Object Lessons

My post about the cyclotron case – “The Other End of the Beam” – has made me wonder whether I could build a course in practical ethics, or perhaps just the introductory segment of a course, around a single, physical object.

I’d come across a brief account of the idea of an object lesson, which is attributed to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century educational theorist Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, in a recent overview of the philosophy of education by Nel Noddings.

I’ll need to go back and look at her account, and I’ll need to dig into the history of it, but the basic idea is to allow students to learn from interacting directly with a particular object. Especially notable is that the technique was often used for moral instruction, often in a religious context.

That original meaning of the term, object lesson, has been obscured: in common usage, it refers generally to an experience from which someone learns something.

I’d like to restore the core idea of interacting with an object, in imagination if not in direct experience, to give students practical experience using one or another skill of ethical inquiry. Continue reading

First Sketch

I intend this blog to be a series of observations about ethical values in everyday life, in professional practice and in public policy.

My outlook is that of a secular philosopher, and my interest is in the lived experiences of human beings pursuing various projects in particular places. The founding idea is that ethical thinking is as much a matter of experience and imagination as it is a matter of judgment.

It is not a blog about opinions or about conclusions.

I will, as much as possible, stay off the soap box.

Rather, in these notes I will aim to identify and distinguish the variety of ethical values that may be caught up in the complex situations in which people may find themselves, with attention to the particularity of situations and people alike.

I may talk about ethical theory, from time to time, but only to introduce or refine the tools of ethical field-work.