Ethical Reasoning:  A Key Capability

What counts as ethical reasoning?

The current description of this key capability is that ethical reasoning is “The ability to reflect on moral issues in the abstract and in historical narratives within particular traditions.  Ethical reasoning is the ability to identify, assess, and develop ethical arguments from a variety of ethical positions.”  For the purposes of this application, it may be useful to think of an ethical reasoning course as one that integrates ethical questions into the intellectual work required in the course.  Ethical questions concern judgments of right and wrong, good and bad, as well as matters of justice, fairness, virtue, and social responsibility. Generally, at least one-third of the course should be devoted to exploring the range of normative issues associated with the central topic of the course.  It should be part of the plan of the course to move students beyond the standard "that's a matter of opinion" response to normative questions and a discussion of various frameworks for thinking systematically about ethical issues.

Courses emphasizing ethical reasoning will foster the ability to reflect rigorously on ethical issues and to apply ethical reasoning to choices in private and public life. Courses in ethical reasoning will not require that students adopt any particular ethical position, but will encourage students to begin to develop a defensible ethical position of their own.  This may be achieved by:

•    giving serious consideration to more than one side of personal or policy dilemmas;

•    teaching students how to distinguish ethical claims from descriptive and other sorts of claims, how to evaluate the evidence used in support of such claims, and how to test the consistency of a position and its coherence with other moral commitments;

•   helping students to identify various conflicting values in order to assess and employ various strategies for resolving value conflicts;

•   identifying good, compelling reasons from personal, arbitrary or prejudicial reasons;

•    exploring ethical reasoning in a historical or cross-cultural perspective.