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Contemporary Ethical Issues Focus


Misperceptions & common questions/issues

Is there a question/issue you would have liked to see on this page? Please email it to gened@hawaii.edu and the E Focus Board will create a response.


1. I am hesitant to propose an E-focus course because I am not a professional ethicist.

If you are aware of, care about, and practice ethical behavior in the context of your own disciplinary expertise, you are in a good position to design and teach an E-focus course. E-focus courses represent a balance between objectifying ethics as a scholarly topic—learning what particular moral philosophers said about ethics, for example—and the skills involved in the practice of ethical decision making.

2. I may have trouble fitting my approach to contemporary ethical issues into the standard format of an E-focus course.

There is no standard approach. So far, a number of distinct types of E-course has been proposed, accepted and successfully taught. Here are some of the categories that we have seen as emerging from the proposals:

Code-based E-courses take as a central text for the course an explicit code of professional ethics. Successful courses of this type do not simply teach the rules but emphasize the complexities and hard decisions that emerge when the rules are applied in difficult situations.

Community practice-based courses delineate the ethical concerns in a particular community that are not explicitly codified or are only partially codified. An example would be the ethics of scientific research. Here again, pitfalls and potential double-binds force the student to think ethically rather than just follow a rule.

Ethics-in-everyday-life focused courses may not identify a specific community but may point out ethical dimensions of ordinary practices that we all engage in. For example, participation as a consumer or audience member in economic, cultural performance, or political activities in the public sphere may involve ethical choices that are taken for granted.

Critical ethics courses tend to focus on the more intense issues that have become highly polarized and involve criticism of the status quo in economic, political, and cultural life. For example, current and historical practices that involve a strong sense of injustice, exploitation, and abuse have obvious ethical implications. When the ethical choice is obvious and it is clear that one choice is bad and another good, however, complex ethical decision making may not be involved. A good E-focus course will raise ethical awareness of the issue and challenge the student to confront his or her own certainty about the choices involved and create a class atmosphere in which diverse ideas are encouraged.

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