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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Can Ethics Be Taught?

Tips for Teaching Ethics

Some people believe that ethics cannot be taught, that people are the product of their upbringing or nature and cannot be changed.  But studies show that ethics can be taught throughout a lifetime.  And learning how to behave ethically is important.  In light of the ethical scandals unfolding in the worlds of entertainment, business, and politics, teaching ethics is critical.

What are some ways to make teaching ethics effective? Some tips:

  1. Provide good tools for making ethical decisions
  2. Use real life illustrations to make ethics relevant and relatable
  3. Create opportunities for discussions with others
  4. Ensure good role models
  5. Repeat and reinforce

Tools for Decision-Making

When people are faced with a difficult situation, reading literature on ethics is not the best way to help them make a decision. A set of questions that will help lead them to an ethical conclusion is a great tool. The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics has such a tool you can find here

Making Ethics Real

Real life examples help.  Teaching ethics within an organization requires coming up with situations where employees might face tough decisions. Every day decisions, not scandalous behavior, should be the starting point.

Talk with Peers

Sometimes talking with a trusted friend, relative, or fellow employee can help in resolving an ethical issue. People learn from one another and gain the energy to move forward and communication should be encouraged.

Role Models Matter

If leaders raise, embrace, and model ethical behavior, an organization is much more likely to behave ethically as a whole. Leadership should create a culture of ethical behavior.

Repeat and Reinforce

Ethical decision-making is like a muscle, it needs exercise to develop and stay strong. Organizations should highlight and practice ethics on a regular basis.


Nonprofits and philanthropists are invited to learn about ethics at the Standards for Excellence Training at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. 


Jan 16, 2018

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