- Topic 1 Voting – an ethical issue?
- Topic 2 Punishment
- Topic 3 Being vain
- Topic 4 The structure of arguments
- Topic 5 How far does our moral responsibility extend?
- Topic 6 Stealing is illegal. Is it also morally wrong?
- Topic 7 Jumping to conclusions
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Topic 1: Voting – an ethical issue?
- Should voting be compulsory?
- Does a voter have an obligation to understand a politician’s or party’s policies before casting a vote?
- Should a voter consider the impact of a policy on others, or just on themselves?
- Should uninformed citizens be precluded from voting?
These are tough questions! More than that, these are ethical questions. The way we vote can make people’s lives better, or it can make them worse. And they are questions to which people will offer opposing answers, which makes for an interesting exercise in giving reasons and listening to other perspectives.
This Stage 3 topic begins with a story set close to home. It’s election time for the student representative council. Jen and Zac are both in the running, and it will be up to a class vote to decide who will be selected.
How would you vote? Do you vote for someone because they’re your friend? Because they promise to get lollies back in the canteen? Does it even matter who you vote for, or if you vote at all?
The topic goes on to raise the issues of political competence and compulsory voting in relation to a topic of global importance: the hole in the ozone layer.
When scientists informed the world’s political leaders that the earth’s ozone layer was thinning, the leaders all agreed to ban the CFC gases that were causing it.
Students are invited to consider what might have happened if, instead, governments had put the question of ‘should CFCs be banned’ to a vote.
Choose a question for the whole family to cast a vote on. It could be something like: ‘Should children be able to set their own bedtime?’
Each voter writes yes, no or maybe on a slip of paper and puts it in a cup. Pull them all out and tally up the results.
Then, get a sheet of paper and divide it into three columns. Write ‘yes’, ‘no’ and maybe at the top of each.
Together, try to think of as many reasons as possible for each side of the argument. Then ask each other, has anyone changed their mind? Why or why not?
FOR EXTRA FUN – PODCAST
Why can’t children vote? Listen to the debate (and cast your vote!) in this Short and Curly podcast from ABC.
What things count as punishment?
What is the point of punishment?
Is punishment is necessary to deter people from doing the wrong thing?
This topic invites students to think for themselves about the nature and aims of punishment; about why it is that, in our society, we seem unable to do without punishment, and whether there are alternatives to punishment.
This topic aims to:
• Distinguish punishment from other related practices and from natural consequences;
• Help students to think for themselves about the proper aim of punishment and, more particularly, the extent to which this encompasses:
o The protection of society
o Reform of the offender
o Vengeance or retribution;
• Help students to think about why it is that our society needs the practice of punishment and what alternatives to punishment there might be.
We begin this topic by thinking about Gyges (from Book II of Plato’s Republic)
and JK Rowling’s character of Harry Potter. They were both able to make themselves invisible. That meant they could do whatever they liked without being caught or punished. Gyges did some terrible things (including killing the king!) Harry got up to some mischief, but mostly used his invisibility cloak to do good things.
If you had the ring, and could make yourself invisible, so that no one could see that you were there and no one could punish you for anything you did, would you still have a reason to do what is right?
Students are also asked in this topic to consider different scenarios where there is a consequence to a person’s actions, and to discuss which would be classed as punishment. Students are also asked to consider the strengths and weaknesses of different types of punishment, in order to think about how punishment can be made to fit the crime.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION WITH YOUR CHILD:
Ask your child questions about the kinds of ways that children at their school are punished.
• What kind of punishments might the principal give to children who do the wrong thing?
• What about their own class teacher?
• What type of behaviour results in these types of punishment?
• Do you think that a punishment stops the child from reoffending? What makes you say that?
• Do they keep other students from breaking the rules too? How can you tell?
FOR EXTRA FUN – PODCAST:
The ABC Short and Curly team explore these ideas in their podcast The Ethics of Invisibility.
Topic 3: Being vain
‘Mirror, mirror in my hand
Who is the fairest in the land?’
In Grimms’ fairytale ‘Snow White’, the Queen is the epitome of vanity. She is so pre-occupied with her own physical beauty that her happiness entirely depends on it. And in fact, not only must she be beautiful, she must be the most beautiful of all.
In this topic students consider notions of appearance and vanity, and what, if anything, is wrong with being vain. In particular:
- How to draw the line between excessive and reasonable concern for how we appear to others
- How an excessive concern for how we appear to others relates to other aspects of character
- How an excessive concern for how we appear to others can impact on the wellbeing of others as well as of ourselves.
We start by thinking about the extent to which we look different from one another.
