The following are some frequently asked questions about this course.
- What’s this course all about?
- Why am I required to take it?
- What’s required of me in this course?
- How will the course be taught?
- What do I need to do to get a good grade in this course?
This introduction provides brief answers to the above questions, which we hope will give you a
better understanding of the course and why we think you’ll find it to be one of the better courses
you take in your college career.
1. What’s this course all about?
- It’s about you! This course has been designed expressly for you. It is your course. It’s
about you, your life and the world you live in. For those reasons it may be the most
relevant course you will take in your college career.
- Happiness & Living a Good Life: How is this course relevant to your life? Well, if you
consider personal happiness relevant; and if you think it’s important to develop your own
thoughtful opinions about what is good and evil, right and wrong; and if you think it is
important for you to make the right moral choices in your personal and professional lives,
then you will find this course to be very relevant to how you want to live your life.
- Ethical Issues: We’ll be looking at a multitude of ethical issues that may arise from the
following topics in our personal and professional lives. For example, the nature of evil,
alcohol and drug abuse, social media, family values, the value of friendships, sex & love,
workplace cultures, co-workers, bosses, customers & clients, advertising and marketing,
racism & sexism in the workplace, the economy & political leadership, war and
terrorism, the Global Village, and the natural environment.
- Thinking for yourself: You’ll be asked to think through the ethical issues that arise from
the above topics (and others) and to justify your own decisions about what is right or
wrong in case studies or scenarios involving these topics.
- Moral Roadmaps: We’ll introduce you to six of the most influential ethical theories (or
moral roadmaps) in human history to add you your own moral point of view. It will be
up to you to decide how much of any of these theories to incorporate into your own
personal and professional ethics.
- Code of Ethics: You will be given the whole semester to think about, develop and write
down your own personal code of ethics. This assignment will be your major “walkaway” value from the course. Students find out a lot more about themselves than they
originally thought by completing this project!
2. Why am I required to take this course?
- I already have ethics! Why are we required to take a course in ethics? As adults, don’t
we already have our own ethics? Each of the following paragraphs help to explain why
this course is required.
- Adult Ethics: Nobody likes a know-it-all. Just about everyone has their own personal
ethics as an adult, but that doesn’t mean that we now know all there is to know about
ethics and that there is nothing more to learn about how we ought to live our lives. We
may have learned the difference between right and wrong as a child, but as we know —
the world of an adult is a good deal different from the world of a child. We may certainly
still practice the moral lessons we learned at mother’s knee, but we will be facing very
different moral choices as an adult.
- Personal Growth: “Do I think the same way I did five or ten years ago? Do I value
exactly the same things I did five or ten years ago? Would I do the same things I did five
or ten years ago? Most of us would probably say no to one or more of these questions.
- Evolving Ethics: We are constantly growing and changing, even if we’re unaware of it.
Whether we’re 18 or 48 (or older!), we find ourselves going through continual change,
whether we want to or not. We go to college, meet new people, make new friends, break
up with boyfriends or girlfriends, lose loved ones, get jobs, lose jobs, find out what we
have a passion for in life, and maybe find a BFF or the love of our lives. Not all change
is bad! Sometimes change allows us to grow in ways that help us. “That which doesn’t
kill me, only makes me stronger.” (Nietzsche)
- “When Adults Go Bad — and Good!” Do you know anyone who has become morally
worse after the age of 21? If so, doesn’t it seem logical that someone over the age of 21
can become morally better? To think, therefore, that just because we are now adults we
have nothing else to learn about ethics is both naïve and unrealistic.
- Whatever Happened to Ethics? Are we less ethical now than ever before? We hear
about horrible things happening almost daily. All we have to do is pick up a newspaper
or go online every day to be reminded that ethics and the lack of ethics, are major news in
our society: Murder in movie theaters. Ponzi schemes. Wall Street scams. Drive-by
shootings. Terrorist bombings. Widespread cheating in college. A coach sexually
abusing dozens of boys and a beloved & respected coach helping to cover it up. Drug
But we also hear of many people doing good things for others: a young stranger
donating his bone marrow to a cancer patient, a single mother raising happy and
successful children, a friend covering her best friend’s body with her own to protect her
in the Aurora, Colorado tragedy, and a brave woman informing the police of the action of
drug-dealers in her neighborhood.
So maybe we aren’t really less ethical these days — it may be just that the news media
think bad news is more compelling and important than good news, so we always hear
more about what’s unethical than ethical!
