Computing Cases Header, Picture of a Keyboard with the text "" printed over it


Teaching Tools

Teaching with Cases

Social Impact Analysis

Computer Ethics Curriculum

Curricula Index

Case Materials



Hughes Aircraft

Ethics in Computing Links

Contact Us

Let students disagree (heck, beg them to disagree), but insist that they be reasonable.

Reasonable people can disagree about moral issues, even after they have spent time carefully discussing them. Ethical principles, concepts, and rules underdetermine moral judgment in certain situations. This doesn't mean that there are no ethical principles, concepts and rules. Nor does it imply that all such principles, concepts and rules are relative to the individual or culture. It means that in some situations you will not be able to reach a consensus. How do you achieve closure in these situations? You can summarize the discussion and clarify the points of disagreement. You could have the class vote on the issue, making it clear that the majority view is not, by this fact alone, the right view. What is important is that the students recognize the importance of the virtue of reasonableness in a moral discussion. Here is a list of features that help clarify reasonableness (taken from Michael Pritchard's book Reasonable Children). You are being reasonable when you are willing to:

    1. Seek relevant information
    2. Listen and respond thoughtfully to others
    3. Be open to new ideas
    4. Acknowledge mistakes and misunderstandings
    5. Compromise (without compromising personal integrity)

Pritchard also lists features that are clues that you are not being reasonable:

    1. Feel a need always to agree with others
    2. Lack deeply held beliefs and convictions that may differ fundamentally with those of others
    3. Be willing to change virtually any belief or conviction, however deeply held
    4. Insist that you are necessarily right and others wrong
    5. Insist on having your own way.

Pritchard's positive and negative features list could serve as a checklist to review before the discussion and in its summary and closure. You could simply ask students to reflect on whether the discussion was reasonable, that is, did it carry out those features.