Scaffolding: The Virtue Template, revised

Some months ago, I posted a template I provided to students in my engineering ethics class, to assist them in thinking about virtues and vices in considering various options for responding to a complex problem situation. This, I explained, is an example of scaffolding, which is a crucial element in problem-based learning: it is an external and somewhat artificial version of a thinking process that is usually carried out internally. The idea is to direct students’ attention from the outside until they learn to direct their own attention themselves, from the inside.

In using the template during the Spring and Summer terms, I learned a great deal about its meaning and its limits, on the basis of which I have revised the template itself and refined the instruction I give for using it.

Here is the same example I used in the February post, revised:

Virtue Template SampleI removed the column “habit revealed by action” because, as Aristotle would insist, it is impossible to infer a virtue or a vice from a single action.

I adopted Roger Crisp’s term, sphere, from his introduction to the Cambridge edition of the Nicomachean Ethics to refer to the particular aspect of human experience or activity in relation to which an ethically relevant habit might develop.

For the last column, I placed much more emphasis on function or characteristic activity (or, in Greek, ergon) of the one acting. Many virtue considerations may be indexed to human beings as human, in which case the question is: Does this habit support or thwart the thriving of this human being?

For engineering ethics, virtue considerations may be indexed to human beings as engineers, in which case the question is: Does this habit support or thwart this person in carrying out the essential tasks of an engineer?

This last point requires that we spend some class time thinking through about ergon of an engineer. I may say more about that in another post.

Also coming up: I’ll post a draft template for utility values, and one for autonomy values, though I’ve found the latter especially difficult to render meaningfully in the form of a table. I’ll also provide some updates on the Field Guide project, on which I have decided to move forward, and quickly: I’d like to have a minimal working draft available for my students this Fall, which gives me about three weeks to put it together.

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