There has long been tension between bioethicists whose work focuses on classical philosophical inquiry and those who perform empirical studies on bioethical issues. While many have argued that empirical research merely illuminates current practices and cannot inform normative ethics, others assert that research-based work has significant implications for refining our ethical norms. In this essay, I present a novel construct for classifying empirical research in bioethics into four hierarchical categories: Lay of the Land, Ideal Versus Reality, Improving Care, and Changing Ethical Norms. Through explaining these four categories and providing examples of publications in each stratum, I define how empirical research informs normative ethics. I conclude by demonstrating how philosophical inquiry and empirical research can work cooperatively to further normative ethics.