Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Mark Ravizza: Moral Disequilibrium

Mark Ravizza, S.J., visiting assistant professor of philosophy at SCU, was counseling a student in his Ethics in Society class. Like all of his students, the young woman had been involved with a community service organization through the University's Eastside Project, which helps students integrate theory and practice by placing them in agencies that serve the needs of the poor and marginalized.

This young woman had been working at a convalescent hospital, and she was struggling to find a topic for her paper identifying a moral issue that had come up in her placement. Nothing, she insisted, had moved her to take ethical stock.

Of course, she acknowledged, there was that time a quadriplegic patient had wanted to spend some extra time with her, and rather than confront his need, she had simply fled.

Ravizza urged the young woman to explore that encounter in her paper. Confronting the experience proved so powerful that the young woman continued to volunteer at the hospital even after the class was over.

To Ravizza, the student's experience is an example of a new model of ethical reflection he has begun to develop along with Presidential Professor of Ethics and the Common Good Michael J. Meyer and other scholars of the Ethics Center.

"It's a three step process," he explains. "First, there is some lived experience that creates a sense of disequilibrium. Second, the person reflects on that unease or discomfort and tries to articulate what it was about. Finally, the person comes to a better understanding of his or her own values and perhaps changes them in the process."

Ravizza and Meyer are now organizing a trip to Guatemala, where participants would immerse themselves in the culture of another country and "see how this kind of lived experience can contribute to moral education."

Ravizza describes his area of expertise as "the intersection of moral philosophy and metaphysics." He is particularly concerned with questions of moral responsibility and free will. Currently, he is working on a book for Cambridge University Press, tentatively titled Responsibility and Control, with co-author John Martin Fisher, professor of philosophy at U.C.-Riverside.

He is also drawing on his undergraduate degree in engineering in an Ethics Center collaboration with San Jose's Tech Museum of Innovation. "I'm working with the designers of the new facility to help make value questions an integral part of the visitors' experience," he says.