In Part 2 I am going to look at the philosophical aspects of morals and ethics and how vital it is, as researcher and practitioner, to understand how to maintain as objective and sound a moral standpoint as possible when faced with ethical decisions or dilemmas.
Analysing ethical problems
The Reader describes three processes when ethics, within the field of philosophical enquiry, is the philosophical study of morality and moral issues. (p.15). These processes, with definitions by Fieser, J (2009), are:
- Metaethics investigates where our ethical principles come from, and what they mean. Are they merely social inventions? Do they involve more than expressions of our individual emotions? Metaethical answers to these questions focus on the issues of universal truths, the will of God, the role of reason in ethical judgments, and the meaning of ethical terms themselves.
- Normative ethics takes on a more practical task, which is to arrive at moral standards that regulate right and wrong conduct. This may involve articulating the good habits that we should acquire, the duties that we should follow, or the consequences of our behavior on others.
- Finally, applied ethics involves examining specific controversial issues
By using the conceptual tools of metaethics and normative ethics, discussions in applied ethics try to resolve these controversial issues. The lines of distinction between metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics are often blurry. For example, the issue of abortion is an applied ethical topic since it involves a specific type of controversial behavior. But it also depends on more general normative principles, such as the right of self-rule and the right to life, which are litmus tests for determining the morality of that procedure. The issue also rests on metaethical issues such as, “where do rights come from?” and “what kind of beings have rights?”By thinking of the three processes as inter-related - all part of the building up understanding of, or insight into, any ethical problem - I can now see their importance. An example, from my practice, might be 'discipline in the dance studio'.
(Fieser, J. 2009)
Metaethics would perhaps involve looking at "what is meant by discipline?" and "what right does one person have to discipline another?"
Normative ethics would take into consideration the views on discipline within the society, and the reasons for the discipline - right and wrong, what is good practice, what effect will it have on others.
Applied ethics would then be the discourse on how to maintain professional practice and ethics whilst solving any discipline problems using the other two processes as guidelines.
The Reader then goes on to explain the two ways of discussing an ethical problem - descriptive and normative ethics. The first as a more scientific statement of fact and the second as the moral choices made by people - what one ought to do (p.15).
Again, I had a little trouble in how this related to a professional context but this really helped to clarify things for me: Normative vs Descriptive Ethics (Dumitru, D).
Applying this to my inquiry I can see the following:
- I could use descriptive ethics to say what I did and why, in which case my research ethics could be seen as either right or wrong depending on the person reading my research.
- By using normative ethics I could explain the reasoning behind what I did and why, and suggest the moral standards to which I held myself accountable during the research process. This would give the reader the opportunity to understand the motivations behind, and ascribe value to, the moral choices I made.
- Ethical claims include both your premise and your rationale but debate over how logical your argument is or whether it is the only way of looking at the situation will question the value of your inquiry.
- Objectivity and reason keep practice and research open and fair, but without context they have little validity in the wider application .
- What is the motivation behind your inquiry - altruism? personal gain? furthering your area of practice? of benefit to others? (Reader, p.16-19)
- Avoid plagiarism by not trying passing someone else's work off as your own or not giving citing literature correctly.
- Maintain objectivity by acknowledging insider-knowledge that might bias your research. For example: asking leading questions.
- Report data honestly by not just picking out evidence that supports your claim
- Gain permission from participants through honest methods and by ensuring they are informed of all the necessary information.
Another fantastic tool is the Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research (British Educational Research Association). It outlines the responsibilities that we have as researchers to the people involved in our inquiry, whether participant, sponsor or general public.
Which leads nicely into the last section of the Reader...
The Power of the Researcher (p.20).
In my inquiry I will undoubtedly be asking for the support of students, adolescents, parents, employers, colleagues, and organisational bodies. I have to be aware of what effect any of my research might have on them. Examples I can immediately think of are:
- Asking students to answer a questionnaire on motivation might cause them to write down answers that they think I want to read, or to be worried that I might use their answers against them in lessons.
- Writing about other teachers within a small school could affect how anonymous they will appear in the findings. This could lead to awkward situations between myself and the other teachers, or indeed between the teacher and her employer.
- Asking parents to give consent for their child to participate in the study means that they have to place their trust in my honesty and integrity, and that the context of the study is suitable in content.
BAPP (Arts) Reader 5 Professional Ethics (2012-13). School of Media and Performing Arts Institute for Work Based Learning, Middlesex University.
BAHonours Professional Practice (Arts) WBS 3630 (2012-13). School of Media and Performing Arts Institute for Work Based Learning, Middlesex University.
BERA Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research. Available: www.bera.ac.uk. Accessed 22nd March 2013
Cline, A. Descriptive, Normative and Analytical Ethics. Available: http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/phil/blfaq_phileth_cat.htm. Accessed 22nd March 2013.
Denscombe, M. (1998). The Good Research Guide: for small-scale social research projects. 3rd edition. Open University Press.
Dumitru, D. Normative vs. Descriptive Ethics. Available: http://www.iep.utm.edu/ethics/ . Accessed 22nd March 2013.
Fieser, J. (2009). Ethics. Available: http://www.iep.utm.edu/ethics/. Accessed 22nd March 2013.