What, if any, is the distinction between "formal ethics" and "deontic logic"?

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Formal ethics comprises more than just deontic logic. Deontic logic is primarily concerned with a logical analysis of notions such as 'ought', 'must', 'may', or 'being permitted', whereas formal ethics comprises all ethical and moral reasoning that makes use of formal methods.

Apart from deontic logic, formal ethics is also concerned with the modelling of formal systems of norms and rules (which are usually conflicting with each other, sometimes also defeasible and context-dependent), the formal modelling of the permissiveness of moral rules as 'soft constraints', dealing with vagueness of norms, laws, and moral rules, game-theoretical explanations of moral norms, formal models of distributional justice, the formal modelling of values including value incommensurability, moral issues of decision making under uncertainty (e.g. the Precautionary Principle), problems of value and preference aggregation, and utilitarian ethics in general.

Some of these topics are also addressed in AI research, formal epistemology, game theory, and economics. Research in this area is fairly interdisciplinary.

  • Is either field currently fashionable (in philosophy academia) right now? Would it be a good signal to submit a paper on either topic to grad schools in philosophy? – Harold W Mar 27 '13 at 11:27
  • There is no general answer to this, because it depends on where you study and what people are in your department. Philosophy of Economics is currently perhaps more fashionable than classical deontic logic, at least in Europe where I live. That being said, it would be insane to base your research direction on how fashionable the topic is. Trends come and go. On the other hand, if you'd write just one seminal paper that everybody reads then you'll still be invited to conferences to talk about it 30 years later - no matter which topic it covers. – Eric '3ToedSloth' Mar 27 '13 at 14:05

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