Philosophy 318: Professional Ethics
Theodore Gracyk

Outline of Kupperman Essay

I. The aims of higher education (this does not apply to K-12)

  • Development of student autonomy
  • Development of independent thinking
  • Independent thought must be balanced by knowledge of competing views.

On many contentious topics, there is no "right answer" -- merely better and worse ones. Reasonable people differ. On THESE topics, instructors must remain strictly neutral about the "right" answer.

THESIS: Classroom advocacy on contentions issues is usually wrong, because it reduces student autonomy.

II. Two Accounts of Autonomy

Common position: All adults who possess basic mental competence therefore have autonomy.

More plausible view: We develop our autonomy. Therefore not everyone does, and not everyone to the same extent. There is a great deal of variability between persons and concerning different issues within each person's life. (It can be measured by seeing where a person is most easily manipulated.)

III. Professional Prescriptions

Professionals can often manipulate others. Many professions have rules that explicitly limit the potentially manipulative behaviors of its members. FORMAL SANCTIONS are applied to violations.

Where behavior is highly discretionary, it does not make sense to have formal sanctions.

For higher education professionals, there is so much discretionary judgment about what happens in the classroom that formal sanctions are seldom (if ever) appropriate.

IV.  Further Considerations


Nobody can live up to this -- it requires teachers to be too detached. Should teachers pretend that they have no opinion about Lincoln's freeing slaves?

Nobody is ever neutral. The policy makes teachers dishonest.


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            Last updated July 13, 2009