The Ethics, Values, and Professional Life minor helps students navigate the complex moral issues that will inevitably arise in their personal and professional lives. Courses in the minor address a wide range of topics, ranging from the future of medical technology and public policy to the nature of happiness and meaning. In these courses, students engage in critical reflection on their values and beliefs, and develop a toolbox of ethical concepts that will help them make sound decisions in morally challenging situations.
One might ask, what is the use of such a minor? By and large, students know right from wrong. They care about others and their communities. They are mostly decent, honest and kind. It may therefore seem that students have no need for the study of ethics. However, even decent people often fail to understand the ‘why’ behind their intuitions, habits and judgments. The point of studying ethics is not to turn a bad person good, but to cultivate ethical understanding.
Ethical understanding is necessary to meet a complex moral reality. New developments, contexts and situations present novel moral challenges. Without understanding why certain values are important and relevant, it is impossible to respond to these challenges in flexible, creative ways. Moreover, moral disagreement is unavoidable in serious contexts, where stakes are high and emotions strong, and the price of unresolved disagreement is enmity and gridlock. Unless people are able to articulate and communicate the basis of their views, there can be no progress toward resolution. Finally, nobody’s values are above critical scrutiny. The strength of one’s feelings is no proof of their soundness, as some of the most egregious sins in human history were committed by those who felt strongly about the rightness of their views. Through understanding one’s values reflectively, one gains a needed measure of humility and perspective on vexed moral issues.
By facilitating critical reflection, the ethics minor helps students become progressively more thoughtful, articulate, and stable in their moral judgments and reactions. It thus prepares students for the extraordinarily difficult task of realizing goodness in a messy, complicated world.
Irene Liu, Ph.D., is an associate professor of philosophy whose areas of research include meta-