- And the good ole days! Of course, some people will swear that we were better off
morally years ago. You may have heard your parents or grandparents tell you that when
they were young they never locked their doors or cars. People didn’t worry about
neighbors stealing from each other. And if they misbehaved at school they would be
“punished” by their teacher, their aunt on their way home, and their mother when they
- It’s the Little Things! It’s the little things that sneak up on us and get us into trouble
more so than the big things. Most people would not steal $100,000 from their workplace
and think it’s ethical to do so. But how many of us take home pens, paper, notebooks,
etc., from our workplace and think nothing of it? What about wasting time at work?
Doing school work or making private phone calls? What about the lies we tell to protect
ourselves or for our convenience? The promises we break to others that we don’t think
are important to keep? The deceptions we practice against those who may trust us? The
emotional “cheating” we may commit against our spouse or partner? As we all know,
little things add up to big things and before we know it we are in the habit of acting
unethically in our personal and professional lives. Lying and cheating simply come as
“second nature” to us by then!
- Drawing the Line: We hear people sometimes say that they don’t know where to “draw
the line” when it comes to doing the right thing. We hope this course will help you
decide where your line is and what the line consists of. Otherwise, we are tempted to
keep moving the line around to avoid making difficult moral choices. Pretty soon —
- Moral Imagination: Sometimes we think only of ourselves and our own little world.
We can’t imagine what other people may be going through in their lives. We think that
only our moral point of view is the correct one. Half the world’s problems may be the
result of us not “putting ourselves in the shoes of others,” not trying to understand points
of view different or opposed to our own. It’s very tempting to think that I’m right and
everyone else is wrong.
- Objective Thinking: Maybe half the other problems in the world are the result of ignorant
thinking or sometimes stupidity itself. This can come from fear and hatred of others. We
close our minds and don’t want to think. It’s too much trouble. It’s more satisfying to
believe I’m right no matter what. Of course, this is how most wars have started, why
most murders occur, why people live unhappy lives, and why others are fired from their
To think objectively in ethics does not mean that we have to agree with others’ opinions.
It just means that we need to take the time to understand their “side of the story.” We
have to step back from our own biases and prejudices, and try to say to ourselves: “OK.
How would I think about this if I didn’t know who any of the people are in this case?”
What would be the fair thing to do, regardless of who it is?
3. What’s required of me in this course? (A Triple AAA Rating!)
- Active Engagement: The course syllabus spells out the formal requirements of the
course, but one of the informal and intangible requirements of the course is for you to be
fully engaged with the course both inside and outside of the classroom. This means
reading all assignments thoughtfully — involve yourself in the readings, ask questions,
take notes, be critical or complimentary, say to yourself “Oh yeah. I’ve thought of that
before” or “What the hell’s he talking about?!” None of the readings are very long. So
you’ll want to read them twice before coming to class.
Be fully engaged in class by listening to what the instructor and your classmates have to
say, taking notes, asking questions, and giving your thoughtful opinions about topics
being discussed. This does not mean that you have to be a “blabber mouth” and raise you
hand to comment on every question the instructor asks. You may not even speak during
a class, but you’re thinking all the time! We’ve noticed that some of our outstanding
students at the end of a semester are those who do not talk a lot in class, but when they do
they have some very good things to say!
We will have a number of debates, group discussions, moot court trials, and role-playing
assignments in class or in online forums. All students are expected to actively contribute
to the class in these exercises by being fully prepared, thoughtful in their presentations,
and courteous and respectful of their classmates.
Attitude Toward Learning: We always ask our students, “Why are you in college?”
Answers include the following. “I need a degree to get a job.” “I just want to get
through and get it over with.” “My parents are paying for it.” “I’ve been raising a
family, now it’s my turn to do something for myself.” “I screwed up when I was twenty,
but now I want a college education.” “I want to go to law school or graduate school.”
“I just love to learn.” Any or all of these reasons for going to college are OK. But
we’ve always told students that if you have the right attitude toward learning, then you
will take care of all the other reasons for attending college.
Right attitude means approaching this course with an open mind and a willingness to
listen to constructive criticism from the instructor — and to try your best to improve your
work as a result. It also means that you should listen respectfully to the opinions of your
classmates and try to understand “where they’re coming from.” One of the most
important things we can learn in college (or anywhere else for that matter) is to realize
that other people have opinions that they believe are just as true and valuable as our own.
