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In this revised paper, originally published in Educational Leadership (1988), Richard Paul argues that ethics ought to be taught in school, but only in conjunction with critical thinking.Without critical thinking at the heart of ethical instruction, indoctrination rather than ethical insight results.On the other hand, what these same people fear most is someone else’s moral perspective taught as the truth: conservatives afraid of liberals being in charge, liberals of conservatives, theists of non-theists, non-theists of theists.
The world does not present itself to us in morally transparent terms.
The moral thing to do is often a matter of disagreement even among people of good will.
As a result, everyday moral judgments are often a subtle mixture of pseudo and genuine morality, moral insight and moral prejudice, moral truth and moral hypocrisy.
Herein lies the danger of setting up ill-thought-out public school programs in moral education.
To bring ethics and morality into the schools in an educationally legitimate way, administrators and teachers must think critically about what to emphasize and what to avoid.
Intellectually discriminating minds and morally refined sensibilities must be in charge of both initial curriculum design and its subsequent classroom implementation.Because of complexities such as these, ethically motivated persons must learn the art of self-critique, of moral self-examination, to become attuned to the pervasive everyday pitfalls of moral judgment: moral intolerance, self-deception, and uncritical conformity.These human foibles cause pseudo-morality, the systematic misuse of moral terms and principles in the guise of moral action and righteousness.Considered another way, ethical persons, however strongly motivated to do what is morally right, can do so only if they know what that is.And this they cannot do if they systematically confuse their sense of what is morally right with their self-interest, personal desires, or what is commonly believed in their peer group or community.Unfortunately, mere verbal agreement on general moral principles alone will not accomplish important moral ends nor change the world for the better.Moral principles mean something only when manifested in behavior. Yet to put them into action requires some analysis and insight into the real character of everyday situations.Moral principles do not apply themselves, they require a thinking mind to assess facts and interpret situations.Moral agents inevitably bring their perspectives into play in making moral judgments and this, together with the natural tendency of the human mind to self-deception when its interests are involved, is the fundamental impediment to the right use of ethical principles.People, except in the most rare and exceptional cases, do have a strong tendency to confuse what they believe with the truth.It is always the others who do evil, who are deceived, self-interested, close-minded never us.