Introduction to Ethics

This lesson is for DP1 students in the first term of their ToK Course, the lesson was actually written and delivered by a couple of my DP1 students to the other students in the class.
The students have been reading (for leisure) the book Inferno by Dan Brown (brief plot synopsis here.)

Put students into groups of 3-4, and ask them to discuss & decide the following ethical dilemma:

Option 1: You take no action, and allow the release of a virus which kills 50% of people, thus reducing population growth to a sustainable level. You have no control over who is killed, and who survives, the virus.

Option 2: You take action to destroy the virus, therefore no-one dies from the virus. However the current demise of the environment continues: population increase, pollution, and intensive resource use, putting unsustainable pressures on the ecosystem.

Students should also be given the following supplementary tasks depending upon the option chosen:
If you choose Option 1 you must explain how you will explain the ethics of your actions to the global population.
If you choose Option 2 you must explain how you think environmental destruction can be prevented, or mitigated.

Give each group 10 mins to discuss / brainstorm before presenting to the rest of the class.

After the presentation give students the following tasks to work on in groups:
1. Application of ToK Framework.
Which WoKs did each group use to arrive at their decisions ? Which WoKs were more persuasive for the group, and to you when they used them ?

2. Which AoKs were dominant in each of the group’s decision making process ? Why do you think these AoKs were dominant over other AoKs ?

3. Introduce Ethics by introducing the students to The Trolley Problem (as explained here, or here).

Ask students to explain the “population killing virus” decision in terms of the Trolley Problem. – what’s the parallel for killing 5 ? what’s the parallel for pushing the large man off the bridge etc.

Explain some of the key ideas in ethics (we used Utilitarianism, Virtue Ethics, Consequentialism, Deontology). Ask students to explain reach a decision on whether to stop the ‘population killing virus’ as adherents to each of the ethical approaches described.

Real life situations.
Ask students to identify real life situations which could be seen through the metaphor of the Trolley Problem, and ask them to explain which ethical approach government, or other authority, has used to ‘resolve’ the dilemma.
If students have difficulty identifying the pertinent real life situations you could give them any of the following: torturing people suspected to have information about a terror attack; deciding who to fund for medical treatment between a small people with serious complications, or a large number of people with basic illnesses; should we programme driverless cars to protect the occupants or pedestrians in the event of a crash ?; Affirmative Action quotas for minorities; Promotion of immigration in order to boost an economy.


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