- Achievement: Making the effort to realize the best of our abilities: This follows from
having the right attitude toward our studies. As we know, right effort goes a long, long
way toward success in any field. This is especially true in academics. We’ve seen
students fail our course simply because they did not make the effort to turn work in on
time, attend class, or do their best on assignment. Conversely, we’ve seen other students,
who were struggling at the start of the semester improve their grades dramatically
because of their extra effort. So, if you want to achieve a good grade in this course you
will need to put forth the effort to do so. But instructors will do all they can to work with
you to realize that goal.
4. How will the course be taught?
- No Preaching! First, we will not preach in this course, but rather teach. And by teach,
we don’t mean that we will try to teach you what is right or wrong, good or evil. This is
for you to decide. It is not our business to try to impose any kind of morality or ethics on
you. And be assured that the course is not designed to try to sway you in any one
particular ethical direction other than the one you choose for yourself. We’re not here to
try to change your personal values or ethics, but rather to challenge you to think more
critically and creatively about both.
- Socratic Method: We will help you to think honestly and objectively about your own
moral and ethical opinions by using the Socratic Method in classroom discussion. The
Socratic Method is used by instructors to challenge students (and themselves!) to think
about a topic from as many angles as possible by asking a series of simple & straightforward questions. The process continues until everyone in the discussion is satisfied that
there are no other questions that can be asked about the answer that is given to last
question. But this rarely happens! The value of the Socratic Method is to show us that
we may not always know exactly what we mean by a word, concept or opinion until we
subject it to some rigorous thinking. For example, suppose your friend defined “love” as
doing anything in the world for the person you love. Are you completely satisfied that
this definition of “love” is true and complete? Would you have a question for your friend
about this definition? You probably would!
- Lectures: No long and boring lectures! Instructors will not stand up in front of you or
write page after page on line to lecture you on a particular ethical theory. But we will
provide you with clear and accurate outlines about each ethical theory. This includes
knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of each theory and whether or not
students are applying theories accurately to case studies.
- Emphasis on Interactive Classes: We’ve all heard of the phrase “teaching by example.”
We believe this is the only way that it makes sense to say that we are teaching ethics in
this course. We will try to teach you to teach yourself about how to dig much deeper into
your own personal values and ethics. To this we will employ a number of assignments
and in-class exercises that challenge you to think for yourself about your ethics. So,
instructors will serve as discussion facilitators, debate moderators, role-playing directors,
and leaders of inter-active class exercises, “devil’s advocates,” and a source of ethical
issues outside the classroom — e.g., daily “ethics in the news” stories, movies and videos
clips with interesting ethical content, and ethical issues in social media.
- Conversations: Please take advantage of your instructors’ office hours or online
availability to simply engage in conversation about the course. Many students find it
helpful to discuss any problems they may be having with the course content, instruction,
or their classmates by meeting privately with the instructor. But also feel free to continue
to discuss an ethical question or issue that interests you with your instructor. Try to enjoy
this opportunity as you go through the semester. Instructors welcome conversations with
students. It shows that you’re interested in what’s going on in the class!
5. What do I need to do to get a good grade in this course?
- Short Answer: Read the assignments, study, work hard, come to class prepared,
participate in class, make efforts to improve when necessary, have a good attitude toward
the course and the assignments, respect the subject matter, your classmates and
instructor, be courteous at all times, show up on time.
- Shorter Answer: Work with your instructor throughout the course! We’ve seen
numbers of students earn poor grades or have a letter grade deducted from their
assignments and/or final grades simply as a result of tardiness in turning in work, or not
turning work in at all! No instructor is “out to get you.” We’re here to help you. But
you have to make the effort to do your best in this course.
- Get into it!: We know this is a required course, and it would be easy to say, “I just want
to get through it with a passing grade and get it over with.” Not the right attitude!
There was a book out a few years ago entitled, She’s Just Not That Into You. Don’t let
this be your mantra for the course. If you really try to “get into the course,” you’ll find
that you will almost automatically start doing better in all aspects of the course
requirements — and ultimately earn a good grade at the end of the semester.
- Enjoy Yourself!: This will follow from above. When you really get into the course,
you’ll enjoy it more. Talk with your family and friends about your readings,
assignments, and what we talk about in class. We do this all the time outside of class; for
example, we talk about our problems at work, our romantic relationships, family issues,
personal goals, increase in crime, college debts, the economy, politics, war, and
Facebook — just to name a few areas of interest.