It is good that there are so many schools, colleges and universities in many countries involved in teaching ethics to pupils and students. It is safe to state that this teaching has the aim of getting people to not only know what is the right ghing to do in certain situations, but also to do the right thing.

However, there is a trend to teach ethics in a superficial way that does not really guide people in what to do. Take just two examples. Some ethics education programmes  of a list of values which are discussed. For example, being trustworthy, honest, respectful, responsible, fair, caring, and  keeping promises. Examine any ethics education or values education or character education programme and you’l see a list of similar values. Here is the difficulty: what does it mean to be fair and caring? I can be a bank robber and be trustworthy and respectful to my boss. If I am lucky enough to fin a popular domain name, register it for £9.00 and then a month later sell it for £1000, is that fair?

Another approach is to say t people before you act ask yourself these questions:

  • Will this cause harm?
  • Will this make things better?
  • Will this respect others?
  • Is this fair?
  • Is this caring?

Again, the difficulty arises in knowing what causes harm and makes things better. For example, if I apply for a job and get it, does that not harm another? If we legalise hard drugs to bring down the crime rate (make things better) will that not increase serious health problems for many and even death (make things worse)?  I saw a television programme about youngsters in China who are addicted to playing video games. Their parents trick them into being locked up for a number of weeks in a harsh military style boot  camp to try and break the addition. Is that caring?

Without in depth discussion of what a value means in practice, leaves people with only a vague idea of what they should be doing, to do the right thing.


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