The “how” of ethics

May 12, 2007

I’ve been facilitating classes every week this semester on Business and Professional Ethics, to two groups of final year Engineering students. It has really formed my own thoughts on Ethics, not least because it isn’t specifically Christian Ethics, and also because it has forced me to think through the challenges the “normal” people in our congregations face everyday.
We are getting near the end of the semester now, and I’ve been trying to take things to ground level. We’ve discussed the philosophy, Kant, Mill and Heidegger, and we’ve discussed a lot of case studies coming out of the Engineering profession and out of businesses where Engineers are employed. But I want them to make it there own, to process it into a form that will be usable when they hit the profession next year.
Although we took a lot of trouble during the semester to come to a point where they would realize that it’s not always that easy to see which decision is the most ethical, I’ve also said more than once in classes that many times it’s not that difficult to see what we should do, but doing it is another thing.
We discussed the case study, Incident at Morales today, and near the end of a very good discussion, one of the students asked the question: “How do you do this?”. How do you do the right thing, when you are faced with losing your job? And at that moment, looking at the face of that student, I realised in a new way something which I have told them over and over during the semester. I can give you some tools with which you can analyze a situation, and try and decide which should be the better choice. I can challenge you to ask certain questions, which may help you to notice when problems arise. But I cannot teach you how to do this. Ethics can help you identify problems, and even help you see what you are supposed to do, but it cannot help you do it. That lies in the field of personal growth. It’s about who are as person, how strong you are. Although forming convictions through ethics can definitely strengthen your will to do the right thing, and faith in God is a source of strength in the face of difficult decisions for many, I can’t teach you how to do the right thing.
Maybe some of you are in the business world at the moment, and would like to leave some thoughts on this.

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