Ethics as a Subject in Schools

According to the NSW government, ethics is the nearest thing to religion. There is an admission here that religion somehow dictates the mode of behavior in adulthood. In centuries past this was most definitely true. You have only to read the accounts of people who were at deaths door, like being adrift at sea in a boat, to perceive that life after death was paramount in people's thinking. Not going to hell was also important.

Teaching ethics as an alternative to religious education in schools seems to be a logical option. Next year the NSW government will allow parents to choose secular ethics as a subject for their children instead of religion. Some would argue that religion does not really teach people how to behave in society. It is more important than that. Believing in God is paramount, not how one behaves toward his/her fellow Man. Behavior is secondary to being submissive to God.

The problem with ethics is the supposition that there is a correct way of social interaction. Stealing and lying, for example, are condemned. But business is part of our daily lives. Isn't the act of selling really stealing? There is something unethical about buying a tonne of apples on the cheap, then putting them is small bags and selling them at a high price. That is basically what all trade is - the act of buying in bulk and selling individually. To live in an ethical manner would involve the adoption of non-market principles of activity. Living in a commune where everything is bartered would be ideal.

The NSW Government has confused ethics with abiding by state laws and the rights of people as determined by the state. If ethics as a subject is to be a building block of education there will inevitably be calls for the "correct' curriculum. There will be difficulties because what is right for one person is wrong for another. Is it wrong to take a life for example? Most governments "dictate" that doctors shall not take a life under any circumstances. If you are a soldier though it is perfectly okay to kill someone.

Ethics then is similar to religion in that the most important facets of the "subject" are hard to pin down. And like religion, ethics is a battleground for differing views. Making ethics a school subject is not going to be a simplistic way of "settling" the issue of religion vis-a-vis society. Indeed, it may cause more problems.
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