According to Sommer, virtue ethics involves more than just social policy, but a lot it entails private morality. While it is essential to focus on social morality like capital punishment, euthanasia, transplant surgery, and abortion, there is very little focus on selfishness, hypocrisy, and cruelty, among others. Sommer is concerned that ethics students are learning almost nothing about their private decency, honesty, personal responsibility, and honor. Sommer, therefore, argues that there will be no moral in the society or the government before it is instilled in the learning institutions. An example of social justice that needs to be addressed immediately is plagiarism in the classroom. Students copy assignments from literature, and that is a high level of social injustice. Sommer reveals that cheating is a real primary concern in the universities, “75 percent of university students admit to cheating” (Sommers, 1991). There is also a moral shift where some learners believe that what is bad for one person may not be bad for another. Actually, some students seem to be so dogmatically interested in moral relativism, which offers no ground for thinking that cheating may be wrong. Some people perceive humiliating people may be in a nursing home or stubbing someone to death are the only morally wrong behaviors. On the other hand, many regard starvation and torture as the most immoral behaviors.
I agree with Sommer that changes in morality may be due to the shift in courses offered in the universities. Students might become morally better if their seniors taught them such courses. However, new courses like social sciences have, in the past, flourished in the universities while ethics are seen to be dropping. As such, many learners no longer feels that there is nothing like good or bad, moral, and immoral. Sommer herself admits that after teaching ethics for long, the passion for the course has been fading off “my enthusiasm for them tapered off when I saw how students reacted” (Sommers, 1991). The students evaluated the course in a way that proves how skeptical they are about the subject. Arguably it is because they lack a foundation of the course back from their high school “perhaps it was their high school experience that led them to become antagonistic.
However, I stand to disagree with Sommer on her argument that some ethical issues, like tormenting animals, humiliating someone as well as mistreating children, are not controversial. Personally, I regard them as critical moral questions, which one should not even question because they are touching to lives. I do not find it reasonable to start thinking of where it is wrong or good to torture an animal because it is obvious they suffer some pain, and they have emotions as well. On the other hand, when one mistreats a child because they are vulnerable, then they abuse their rights, and in the end, children suffer because they have no one to defend them. Such acts are truly immoral and should not even be debated in society in any way as either good or bad because they are obviously wrong. Courses on virtue are suitable for edifying behaviors. I believe virtues shape morality, and this does not depend on one’s taste for things or social fashion but rather on the teachings on virtues. For example, many people find Aristotle’s’ arguments on temperance, courage, and generosity so appealing to many learners. Many people will indeed read Aristotle’s philosophies and then develop the right kind of behavior because that is what they mainly target. For instance, when arguing about a concept, the critical focus of Aristotle is to make the reader understand what is good or bad for them. In the end, what stands out is the right part of his argument. Therefore, the wrong bit of the case is covered in the debate.
No one will feel good if they are treating in the wrong way because all human beings want to be treated with honor and dignity since that is what is pleasing to them. Sommer confirms this reasoning when she mentions that when children are asked some questions like “what us your favorite color or how do you feel about hit and run drivers?” then they tend to have almost a uniform answer. The fact that they answer in the same voice points in the direction that there are a right and wrong they are aware of. I do not believe that children should be allowed to discover things by themselves. That is so because every virtue needs clarification at a tender age as a way of helping them to rethink their personal preferences or tastes with regards to moral ethics.
I, therefore, find Sommer’s argument on Values Clarification: No right or wrong, very unsatisfying, especially when she mentions that the teacher who advised the student to cheat anywhere else apart from her classwork was right. The Massachusetts University professor in Newton argued that since she is opposed to cheating, then no one was allowed to cheat in her class. However, she fails to instill the same knowledge in her students when she argues that “in my class, you must be honest, for I value honesty. In other areas of your life, you may be free to cheat”. I find this statement very tormenting because it is the work of the professor to guide the students on what is right and wrong. Most importantly, the students are supposed to identify what is right and cling to it instead of being allowed to search for the truth by themselves. It is saddening that Sommer agrees with her arguments “now this is fine and sincere young woman was doing her best not to indoctrinate her students.” In essence, some morals should just be instilled into young people’s minds like a tradition. In so doing, they are not allowed to wander far away from the truth because they will be growing up knowing what their society expects of them as adults and then pass such good morals to their young ones.
A society without laws is likely to be immoral. According to the video “Philosophy-The Good Life: Aristotle,” Chris Surprenant argues, there should be a balance between being virtuous and continent because, in them, rational desires and satisfying inclinations are aligned (Surprenant, 2015). Such people can choose to do what is right and actually does it. Such characters become part of one’s habit, and in doing so, they live well.
- Surprenant, Chris. (2015, September 8). PHILOSOPHY – The Good Life: Plato [HD] [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFPBf1AZOQg
- Sommers, Christina Hoff. (1991). Teaching Virtues. Hillside College-Imprimis-W. H. Brady Fellow, American Enterprise Institute. https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/teaching-the-virtues/