The Ethical Matrix is a versatile tool for analysing ethical issues. Devised by Professor Ben Mepham, Director of the Centre for Applied Bioethics at the University of Nottingham and a member of the Food Ethics Council, it is intended to help people make ethical decisions, particularly about new technologies. This document summarises the philosophy behind it, explains how it can be used, evaluates its strengths and limitations and suggests how to find out more about it.
The ethical issues that arise in food and farming defy simple resolution. No single concern such as maximising net benefits to the people concerned, protecting the environment or respecting human rights overrides all others. Indeed, there is often disagreement about whether some of the entities affected by a decision have ethical standing at all.
The Ethical Matrix sets out a framework to help us work through these debates in relation to a particular issue. It is designed so that a broader than usual range of ethical concerns is aired, differences of perspective are openly discussed, and the weighting of each concern against the others is made explicit. The matrix is based in established ethical theory but, as far as possible, employs user-friendly language.