Definition of the problem Empirical ethics is a relatively new type of research, predominantly practiced in medical ethics. Arguments This article discusses the distinctive features of empirical ethics and makes a distinction between generalist and contextualist empirical ethics. After providing some examples of both types of empirical ethics, it discusses a weak spot in each of them. Conclusion The conclusion is that the emergence of empirical ethics as such is a positive development. Empirical ethics, however, should be regarded as a complement to 'traditional' philosophical medical ethics, and not as the better alternative. © Die Autor(en) 2009.