit and successfully complete an assignment will also receive 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 7 (postgraduate). Credit points are recognised by many employers and universities in the UK and internationally.


Applications are being accepted. However you are unlikey to hear back regarding the outcome of your application until next academic year.

This module can be taken as part of the MSt in Practical Ethics, or as a stand-alone short course. 

Short course applications

This course requires you to complete the online application form (please press the 'Apply' button) and include a copy of your CV as an attachment.

If you are applying to take this course for academic you will also need to complete the reference section of the application form, and input the email address of your referee. Upon successfully submitting the application an email will be sent to your referee asking them to provide a reference in support your application for the course.

Please note that if you are not applying to take the course for academic credit then you do not need to submit a reference.


The short course application panel will convene at certain times in the year to assess all short course applications received by that date. These dates are to be finalised, but are likely to be at the end of January, March and August (further dates may become available depending on numbers).

MSt in Practical Ethics applications

Please follow the application guidelines on the MSt in Practical Ethics page.

Selection criteria

  • Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in any subject.
  • However, in the absence of an appropriate undergraduate degree, sufficient relevant professional experience and/or other educational attainment may be considered as evidence of suitability in some circumstances.
  • For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA normally sought is 3.6 out of 4.0.
  • Applicants will need to have a good working knowledge of email, internet, word processing and Windows applications (for communications with course members, course team and administration).
  • Where applicable, applicants will need to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).


Accommodation is available at the Rewley House Residential Centre, within the Department for Continuing Education, in central Oxford. The comfortable, en-suite, study-bedrooms have been rated as 4-Star Campus accommodation under the Quality In Tourism scheme, and come with tea- and coffee-making facilities, free Wi-Fi access and Freeview TV. Guests can take advantage of the excellent dining facilities and common room bar, where they may relax and network with others on the programme

Bed and breakfast accommodation at other University colleges can also be booked on the Oxford Rooms website.

IT requirements

Please ensure that you have access to a computer that meets the specification detailed here: