Volume 20, Issue 4, December 1997
Developing and Using Cases to Teach Practical Ethics
While there is much extant literature on “case method” pedagogy as practiced in law and business education, there is little written on its use in teaching practical (i.e. professional or applied) ethics. After relating the history and nature of the case method in law, business, and philosophy, the author offers guidance on how to develop and use philosophy cases, focusing on lesson plans for their presentation, their purpose within the practical ethics curriculum, and how to write and grade course requirements involving them. Much more than the examples philosophers typically invent (designed to illustrate a point or bring discussion to a close), philosophy cases are highly varied, promoting discussion and sensitivity to complex ethical situations. The author argues that since the goal of a practical ethics course is to most often to familiarize people with the special standards of conduct that apply to members of a certain group (e.g. doctors, lawyers, academics), philosophy cases should encourage the expression of ethical opinions, encourage students to identify issues within cases and to make decisions that account for ethical complexities, promote students’ ability to justify those decisions convincingly, and develop in students a sense of how to incorporate feasibility into the moral decision-making process.