This morning, I’m making a $100 bet that my students are ethical.
I got to class early, as I usually do, and left my things on the front table, again, like normal. I pushed my phone and wallet to the edge of the table, until the wallet fell to the floor, and the cash fanned out. A crisp $100 is there for the taking.
I’m curious about who will be the first to walk in the room and see it. I’m certain that none of them would actually take it, but depending on the person, they might really think about it.
We’re talking about Virtue Ethics today, my favorite way of thinking about ethics. Virtue Ethics denies the presumption that ethics is primarily about actions – this action is right, this action is wrong. Instead, it says that ethics is primarily about the virtues people hold. The right action is determined by acting in character with deeply held virtues. In this case, I think most of the students will say that they didn’t take the money because … well, they’re honest. They possess that virtue.
They didn’t do some complicated math about greater benefit to human happiness, they didn’t stop and consider God’s commands, they didn’t pull out their handy notes on Kant’s categorical imperative to only act in ways that are can be reasonably made universal. Instead they acted out of habit. Out of virtue. Out of a learned and cultivated perspective that values integrity.
We’ll see. I may be $100 short, and a little less idealistic, in about 10 minutes.