More Musings on Ethics and the consultation

November 16, 2014 · Posted in Blog 

I am making a case for depth of study – the sustained study of a subject that has intrinsic value in RE and more widely is for the common good, irrespective of the destination of the 24000 students that do it. Philosophy of Religion and Religious Ethics are two different disciplines. Combining them weakens them. To do ethics properly you need to be able to be able to do enough different theories to understand the main features of the theoretical landscape (acts, ends, virtue, free will, conscience and authority, self interest) to be able compare them (one of the higher level skills). This allows a student to critically evaluate the theory in conceptual terms.

Then you can compare how they might apply to different kinds of moral problems (personal, societal and global), so at the very least you want to study three kinds of ethical problem. All of these interconnects completely with religious systems of ethics but also include non religious humanistic systems.

Incidentally, the current question frames used by exam boards have not helped to draw out these expectations of depth and analysis adequately, in my view. Greater attention to how questions are set and how specifications are framed is the key issue here.

A student progresses not just by studying more topics but by studying things that create new patters of meaningful interconnection and this is what happens in a disciplined study. I am not sure what kind of depth you can get to in jumping to a multi disciplinary study, but I am pretty confident you can’t get depth by combining topics from different disciplines. To me the PoR / Ethics combination undermines depth of study and rigour.

I think that the text paper has a lot of potential for depth of study and rigour and the Religion paper might (many different disciplines and kinds of topics are being combined here too but I am thinking that one through). The Philosophy/Ethics/Social Sciences paper does not, as it stands, have depth of study and rigour, in a way that will improve on the current separate modules on PoR and Ethics.

I also think it raises a key question about the kind of specialist who might be able to teach both of these topics. I wonder how many of our teachers have studied both PoR and Ethics at degree level. I would speculate that many of our subject specialist difficulties and indeed many of the pressures felt by teachers in general, come from having to teach subjects they are not so confident in. I worry that we might be deskilling our workforce by an unfortunate exercise in “combining”.

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