Bioethics Blogs

Is there Value in Teaching Moral Values?

In Japan, being good will soon be a formal subject in school education. The Japanese education ministry must develop textbooks and curricula to teach morality, and tests to grade it, which occasions a host of interesting practical questions (for a thoughtful list). In addition to practical questions about how to implement such a program, there are theoretical questions about whether trying to do so is wise. Moral education has a troubled past in Japan; it was scratched in the 1960s by the Americans because they suspected it taught racism and blind obedience to the emperor. Nevertheless, the idea of teaching moral values seems to be gaining steam internationally. In Britain, for instance, the Jubilee Centre for Characters and Values at the University of Birmingham hopes to form the moral character of British pupils (another attempt). And it just announced the launch of a free online course designed to teach people how to build a morally good character.

Such initiatives, well intended or not, are grounded in the belief that we can effectively teach morality. The Jubilee Centre, comprising educators, philosophers, psychologists, and theologians,  states that moral character is teachable. According to a poll that they conducted, 95% of British parents belief that teachers can form the moral character of their pupils. Most philosophers, in contrast, appear to be sceptical about the possibility of teaching moral values. Jesse Prinz stated that moral interventions or teachings produce weak positive effects at best, but more often have no effect or even backfire. In their call for moral enhancement, Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu seem to have little regard for the power of teaching moral values, and recommend developing biological interventions instead.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.