In Search of Architectural Ethics: “Quand on n’a pas de caractère, il faut bien se donner une méthode”*, by Martin Düchs

The question what it needs to be a morally good architect is a question that already Vitruvius – widely seen as the first architectural theoretician – tried to answer in his writings dating from the first century before christ; and the question of morality in architecture has been an important one in architectural theory ever since then. Nevertheless moral aspects of architecture have been the subject of scientific ethical scrutiny only on rare occasions. In general one could state, that moral philosophers have forgotten about architecture and architects and architectural theoreticians did not make use of the means and models of ethics as the relevant scientific discipline. So one cannot talk about there being any architectural ethics or any relevant tradition of scientific ethical deliberations on architecture. But the question what it needs to be a morally good architect is in the 21st century with its social and environmental problems probably more relevant than ever. And at the same time our moral intuitions are getting less certain in a globalized and secularized world with its manifold economic, political, social, cultural and environmental conflicts.

An important reason for the lacking of architectural ethics might be the character of architecture itself as a discipline that contains elements from art, engineering, social sciences, economics etc. This makes it difficult to “apply” any existing ethical theory to the discipline. But instead of looking at the discipline, the moral philosopher could take a look to the practical work of an architect and compare it to other disciplines. Thereby he might find similarities to other professions.

In my paper I would like to suggest an analogy between the work of an architect and a physician.
This might sound somewhat surprising, but a closer look at both professions shows that there are some significant structural similarities, that seem to be worth thinking about. With this analogy as a starting point I would like to go even further and suggest that the area of biomedical ethics could be a field from which architectural ethics could learn and draw benefits. Thereby moral problems in architecture can – of course – not be discussed directly within normal biomedical ethics. But structural models and probably also methods could be adopted to architecture.

Concluding the paper I would like to suggest that one of – mainly within a context of biomedical ethics eveloped – ethical models that could be suitable for architecture is the so called principlismas it was developed by Beauchamp and Childress (1st ed. 1977 / 6th ed. 2009) over the last three decades.

References: * “When one has no character one has to apply a method.” (Albert Camus: The Fall) Camus (2008/[1956], p. 15), Paris: Gallimard Beauchamp and Childress (6th ed. 2009), New York: Oxford University Press

Martin Düchs, Technical University Munich & Munich School of Philosophy, DE

Harvard Citation Guide: Düchs, M. (2012) In Search of Architectural Ethics: “Quand on n’a pas de caractère, il faut bien se donner une méthode”, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 13 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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