Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Ethics Matters

Recently, Thomas Shanks, S.J., director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, gave a workshop for a large group of high-school literature teachers. "How many of you teach about ethics when you consider character in a novel?" he asked. Only one or two hands went up.

Thinking the group was interpreting ethics too narrowly, he rephrased: "How many of you lead your classes to look at the moral questions a character faces in a novel?" Another few hands went up.

Getting people to recognize the ethical dimension of their everyday lives was the starting point for that workshop, as it is in many Center programs. As always, Shanks delivered a simple, underlying message: "Paying attention to moral choices is important. We used to get this guidance from our families; now, more and more of us rely on public institutions for a consideration of ethical issues."

As the Center marks its 10th anniversary, we are constantly looking for ways to inject ethics into public discussion. Our strategic plan, outlined in this Issues in Ethics, details how we intend to continue that effort through 2001.

Also in this issue, we focus on how to conduct public discourse in an ethical manner. "Demonizing Our Opponents," by Christopher B. Kulp, associate professor of philosophy at Santa Clara University, looks at the damage inflicted on the common good when we vilify the character of those with whom we disagree.

Our feature "On the One Hand" tries to reframe the debate on affirmative action, avoiding the name calling that too often accompanies argument on this topic. The companion piece about the Common Ground Project tells how a diverse group of Santa Clara Valley residents is attempting to find areas of agreement on difficult issues such as race and education.

The importance of public truth telling is addressed in a report on an SCU trip to Guatemala, which allowed faculty and staff to meet with some of the people who are trying to rebuild that war-torn country. One of them, Rigoberto Perez, directs the Project to Recover the Historic Memory, which tapes interviews with those who lived through human rights abuses. "People who have not been able to tell what happened to them for 15 or 20 years -- to be able to tell it now takes a terrible load off their backs," he said.