"Applied Ethics" is an umbrella term for a sub-discipline of moral philosophy that uses philosophical analysis to look at the ethical issues that arise in various professions and human endeavors. Business Ethics, Environmental Ethics and Medical Ethics (or Bioethics) are some of the most familiar versions of Applied Ethics, but almost every professional field has a code of ethics and a set of literature and thinkers associated with the ethical questions of that area. All of this work is ultimately grounded in moral philosophy as the theoretical base.

Within the last decade or longer, there has been considerable public attention paid to what is perceived to be a growth in ethical failures in the business world and elsewhere. As unethical behavior in corporations and government make the news, employers are on the look-out for employees who will stem that tide. For instance, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has seen the number of ethical violations brought to their attention increase over the last fifteen years. Because of this data, they implemented new conditions for institutions who receive NSF funding. Data also shows that, in the sciences, research ethics violations are ignored when observed by colleagues more than one-third of the time1. Another very interesting set of data comes for Donald L. McCabe, a researcher known as "The Cheating Guru." He studies cheating trends in colleges and universities going back to the 1960s. He has found an alarming increase in the amount of cheating going on at the college level over time. For instance, a 2002 study of 16,000 students found that 38% of those students had plagiarized from the Internet and 44% of the same population of students said that was no big deal. A total of 3% of the students who had admitted cheating claimed they had been caught.2

Career Credentials

Research shows that employers are increasingly interested in employees who can demonstrate "soft skills" such as honesty and integrity. Such ethical awareness has been seen, by employers hiring new college graduates, as just as important as coursework specific to a discipline (such as, say, finance).3Employers interested in such intangibles find issues of "character" to be of particular importance. Those who can detect a high degree of character are even willing to pay more for a starting salary according to a study at Oklahoma State University.4A survey of accounting firms and the factors they look for in hiring college graduates outside of coursework showed that "professional conduct, reliability and ethical standards" were the most important for potential employees.5

Goals for an applied ethics program:

The goals of any applied ethics course include techniques for:

  1. identification of the moral aspects of a situation or problem-seeing
  2. communicating moral understanding,
  3. enhancing one's critical evaluation skills
  4. monitoring one's own moral values

Experts in ethics training suggest that amongst the goals one should expect in courses attentive to ethical decision-making are:

  1. an increased awareness of the ambiguities that go along with ethical evaluation
  2. enhanced awareness of multiple paths to resolution
  3. improvement in self-knowledge
  4. increased ethical sensitivity
  5. increased moral motivation
  6. increased knowledge of professional codes of ethics and responsibilities associated with a given field
  7. an increased need and motivation to raise ethical questions6

The importance of an Applied Ethics minor is three-fold:

  1. there is a growing national need for the study of ethics and increased attention to ethical behavior
  2. there is a national focus in academia on the worth of the study of Applied Ethics in various forms
  3. the Philosophy Department at West Chester University wants to contribute to addressing this need and trend by offering programs which provides curricular coherency to courses already regularly offered.

This minor is essentially an undergraduate version of the applied ethics concentration at the graduate level, an established and well-supported program among the Philosophy Department faculty.

For More Information:

Dr. Matthew Pierlott, Chair
Anderson Hall 220A
West Chester University
West Chester, PA 19383

Program structure and administration

The Applied Ethics minor is geared toward giving students exposure to a wide swath of the skills and concepts associated with the field. Applied Ethics requires exposure to the theoretical underpinnings of rational moral problem-solving. It requires practice in critical reasoning. And, it requires exposure to the "applied" aspect of this field. Developing an understanding of how abstract moral structures work in the real world comes about by studying the specific issues in particular fields, such as medical ethics, to see how the needs of that field dictate the application of moral decision-making.

The Applied Ethics program requires an introductory ethical theory course, a critical thinking or logic course, and a selection of courses specific to the ethical needs of chosen fields. It ends with a 400-level Ethical Theories course that offers students an in-depth look at the theoretical basis for moral reasoning, and gives them an opportunity for a major project or paper applying theory to lived experience.

Program pedagogical goals

The Applied Ethics Minor gives students a heightened capacity for applying theoretical and critical analysis to everyday life. Errors in ethical judgment led to the Challenger disaster and to the Enron scandal, for instance. Individuals who study ethics became well-versed in the subtleties of context and become more adept at the conceptual tools necessary to make clear and informed decisions, and they become more confident in their own capacity for judgment. Academia is in the business of producing thoughtful humans. The study of ethics is essential to that work.

The philosophy faculty at WCU are committed to innovative pedagogy. Many of our courses, including those in the applied ethics program, rely heavily on collaborative learning exercises and other non-traditional classroom techniques. While some lecture is inevitable, student-centered learning inhabits the bulk of our offerings.

1Titus, Sandra, James A. Wells and Lawrence J. Rhoades (2008), "Repairing Research Integrity,"Nature453(7198), 980-982.
2McCabe, Donald L., L.K. Trevino and K.D. Butterfield (2004), "Academic Integrity: How Widespread are Cheating and Plagiarism?" inRestorative Justice on the College Campus: Promoting Student Growth and Responsibility, and Reawakening the Spirit of Campus Community, D.R. Karp & T. Allena (eds.), Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 130-141.
3McCormick, Martha Henn (2006), "Employer Research Survey: Business Ethics and Integrity are Valued Most by Financial Service Companies,"Networks Financial Institute at Indiana State University Report.
4Norwood, F. Bailey, and Shida Rastegari Henneberry (2006), "Show Me the Money! The Value of College Graduate Attributes as Expressed by Employers and Perceived by Students,"American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 88(2), 484-498.
5Ahadiat, Nasrollah, Kenneth J. Smith, (1994) "A Factor-Anayltic Investigation of Employee Selection Factors of Significant to Recruiters of Entry-Level Accountants,"Issues in Accounting Education
6Corey, Gerald., Marrianne S. Corey and Patrick Callahan (2005), "An Approach to Teaching Ethics Courses in Human services and Counseling,"Counseling & Values, 49(3), 15-44.

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