Handbook on East Asian Social Policy
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Handbook on East Asian Social Policy

Edited by Misa Izuhara

Dramatic socio-economic transformations over the last two decades have brought social policy and social welfare issues to prominence in many East Asian societies. Since the 1990s and in response to national as well as global pressure, there have been substantial developments and reforms in social policy in the region but the development paths have been uneven. Until recently, comparative analysis of East Asian social policy tends to have focused on the established welfare state of Japan and the emerging welfare regimes of four ‘Tiger Economies’. Much of the recent debate indeed preceded China’s re-emergence onto the world economy. In this context, this Handbook brings China more fully into the contemporary social policy debates in East Asia. Organised around five themes from welfare state developments, to theories and methodologies, to current social policy issues, the Handbook presents original research from leading specialists in the fields, and provides a fresh and updated perspective to the study of social policy.
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Chapter 15: The role of philosophy and ethics in social policy and research: a case study of Hong Kong and other Chinese societies

Ho Mun Chan


The relationship between philosophy and social policy and research is manifold. One of the main themes of philosophy of social sciences is about the philosophical justifications for different choices of social research method. This relationship will not be thoroughly discussed, however, because it is not the major concern of this handbook. As for ethics, there is a distinction between normative ethics and descriptive ethics. The judgement that capital punishment is wrong is a judgement in normative ethics. The claim that capital punishment is in general regarded as morally permissible in society is a claim in descriptive ethics. That people in general find capital punishment acceptable does not imply it is morally right to execute any criminals. Some philosophers maintain that there exists a fact and value distinction and philosophy should be concerned only with normative ethics (values) while the study of descriptive ethics (facts) is the job of social scientists. This outlook implies that there is no strong link between normative ethics, as a branch of philosophy, and social science. The only contribution may be to provide input in the development of ethical guidelines for social research. As for social policy, philosophers can serve as social critics of existing policies or participate in the policy-making process by providing ethical advice. The above outlook, though popular, is problematic.

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