Volume 20, Issue 2, June 1997
Ronald Paul Salzberger
Ethics Outside the Limits of Philosophy
Ethical Inquiry at Metropolitan State University
At a university where demand for an introductory ethics course is huge and spans many disciplines, it is challenging to achieve the appropriate degree of generality such that many students could take the course as their single exposure to ethics while others would find it sufficiently challenging and interesting to continue in philosophy. This paper discusses the considerations that led to a course focused on “expert ethical discourse.” Directed to a primarily non-traditional student body, this course aims for analytical skills that are highly relevant to students’ lives. Its goal is thus closer to “ethical literacy” than familiarity with the Western ethical canon (e.g. Aristotle, Kant, Mill). Taking seriously a number of feminist and post-modernist criticisms applicable to traditional ethics courses, “Ethical Inquiry” seeks to introduce students to dominant discourses on ethics (those which are highly influential on how people think and talk about ethics). Most of these discourses belong to disciplines other than philosophy, but the course uses philosophical tools for understanding and critiquing them, resembling a “moral critical theory” approach. After recounting faculty objections to this approach, the author reviews the course’s texts, how each discourse’s limits were approached, and the benefits and drawbacks of each text in the classroom.