ERG SES H 13, Students and Teachers in Education
“Objectivity is the central problem of ethics.” (Nagel 1989) Some moral philosophers have argued that moral statements are objective (e.g. Railton 1986; Smith 1994; Scanlon 1998, 2014) while others argue that there can no objective moral statements (e.g. Ayer 1936; Mackie 1977; Wong 1984) To be sure, there is considerable variation within both of these positions but the distinction is about whether ethical statements can be true or false independently of individuals’ opinions.
Previous research has assessed the perceived objectivity of moral beliefs held by lay individuals. (Wright et al. 2013) It has been showed that individuals tend to view ethical statements to be more objective than social conventions and matters of personal taste and that the religious grounding of ethical beliefs result in higher level of perceived objectivity of such beliefs. (Goodwin and Darley, 2008) Also, it has been suggested that awareness of cultural differences will reduce the level of perceived moral objectivity. (Sarkissian et al. 2011)
However, the focus of our research is whether participation in a general education course would affect students’ perception of moral objectivity. Our research aims to find out whether university students regard ethical claims as objective, or as more subjective or relative. Also, we will investigate the possible factors which may influence students’ perception of the objectivity of ethical statements. These factors include their faculty, gender, high school subject, and religious beliefs.
In 2012, the Chinese University of Hong Kong launched a core-text program called In Dialogue with Humanity as part of its General Education Foundation Program. In this course, students are divided into small classes of 20-25 students each and they meet on regular basis to read and discuss classics such as excerpts from the Odyssey, the Analects, the Bible, the Qur’an, and the Social Contract. under the guidance of a teacher. Ethical issues—questions of good life and ideal society—are the main concern of this course and students taking this course are regularly exposed to radically different perspectives on good life and ideal society drawn from different cultural traditions. We aim to find out in this research whether such explore will influence students’ perception of moral objectivity.
A. J. Ayer (1936), Language, Truth, and Logic. London: Gollancz. Geoffrey P. Goodwin and John M. Darley (2008), “The Psychology of Meta-ethics: Exploring Objectivism,” Cognition 106: 1339-1366. J. L. Mackie (1977), Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. New York: Penguin. Thomas Nagel (1989), A View from Nowhere, reprint edition. New York: Oxford University Press. P. Railton, (1986) “Moral Realism,” Philosophical Review 95: 163-207. Hagop Sarkissian, John Park, David Tien, Jennifer Cole Wright and Joshua Knobe (2011), “Folk Moral Relativism,” Mind & Language 26 (4): 482-505. Thomas Scanlon (1998), What We Owe to Each Other. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Thomas Scanlon (2014), Being Realistic about Reason. New York: Oxford University Press. M. Smith (1994), The Moral Problem. Oxford: Blackwell. David B. Wong (1986), Moral Relativity. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Jennifer C. Wright, Piper T. Grandjean, and Cullen B. McWhite (2013), “The Meta-ethical Grounding of Our Moral Beliefs: Evidence for Meta-ethical Pluralism,” Philosophical Psychology 26 (3): 336-361.
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