Friday, October 27, 2006

Zwolinski on Teaching Applied Ethics

Matt_belgium_5Matt Zwolinski, a professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of San Diego, and a colleague of Larry Alexander and Steve Smith in USD's Institute for Law & Philosophy, has a wonderful post over at PEA Soup on the teaching of applied ethics. As a former USD legal philosopher, Larry Solum, would say, here's a taste:

I think our applied ethics -- certainly our teaching, and maybe our research -- should focus less on explaining/clarifying moral theory, and more on getting people to care about being moral in the first place.  And/or we could teach students how to recognize situational forces that tend to lead to unethical behavior, and how to avoid or overcome those forces.  There are probably lots of useful projects in which we could engage as applied ethicists.  My point is that if out main concern is helping students to be better people, then it's not clear tha teaching them lots of moral theory is going to be a significant part of any of them.

My hunch is that if we teach people why being moral is important, then for the most part they'll figure out how to do it on their own.  If we don't teach people why they should care about morality, and all the moral theory in the world won't stop them from turning into moral monsters.

[Jeff Lipshaw]

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Those are some very profound points. I look forward to trying to square this with Posner's points on "moral entrepreneurs" in Problematics. The question of moral motivation is a tough one. I'm going to try to see how my administrative law students respond to it in response to a program called "A well-founded fear," which raises many difficult moral dilemmas faced by INS hearing judges.

Posted by: Frank Pasquale | Oct 28, 2006 11:18:59 AM

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