Friday, June 24, 2011

Innovations in Ethics Curricula

Innovations?! Well, no. Here is yet another of my frequent complaints! Textbooks in ethics (and in Intro to Philosophy, and in Philosophy of Science, and in Environmental Philosophy, and I'm sure in most of our other areas) go through frequent editions but each edition contains the same old topics with the same old papers.

Yes, some of the old papers are classics and nothing else compares. Judith Jarvis Thomson on abortion. But in general, except for the addition of pieces on climate change, an ethics anthology now looks almost exactly like an ethics anthology when I was in college--over two decades ago! And some of the pieces seemed dated to me then.

Today's exemplar just arrived in my mailbox--Social Ethics: Morality and Social Policy, edited by Mappes, Zembaty, and DeGrazia and in its 8th edition with McGraw Hill. I don't think this text is any worse than all the others, but it's not better, either.

Take the example of the chapter on climate change. It contains 10 selections, but only 2 of them were written in the last decade! Both of those pieces are written by philosophers but were originally published in the popular press.

And let's look at the gender breakdown--something that should be informative about the degree of currency and creativity in an anthology. Women constitute 20% or so of professional philosophers but a much higher percentage among ethicists. In addition, this text has sections s on issues that have been extensively examined from a feminist perspective: sexual ethics, abortion, marriage, pornography, and global and economic justice. Finally, the text includes selections written by practitioners (rather than exclusively by philosophers) and published in the popular press (rather than just in philosopher journals).

So what can possibly explain this breakdown?
Of the pieces with named authors, only 15% have a female author. Some of those female authors have more than one piece in the anthology, so that only 12% of authors are female!

The cost of the text is over $100. Do any of these pieces come with an expiration date? I drink fresh milk, eat fresh eggs, and insist on fresh fruit. My mind requires fresh nourishment as well.

1 comment:

Matthew J. Brown said...

Among all the bad reasons for the trend of using old papers in new anthologies, there may be one good reason; namely, that much of the more recent work is more specialized, more technical, more dependent on knowledge of things that have come before. That may make it more of a challenge to teach at the undergrad level.

I rarely use textbooks, relying instead on hand-picked selections, and while I look for recent stuff, I often find myself teaching classics.

I'm crafting my Intro syllabus for the fall, and I'm making painstaking efforts to include women, minorities, and non-Western historical sources with some reasonable numbers. It is tough work because there are few resources out there.