The Value of Case Law in Teaching Philosophical Ethics

TitleThe Value of Case Law in Teaching Philosophical Ethics
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsOljar, EA
JournalTeaching Ethics: The Journal of the Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum
Date PublishedSpring 2002
PublisherSociety for Ethics Across the Curriculum
Publication Languageeng
ISSN Number15444031
KeywordsCase Study Method , education , ENGINEERING , humanities , PHILOSOPHY , SCIENCE , SOCIAL sciences
AbstractThe growth of ethics as a distinct academic and professional field over the last thirty years or so has been generally beneficial to those of us who teach ethics regularly from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Among other things, this growth has meant a concomitant increase in both the amount and kind of materials available for classroom use, which can be seen in even a rough survey of the many ethics anthologies in philosophy alone. Like many other ethics teachers, I’m inclined to think that “more is better” insofar as the contents of one’s bag of teaching tools is concerned. But this increase in materials for teaching ethics itself raises a question: if, as seems plausible, some materials work better in the classroom than others, which are those and why? In this paper, I try to provide a limited answer to this question. I begin by considering the reasons why the use of cases or case studies is of pedagogical value as a general teaching tool. I then argue that case law or written judicial opinion has unique advantages in teaching ethics from the perspective of analytic moral philosophy. Using several judicial opinions as examples, I discuss two advantages to the use of such opinions: first, the philosophical method and content of case law; and second, the moral and political value of case law in teaching ethics. Although I must of necessity consider these issues from my particular disciplinary perspective, I believe that the main points apply to other social science and humanities disciplines as well.
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