Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ethics in the Academy

Elizabeth Kiss and J. Peter Euben, eds., Debating Moral Education: Rethinking the Role of the Modern University (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010) demonstrates both that there has been a resurgence of interest in ethics in the academy and that what this means is highly contested. What emerges from the various essays is a sense that one role of the university is to assist students to become morally reflective, not just to absorb information, acquire skills, and obtain credentials. Yet, even with this renewed interest there are problems, such as revealed in David A. Hackema’s essay about the role of ethics in professional schools: “Rather than encourage students to reflect on the qualities that constitute a virtuous character, professional-school ethics courses tend to focus on how many months an engineer or lawyer must wait after resigning from a firm or partnership before going to work for a competitor or a government regulation agency” (p. 253). In other professional schools, ethics are either buried as just one topic among many in various required courses or viewed askance as a soft area in comparison to the hard skills of technical knowledge. This is an important collection of essays, worth reading by anyone concerned about ethical perspectives in their respective discipline.

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