In Alice through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty doubts that he’ll recognise Alice if he ever comes across her again, given that the position of her mouth, eyes and nose are so similar to every other person. We’re not sure if Alice would recognise Humpty in a room filled with eggs!
Students imagine that at a wildlife park we have befriended one kangaroo in a mob. If we were to return to the mob to give our ‘special’ kangaroo one final pat, what features would we use to identify our friend, given the overwhelming similarities between them all?
In lessons 2 and 3, students consider to what extent does caring about your appearance crossover from a healthy interest into vanity? Students discuss scenarios where children their own age demonstrate different degrees of interest in their own appearance or their abilities, and the impact on their friends.
- “No one will look as good as me,” says Hannah, as she puts her new dress on for Ghida’s party.
- Why won’t Jack be friends with anyone who ‘isn’t cool enough’?
- Zac is so excited! He got 80 in his maths test. Jen says, “That test was just stupid. Last term’s test was way harder, and I got 95% for that. Doing well in this test doesn’t mean a thing.”
As these scenarios unfold, at what point do students feel these characters begin to display vanity, and what is the possible impact on themselves and those around them?
Topic 4: The structure of arguments
A philosophical argument is made up of two parts: a claim (or conclusion) backed up by a reason (or premise). This is the type of argument we are looking at in this topic, rather than a general quarrel or disagreement.
This topic gives students the terminology and concepts required to identify an argument, judge whether it is convincing or not and to explain why. The skills learnt in this topic will be put to use when evaluating the arguments that come up in subsequent ethics classes.
Eva: Now you can get Minecraft in virtual reality – that would be so good!
Lucas: No it wouldn’t! I’ve tried some of those virtual reality headsets and they make you really dizzy.
What is Eva’s claim? Does she give a reason? What is Lucas’ claim? Does he give a reason?
Once an argument is identified, students can evaluate, through discussion and sharing of ideas, whether the reasons adequately support the claim.
Sometimes, in everyday life, an argument will have the reason presented first, followed by the claim, while sometimes it’s the other way around. And we often give a shorthand version in which there may be hidden premises, or assumptions that we figure don’t need stating as we assume everyone would know them to be true. It can be important in an argument to unearth and clearly state any hidden premises.
This skill based topic involves considering several scenarios and identifying and evaluating the arguments within. It aims to give students practice in dealing with arguments that arise in everyday life, especially arguments that have broad social significance; to illustrate more clearly the need to seek out unstated premises and underlying assumptions and to demonstrate the importance of distinguishing premises and conclusions.
During the week, take notice of the claims that you and your child might make in conversation. Make a point to ask for and offer reasons. Examine the reasons given. How well do they support the claims? Are there any hidden assumptions that need to be unearthed?
Topic 5: How far does our moral responsibility extend?
This topic uses a range of scenarios to help students distinguish between our “natural moral duties” (such as the lending of assistance to another human being who is suffering) and our “special moral obligations”, such as the special consideration we might give to those who are close to us – family, friends, or those living nearby.
This topic aims to help students:
- Think for themselves about the grounds on which special obligations rest, and
- Think for themselves about how to balance natural and special moral obligations.
Over the three lessons, your child’s ethics teacher will facilitate discussions in which the students will contribute and compare reasons and ideas as to how the characters may choose to act in each scenario.
Read the following scenario to your child, and discuss together the different ways that the characters might act in this situation. There’s no need to decide one single approach that the characters should take, just openly explore different ideas, and ask for reasons as to why a character might say this, or do that.
Jerry and Ria live next door to each other. Jerry’s in year 3, and is a couple of years younger than Ria. Sometimes they catch the same school bus, although they don’t sit together. Ria usually sits with Amy, who lives across the street. Amy is in the same class as Ria. On Friday afternoons, Ria and Amy often get off the bus one stop early so they can buy a bag of mixed lollies from the cornershop to share on the walk home.
It’s Friday afternoon and all the kids are waiting at the bus stop for the trip home, pulling their bus passes from their bags to show the bus driver as the bus approaches. Ria notices that Jerry is frantically tipping his bag inside out, trying to find his bus pass.
The bus pulls up and all the children climb aboard. All except Jerry. The bus driver is strict and says he won’t let him on without a pass. Jerry looks likes he might cry – Ria thinks the bus driver probably actually won’t make him stay behind but she’s a bit concerned for him.
Ria reaches down to her pocket and feels the $2 coin inside. It would be enough for Jerry to catch the bus back into town, but it would mean no lollies for her and Amy on the way home, and it’s Ria’s turn to buy them.
Topic 6: Stealing is illegal. Is it also morally wrong?
