What is a Good Answer to an Ethical Question?

Journal of Business Ethics Education 9:233-258 (2012)
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Abstract

Instructors of business ethics now have a wealth of cases and other pedagogical material to draw on to contribute to achieving ethics learning goals now required at most business schools. However, standard ethics case pedagogy seems to provide more guidance regarding the form and process for getting to a good answer than on the ethical content of the answer itself. Indeed, instructors often withhold their own judgments on what is a good answer so as not to indoctrinate students with the instructor’s views. To answer our question on what is a good answer to an ethical question, we asked three master teachers of business ethics to share their perspectives on a good answer. Their answers revealed stark differences—regarding the starting point of business ethics, the purpose of business, prioritization of analytical disciplines, and research methods—but also a common thread demanding that a good answer articulates a student's own moral voice. Moral voice is a genuine expression of an individual’s considered moral judgment that is reflective of personal values and cognizant of professional expectations. Cultivating the expression of moral voice goes beyond formal and theoretical proficiency to overcome human tendencies toward idealism, insincerity, and rationalization. Moral voice does not by itself fill the gap in business ethics pedagogy on the content of a good answer, but it demands that students support an answer that they can genuinely believe in while encouraging instructors to cultivate in their students sincerity and engagement, conscience, and a sense of self that are indispensable to genuine ethical commitment.

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Christopher Michaelson
University of St. Thomas, Minnesota

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