Ethics: Can It Be Taught
Defense Acquisition University Huntsville United States
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The Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command TACOM, Program Executive Office Ground Combat Support Systems PEO GCSS leadership asked the question Can Ethics Be Taught To this over-simplified question, the answer is yes. The Department of Defense already has a compliance-based ethics program. In fact, there is extensive coverage on teaching ethics in terms of leadership development and decision-making throughout both public and private research and literature. Teaching ethical reasoning and decision-making is a broader question that requires consideration of whether ethics taught is really ethics learned, and, then, how the Army ensures that ethics learned is ethics practiced. Dr. Travis Bradberry 2015 provides a distinction between intelligencethe ability to learnand emotional intelligence as the capability to learn and improve by practice a flexible set of skills. Gaining insight into how individuals who are trained in leadership and decision-making, i.e., learned in the foundations and concepts of ethics, can lead to an understanding of how these same people can still end up in a dilemma of unethical proportions, i.e., without the skills to make an ethical decision in a challenging situation. Training ethical behavior in terms of what not to do is not enough. Ethics is about making choices, recognizing competing obligations, understanding the whys of behavior, and developing the skills to exercise moral reasoning and apply ethical judgment. Yes, the Army can teach ethics. Yes, Army leadership can acquire knowledge in ethical reasoning and decision-making. However, without means and ability to execute, sustain, and reinforce a rigorous ethics education and training program that resonates with all military and civilian components, the practicing of ethics will always be a challenge.