The terms 'applied ethics' and 'practical ethics' are used interchangeably to indicate the application of ethics to special arenas of human activity, such as business, politics, and medicine, and to some particular problems, such as abortion. In some respects applied ethics is close to casuistry even though it does not entail a formal system of casuistry.

Christian theologians and ethicists have long focused on practical problems in the light of their moral principles and religious beliefs, but many philosophers, especially during the 1950s and 1960s, retreated from practical problems to concentrate on metaethics before returning again to applied ethics in the 1970s and 1980s. The term 'practical ethics' has a longer history than 'applied ethics', which became common in the last fifteen years. There is a danger that applied ethics will be viewed as analogous to engineering, with ethics being reduced to solving problems. But ethical considerations set problems as well as solve them and also include such matters as character and virtue.

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