Dickinson Introduces New Ethics Minor

Amanda Wampler '24, Staff Writer

Dickinson has introduced a new ethics minor in the Philosophy department that allows students to apply ethical reasoning learned in their courses into any other chosen discipline. Though the proposal was written and presented by the faculty in the Philosophy department, the push to add this minor to Dickinson’s curriculum came mostly from students. 

Amy McKiernan, professor of Philosophy, played a large role in drafting the proposal for this minor. “Students said repeatedly we would really like for [a study in ethics] to be formal and for it to be something that we can be proud of and put it on our transcripts,” McKiernan said.

Over the course of the minor, students will take six classes: “Introduction to Ethics” and “Practical Ethics,” three classes at the 200-300 level that focus on ethics either in the Philosophy department or classes cross-listed in other departments, and one 300 level course in the Philosophy department. The goal of the minor is to allow students to both explore how ethics can be taught in other disciplines, and to allow for a well rounded education of ethics in the Philosophy department. 

“We want to make sure that the minor is scaffolded enough so that you are beginning at the introductory level, exploring your own interests, and then also getting that small class experience for an upper level ethics course, said McKiernan.

Some of the 200-300 level classes available to students include “Political Philosophy” in the Political Science Department and “Gender and Justice” in the Law and Policy Department. These classes, and more, allow for students studying ethics to study how ethics can relate to their field of interest. This means that students in ethics classes will come from many areas of studying, creating a diverse class environment where students can learn from one another. 

One major benefit of the minor is its ability to span across all disciplines. McKiernan spoke about some of the benefits that she sees, including gaining active listening skills, empathy, and overall becoming “more comfortable with discomfort.” Ethics classes can teach students how to be better speakers, writers, and even debaters. 

“Students should be able to have an open mind and a set view. I think it is important to engage in strong counter arguments and strong questions, and not questions. I think that this ethics minor does a good job of teaching students those skills” McKiernan said.

“I think the whole ethics across the campus initiative is important. We added a position in applied ethics to an existing position in ethics because we wanted to make the college’s commitment to address values and ethics real,” said Provost and Dean of the College Neil Weissman. “The initiative includes lots of other things, including faculty study groups, so that faculty in all disciplines can think about how they can introduce ethics into their courses…So our intention is really to make it a broad cross-campus initiative, and the minor is a piece of that.”

The benefits and goals expressed by McKiernan are part of the learning outcomes for the ethics minor. Some of the other learning outcomes include students becoming familiar with ethical theories, recognizing the relationship between ethical practices and ethical theories, exercising reasoning skills to defend their argument while still being open to strong counterarguments, and gaining experience through case studies, thought experiments, and argumentative essays. Students interested in learning more about the ethics minor can contact the Philosophy Department. Students who would like to officially declare should use the Intention to Complete or Drop a Certificate or Minor form on the Registrar’s web page.