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    Why Bother Teaching Ethics?

    Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have
    to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not.  
    - Thomas H. Huxley

    Dr. Frank Kardasz

    Why bother teaching ethics? Experts sometimes debate whether or  not ethics can or should be
    taught to adult learners. Some argue that by adulthood, ideas about values and ethics are fixed.
    Others believe that education can influence behavior and that ethics should be taught.

    In The Nicomachean Ethics Book, Aristotle supported the idea that judgement and reason can be
    learned. Aristotle believed that a person learns based on examples from experienced teachers (1).
    Aristotle said, "Therefore we ought to attend to the undemonstrated sayings and opinions of
    experienced and older people or of people of practical wisdom not less than to demonstrations;
    because experience has given them an eye they see aright".

    Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg (1981) theorized that the personal moral system develops
    incrementally through several stages. Children are initially guided based upon obedience and
    punishment, and morals develop through various stages to what Kohlberg called the highest stage,
    that of principled conscience (2). The development, according to Kohlberg, is influenced through
    experience and education.

    Psychologist James R. Rest (1982) supported the idea that ethics can be learned through continuing
    education. Rest observed the following trends:

    - Dramatic changes occur in young adults in their 20s' and 30's in terms of the basic problem-
    solving  strategies they use to deal with ethical issues.

    - The changes are linked to fundamental changes in how a person perceives society and his
    or her  role in society.

    - The extent to which change occurs is associated with the number of years of formal
    education  (college or professional school).

    - Deliberate educational attempts (formal curriculum to influence awareness of moral
    problems and  to influence the reasoning or judgment process have been demonstrated to
    be effective.

    For law enforcement officers, ethics is not always a popular training subject. Training for ethics
    competes with other direct-liability topics more easily embraced by officers such as firearms, criminal
    law, pursuit driving, arrest tactics, etc. Limited training time means that police administrators must
    make important choices concerning what to teach. A solid ethical base provides the grounding
    framework for all succeeding law enforcement subjects. Ethics can and should be taught.


    (1) McIntyre, S. R. (Ed.). (1997). The Nicomachean Ethics Book VI: Intellectual Virtue, Judgement,
    Right  Discrimination of the Equitable: The Place of Intuition in Morals. Aristotle. (from William David
    Ross's  translation of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Clarendon Press. published in 1908)
    Retrieved June 6, 2003 from

    (2) Joseph, C. (2003). The Six Stages of Moral Judgment, (from Lawrence Kohlberg, Essays on Moral
    DevelopmentVolume 1: The Philosophy of Moral Development, 1981). Retrieved June 11, 2003 from

    (3) Rest, J. R. (1982, February).  A Psychologist Looks at the Teaching of Ethics. Hastings Center
    Report. 12  29-36.


    Purchase the book:
    Kardasz, F. (2008). Ethics training for law enforcement: Practices and trends.
    Saarbrücken, Germany: VDM Verlag.
    ISBN: 3639001567. ISBN-13: 9783639001563.
    Available from
Ethics Training for Law Enforcement