Community of Ethical Inquiry Philosophy and Methodology

Photo of yellow sticky notes stuck to planner boardCommunity of Ethical Inquiry Philosophy

Dr Patrick Stokes, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University, explains our philosophical approach behind teaching ethics in the classroom:

All of us, unavoidably, need to be ethical reasoners. We all navigate our way through a world of complex moral dilemmas, conflicting demands, and competing ideas about fairness, justice and goodness. It’s therefore crucial that we equip children with the skills necessary to understand and evaluate ethical claims and respond thoughtfully to the issues they will be confronted with.

The Community of Ethical Inquiry approach stands to make a significant contribution to the ways in which children acquire this sort of ethical literacy. It invites students to do ethics, not simply to learn about ethics, and encourages self-reflection as they do so. It also embodies the intrinsically communal nature of inquiry: we are always ethical reasoners together with others in a shared world. As Victoria considers how to integrate ethical understanding and critical thinking into the curriculum, the time is right to consider what this exciting teaching methodology can contribute.

Professor Philip Cam from the St James Ethics Centre places this approach into the broader community perspective:

Ethics is a branch of Philosophy that examines ethical concepts and issues. It enquires into such things as goodness, right action, and moral responsibility. From an educational point of view, philosophical ethical reflection gives students a deeper understanding of the ethical domain, preventing them from forming unthinking moral opinions. It develops their capacity for considered moral judgment, which will enable them to respond more thoughtfully to many of the problems and issues they will face in their lives.

Professor Cam expands on this approach in his A Philosophical Approach to Moral Education

Classroom Methodology

In the classroom, young people participating in a Community of Ethical Inquiry get engaged in important cognitive moves, such as:

  • creating hypotheses,
  • clarifying their terms,
  • asking for and giving good reasons,
  • offering examples and counterexamples,
  • questioning each other’s assumptions,
  • drawing inferences, and
  • following the inquiry where it leads.

A typical Community of Ethical Inquiry session commences with a warm-up in which a short discussion or game is used to develop a nominated social or inquiry skill. A stimulus (such as a picture book, newspaper article, video clip, photo) is introduced and the children are asked to reflect on the ideas in the stimulus. Classroom discussion determines the component of the topic that the children find interesting and contestable. Activities are utilized to develop concepts in small or classroom groups.

  1. Project Background
  2. Philosophy and Methodology
  3. Training Community of Ethical Inquiry Volunteers
  4. Project Pilot and Evaluation