Teaching theories as tools: A pragmatist approach to ethics education

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Ethics is a crucial element of the education that healthcare professionals undertake as part of their training and ongoing development. However, in order for ethics education to be effective in supporting professionals in their everyday work, participants should not merely be provided with the knowledge of ethical theories. Rather, they should also be supported in developing the skills necessary to deal with moral dilemmas as they arise from every practice. In this paper, we argue that a pragmatist approach to ethics, as described by John Dewey, can serve as a basis for ethics training for healthcare professionals. There are two core concepts in Dewey’s theory of ethics which are particularly relevant for ethics education; first, the idea that theories should be regarded as tools, and second that ethics develops through practice, in collaboration with others. We argue that this understanding of ethics provides a useful framework for developing ethics trainings in which theories are presented in relation to their relevance for addressing moral dilemmas in practice. What makes this approach particularly suitable is the acknowledgment that ethics is not a purely theoretical subject but is intrinsically related to practice. In this paper we elaborate on the elements of Dewey’s theory of ethics that we consider relevant for ethics education. Moreover, we present a concrete example of an ethics course based on a pragmatist approach by describing its constitutive elements in terms of learning goals, structure of the course, lectures, group work, and assessments.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBioethica Forum
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021

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