If something is illegal, does that automatically make it morally wrong, too?
Topic 6 invites students to think about the relationship between the legality of an action and its moral rightness, and also to consider the role circumstances play in moral decision making.
In particular, it aims to develop in students:
- An understanding of the relationship between the law and morality in relation to stealing
- A capacity to formulate criteria in order to define complex legal and moral concepts
- A capacity to identify and apply some of the elements of moral decision making described in the sub-themes of the curriculum framework
- An understanding of the need to take circumstances into account in moral decision making
- An increased understanding of the processes of giving and evaluating moral reasons.
Scenarios for discussion
Here are some scenarios to use as discussion points with your child.
For each scenario, ask your child to consider if they think it counts as stealing. Ask them why, or why not, and encourage your child to give reasons for their opinions. See if you can come up with reasons both for and against. Together, consider what circumstances might influence whether something is seen as stealing?
(Note: in ethics class, children are able to build on each others’ ideas, with the teacher as facilitator. When it’s just a small discussion between you and your child, perhaps with a sibling or two, you might like to suggest some ideas of your own by asking questions to help develop the discussion. Eg ‘Would it make a difference if no-one else was picking the fruit?’)
- A mango tree in a neighbour’s yard is laden with ripening fruit. Every couple of days, Jesse sticks her arm through the fence and picks one off. Is Jesse stealing the mangoes?
- Louise lent Alex a book which he never returned. Does that count as stealing?
- When Patsy runs out of data for her phone, she walks to the end of the street. If she sits at the bus stop she can pick up one of the neighbours’ wifi. It doesn’t ask for a password, so she can watch YouTube videos, stream music, or sometimes even does her homework. Is that stealing?
Topic 7 Jumping to Conclusions
In the topic Jumping to conclusions, students use logic to determine what it is possible to deduce, or what can’t be deduced, given certain pieces of information.
Logic helps us to determine which arguments are good or sound, and which are not. A sound argument looks like this:
- All drivers are over 16 years old
- Mariko is a driver
- Therefore Mariko is over 16 years old
In this argument, if we know (1) and (2) – that is, if we know drivers have to be over 16 years old, and we know Mariko is a driver – then we can deduce (3) – that Mariko is over 16. The general form of this kind of argument is
- All As are Bs
- x is an A
- Therefore x is a B
And this is a good argument, whatever actual words we substitute for x, A and B.
The bad argument that this topic covers looks a little like this, but is importantly different. Here is an example of an argument that jumps to conclusions.
- All drivers are over 16 years old
- Ygritte is over 16 years old
- Therefore Ygritte is a driver
This is a bad argument because we cannot deduce (9) from (7) and (8). You can be over 16 and not drive. Maybe Ygritte has never got her licence. The general form of this bad kind of argument is
- All As are Bs
- x is a B
- Therefore x is an A
This is a bad argument, even if (12) is true in a given case; the point is that (12) does not follow from (10) and (11). (Even if Ygritte does drive a car, that fact doesn’t follow from the fact that she is over 16, and that you can’t drive unless you’re over 16). If you did deduce (12) from (10) and (11), you would be jumping to conclusions. And this is bad, because sometimes those conclusions will be false, and then your reasoning and decisions will be based on ideas that aren’t true.
Activity: Scenario and questions
Have you ever heard of a lie detector test? Anh saw something on TV about it last night, and now he’s talking to his friend, Matilda, telling her how it works.
“There’s a machine you can use to test whether someone is lying,’ Anh says. ‘The idea is that when people lie, they get nervous. And when people get nervous their hearts beat faster and they start to sweat. It happens to everyone.”
Matilda hadn’t heard of a lie detector before and was very interested in what Anh had told her.
Later that day, the teacher was collecting up maths homework, and Anh starts to frantically hunt around on his desk, and then in his school bag.
‘Where’s your homework, Anh?’ the teacher asks.
‘Sorry, I can’t find it. I know I did it, but it just doesn’t seem to be here.’
Matilda looks over at Anh. She sees that he has started sweating.
‘Anh’s lying!’ she says to herself. ‘I can’t believe he’d do that. I just didn’t think he’d lie…’
Question: Imagine that you’re Matilda. Given what Anh has just told you, would you think he was lying? What makes you think he was, or what makes you think he wasn’t?
Now let’s go on with the story..
Now it’s the end of the lesson, and Anh is getting his lunch out. As he does, an exercise sheet falls out of his bag and lands on the floor. He picks it up – it’s his Maths sheet – and it’s completed. He runs back into the classroom and leaves the sheet on the teacher’s desk. But Matilda doesn’t see any of that.
Question:Where did Matilda go wrong?