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Teaching Ethics

Volume 16, Issue 1, Spring 2016

Bruce Maxwell
Pages 75-90

The Debiasing Agenda in Ethics Teaching
An Overview and Appraisal of the Behavioral Ethics Perspective

How should ethics educators respond to the picture of moral functioning that has emerged from the cognitive sciences of morality? A critical case study of an instance of knowledge transfer from social and cognitive psychology to the practice of teaching ethics, this paper assesses the answer that behavioral ethics gives to this question. The paper first summarizes the opposition that the notion of “teaching reasoning skills” meets in behavioral ethics and provides some examples of the research findings on which this opposition is based. It is then argued that, contrary to the prevailing view in behavioral ethics, maintaining a central place in ethics for teaching about explicit reasoning strategies is consistent with the dominant view in social and cognitive psychology that everyday ethical perception and judgment are significantly influenced by a wide range of non-conscious, affectively-laden and non-rational processes.

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