An experiential, game-theoretic pedagogy for sustainability ethics

Science and Engineering Ethics 19 (3):1323-1339 (2013)
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Abstract

The wicked problems that constitute sustainability require students to learn a different set of ethical skills than is ordinarily required by professional ethics. The focus for sustainability ethics must be redirected towards: (1) reasoning rather than rules, and (2) groups rather than individuals. This need for a different skill set presents several pedagogical challenges to traditional programs of ethics education that emphasize abstraction and reflection at the expense of experimentation and experience. This paper describes a novel pedagogy of sustainability ethics that is based on noncooperative, game-theoretic problems that cause students to confront two salient questions: “What are my obligations to others?” and “What am I willing to risk in my own well-being to meet those obligations?” In comparison to traditional professional ethics education, the game-based pedagogy moves the learning experience from: passive to active, apathetic to emotionally invested, narratively closed to experimentally open, and from predictable to surprising. In the context of game play, where players must make decisions that can adversely impact classmates, students typically discover a significant gap between their moral aspirations and their moral actions. When the games are delivered sequentially as part of a full course in Sustainability Ethics, students may experience a moral identity crisis as they reflect upon the incongruity of their self-understanding and their behavior. Repeated play allows students to reconcile this discrepancy through group deliberation that coordinates individual decisions to achieve collective outcomes. It is our experience that students gradually progress through increased levels of group tacit knowledge as they encounter increasingly complex game situations

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Author Profiles

Evan Selinger
Rochester Institute of Technology
Kyle Whyte
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

References found in this work

Thinking, Fast and Slow.Daniel Kahneman - 2011 - New York: New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The Tragedy of the Commons.Garrett Hardin - 1968 - Science 162 (3859):1243-1248.
Pedagogy of the oppressed.Paulo Freire - 1986 - In David J. Flinders & Stephen J. Thornton (eds.), The Curriculum Studies Reader. Routledge.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed.Paulo Freire - 1970 - New York: Bloomsbury Academic. Edited by Myra Bergman Ramos, Donaldo P. Macedo & Ira Shor.

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