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Teaching Ethics


published on August 4, 2015

Daniel F. Hartner

Should Ethics Courses Be More Practical?

Philosophy courses are now regularly under fire from educators, administrators, politicians, and financially overextended students and parents demanding shorter and more economically fruitful college degree programs in a climate of economic austerity. Yet, perhaps in the face of a number of high-profile ethical violations in the business and professional world, many of these groups have been calling for more, and more effective, pre- and professional ethics education. This paradoxical call for more ethics and less philosophy is finding unlikely support from a number of academic philosophers who argue that traditional forms of ethics education, which emphasize reflection on abstract normative theories and principles, ought to be replaced with more practical ethics courses that emphasize real-world moral training and which focus on shaping character and behavioral dispositions. I examine this trend toward practical ethics education and argue that it wrongly decouples rationality and moral motivation, threatens to erode a crucial distinction between ethics and policy, and contributes to widespread misunderstanding of the nature of ethics.

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