Beamer-Schneider Professorship in Ethics

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Moral Education & Ethical Learning in SAGES

The world is a dream.  This is not bad -it means we construct it together.

Kevin Houser, inaugural Beamer-Schneider Teaching Fellow, has a specialization in the work of Emmanuel Levinas, whom he approaches from the alternate tradition of analytic philosophy, 2016

As part of its mission, the Beamer-Schneider Professorship has funded a teaching fellow in SAGES, the Beamer-Schneider Teaching Fellow in SAGES.  In addition to offering moral theory and ethics courses, this fellow leads an annual seminar for faculty who teach in SAGES, providing them with a background in moral and ethical philosophy so that they can develop the ethical learning embedded in SAGES’ learning objectives and the moral dimensions of SAGES classroom experience.

The current and inaugural fellow is Dr. Kevin Houser.  If you teach in SAGES and want to sign up for the program, please contact Dr. Houser at:


Process and concept behind the program


The inaugural Fellow, Dr. Kevin Houser, first met with SAGES faculty in an open session in 2016 and then did an anonymous questionnaire on the view of all SAGES faculty on teaching ethics in their classes.  About half of the faculty replied.  The take-aways were that (a) ethics is misunderstood as indoctrination, (b) ethics is overwhelming because it has its own technical vocabulary and disciplinary practice, and (c) it’s not clear how to incorporate ethics in classes.  At this point, there was no distinction between ethics and morals, in line with inherited institutional ambiguity.

The in-service curriculum was designed in response mainly by Dr. Houser in consultation with Prof. Bendik-Keymer and Dr. Householder of SAGES.   It was originally called the “ETLP” -Ethical Teaching and Learning Program- formed the Fall Semester, 2016.  In Spring 2018, after two iterations, it was renamed the Moral Education and Ethical Learning in-service program in SAGES -no acronym.

The Beamer-Schneider Professorship in Ethics’s approach is a long game played by forming an inclusive ethos of reflection on where we already are, one that empowers us to build out the ethical reflection that we already do.  The Professorship is opposed to predominantly technical approaches to ethics for many reasons, but mainly because they interrupt the organic ethical processes that people already are empowered in.  In a word, the point is to become thoughtful, not theoretical.  This is a good ecumenical approach.


In-service series for teachers across the curriculum


SESSION 1: Excavating the Ethical and the Moral

What course do you hope to work on for this program?  How would you summarize its main point?  What are its learning goals?  Where, do you think, might the course involve work toward SAGES’s ethical (and moral) reasoning learning outcomes?  How might the course convey some of the spirit of the mission of developing universal undergraduate ethical and moral learning (a mission supported by CWRU in accepting the create the Beamer-Schneider Professorship)?  In addition to answering these questions in the round, we will talk about how our courses are already ethically and morally loaded, show how that can be so, and discuss the idea of translating ethics from a specific disciplinary course -even a somewhat technical one- to other areas of living.


Humorous, moral notes for a book, Pisa, Italy, 2016


SESSION 2: Ending Equivocation

When we say that something isn’t “moral,” what do we mean?  It turns out that we often mean very different things.  For some, it might mean that we aren’t square with each other.  For others, that we aren’t actually trying to do some good.  And then there are folks who mean that what we’re doing lacks integrity.  These all contain different logics –of respect, consequence, and of character, respectively.  There are names for these logics in typical moral theory and ethics classes today — “deontology” (from deon, duty), “consequentialism.” and “virtue ethics” (from aretē, excellence of kind).  To make things more confusing, the first delineates the moral, whereas the second frames the ethical, whereas the third splits between both — justice (and other interpersonal virtues) for the moral and prudence (and other virtues of flourishing) for the ethical.  And the moral and the ethical are interdependent in precise ways, just as there is no virtue without judgment of consequences or core social relations, no ethical consequence without moral consideration and virtuous thoughtfulness, and no moral respect without concern for the effects of our actions and the ways in which we do things well.  So, in this session, we learn how to disambiguate these kinds of things — only to be able to synthesize them, too, in fine-grain talk together and with the classes we share with students.


SESSION 3: Developing Moral and Ethical Understanding

Critical thinking is a major learning goal of general education and of SAGES at Case Western Reserve University.  In what way do critical thinking and moral and ethical reflection interrelate?    In this session, we learn some elementary logical moves that involve moral and ethical positions.  These moves can be used to clarify to students how their positions might develop — either by leading them to conclusions they should accept but which they did not realize that they should (modus ponens) or by leading them to reject moral or ethical beliefs that produce conclusions that they cannot accept upon reflection (modus tollens).  Through identifying and learning these moves, it becomes possible to structure the development of a student’s understanding concerning their own moral and ethical commitments.  Students may then migrate from one position to another as they reflect on things analytically.  In this session, we go through this migration using exercises developed from participant course material for their SAGES courses.


SESSION 4: The Moral and Ethical Dimensions of the Classroom Experience

One of the most visceral ways in which moral and ethical education inform any given class is through the structuring of the classroom environment.  For instance, a class that expresses respect for people and consideration of others will be a class that is moral in a basic sense, whether or not people are aware of it.  A class that makes sure to build assignments and assessments around developing the capacities of students to live well and to make prudent judgments will be a class that is already ethical, whether it knows it or not.  In this session, we explore the actual, formal dimensions of the moral and the ethical in the learning environment, beginning with some discussion of the wave of recent scientific and philosophical work on empathy.  Can your class environment itself be made a better place for moral and ethical learning by osmosis?


SESSION 5: Sitting Alongside Each Other (Assessment)

Assessment: from assidere, “to sit alongside.”  In light of the SAGES learning outcomes with which we began, this final session will consider precisely what challenges we’ve successfully met and what challenges remain to integrating ethical learning and moral education into our SAGES courses and classrooms.  Central to this process will be presentations by group members, delivered to the group and to any interested guests that group members wish to invite.  With whom in SAGES or in your department do you wish to share the work you have done?  Would anyone you know who teaches here benefit from sitting in?


Mural at E. 105th St. and Yale, Cleveland, Ohio, by local mural artists Robin Robinson, Kim Woodson, and Gary Williams

Page last modified: March 22, 2018