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Teaching Philosophy

Volume 33, Issue 4, December 2010

Heidi Giebel
Pages 363-374

Ethics without Controversy?

In this article I argue that, despite my previous strongly held beliefs to the contrary, a focused-theory approach to teaching Introductory Ethics (meaning that one theory or family of theories is the main focus of the course) is a legitimate and effective way to introduce undergraduate students to philosophical ethics. There are at least three advantages to the focused-theory approach to teaching ethics: increased depth of learning, avoidance of relativism (or “theory-relativism”) as a default position, and opportunity for moral education. There are some obvious objections to a focused-theory course—that skipping inter-theoretical controversy lessens opportunity for argument analysis and contemporary application, that lack of exposure to all of the major ethical theories is a disadvantage for grad school–bound students, and that a focused-theory approach amounts to indoctrinating students by teaching one’s favorite theory as though it were the only theory; but each objection can be addressed effectively.

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