This essay discusses practical ethics through basic philosophy, incorporating three main elements: ethical thought, ethical definition, and ethical values.
Author: Paul La Forge
Presented at the OEC International Conference on Ethics in Engineering and Computer Science, March 1999
0. Introduction: Definition, Scope, Division
0.0 Practical Ethics. Practical ethics through basic philosophy includes three elements: ethical thought; ethical definition; and ethical values. A background philosophy exerts influence on the very analysis of practical ethics (Davies 1997, 15). If a person conceives of engineering activity as only making money, for example, then one's definition of practical ethics, one's actions and values will, be guided by this basic philosophical position.
Ethics has been defined previously as a set of rules that define right and wrong conduct (Frederick, Davis, & Post 1988, 52). Thus, practical ethics is not a special set of ethical rules different from ethics in general and applicable only to engineering. Practical ethics is the application of general ethical rules to behavior in the field of engineering or computer science. The purpose of this article is to show how practical ethics can be conceived of as something more than the application of general ethical rules, but as, instead, an ethical vision, nourished and integrated around a philosophical viewpoint.
0.1. Four Advantages. There are four advantages to an ethics based on philosophy. First, such a position gives scope for constructive thought, meditation, and reflection. This is the point from which classical ethics began. According to Annas (1993, 27), when life was not going well for the ancients, for example, Aristotle, Plato, Epicurus, Zeno, Cicero, and others, they turned to reflection and meditation on the meaning of life. People in computer science and engineering need something similar today; they need to step back from their immediate all-engrossing concerns and their projects, and reflect upon themselves, their past and future. The second advantage is, a person learns to think ethically. Readings about different philosophies of business illustrate various positions that influence ethical definitions. For example, a conception of the environment will greatly influence one's ethical thinking and ethical action in regard to nature and the natural resources of the earth. Thirdly, a philosophical position provides integration of ethical values. This integration is achieved through meditation, reflection, and small-group discussions around ethical issues in case work.
0.2. Scope. Perhaps the greatest advantage of an ethics based on philosophy is its neutrality. In general, this is an important insight for any instructor of ethics, but a neutral position is of special importance in dealing with ethics in the Japanese case. For an American, a Roman Catholic priest, and a missionary teaching ethics in a Japanese university, a neutral position is essential. There are vast differences in culture, age and religious values between myself and my non-Christian students, who come from a mostly Buddhist background. I have my own philosophical, theological, and ethical values that I cherish very deeply. I do not feel, however, that it is my function to impose these values on others.
I feel strongly that my undergraduate majors already have a basic ethics. They have already learned right or wrong at home, from their education, and especially from their friends. Without some ethical training, they would not have even passed the university entrance examinations. Most of their courses are about computer science, finance, accounting, management personnel organization, and so on, all geared toward amassing wealth. Many of them are preparing for study overseas for one year. They have little knowledge of philosophy and no experience with meditation. My purpose in the ethics course is rather to assist others, through a philosophical approach, to become more aware of the ethical values that they already possess by the very fact of being human. I would like to help others to integrate these personal values around a philosophy of professional life, which would then serve as an objective standard of ethical conduct both for themselves and as a reference for others whom they might serve in the social world.
0.3. Division. Therefore, I begin with the first element of a philosophy of business, namely, meditation and reflection. Meditation is something both neutral and close to Japanese culture. There are three kinds of meditation that I have found helpful in teaching practical ethics: nondiscursive meditation, semidiscursive meditation, and discursive meditation. The nature of nondiscursive meditation will be explained in part one. The participants obtain some insights of themselves living in a unique world through nondiscursive meditation. Building upon these insights during sessions of semidiscursive meditation, individuals learn to move beyond themselves and achieve some ethical understanding of the world of nature. Experiences of nature become a foundation for the merging of the secular and the sacred, using the metaphors of ecology and environment. They constitute a common vision, an attempt to define the moral parameters for an ecologically sound way of life, and to use this vision to provide wisdom and guidance (Thomashow 1996, xiii). The characteristics of semidiscursive meditation will be further explained in part two. Ethical values in regard to others are taken up during sessions of discursive meditation, which will be explained in part three.
The second and third elements of a philosophy of business, namely, readings and case work, are connected with each form of meditation. There are five philosophical perspectives on business ethics, originally proposed by Davies (1997, 15-25): A Friedmanite "The Business of Business is Business" Perspective, An (Industrial) Democracy Perspective, An (Eco) Systems Perspective, A Virtues Perspective, and A Western Christian Theological Perspective. The readings on the Friedmanite and Democracy perspectives will be explained in part one, in connection with nondiscursive meditation. Readings on ecosystems connection with nondiscursive meditation. Readings on ecosystems will be further illustrated in connection with semidiscursive meditation in part two. Virtues and the Western Christian Theological perspectives will be taken up in connection with discursive meditation in part three.
The third element of a philosophical position, case work, is connected with the meditations and readings of each part. Case work is especially important for two reasons. First of all, the small-group discussion of cases makes the ethical principles come alive. Students are stimulated to think and learn from each other through the case work. Secondly, case work has a dimension to the beyond; the ethical issue in the immediate situation contains implications for ethical theory and practice in general. As we will see in more detail later, an ethical situation that occurred in Nepal, for instance, contains ethical ramifications for engineering offices in New York.
There are also difficulties to be faced in adopting a philosophical position in regard to practical ethics. The first difficulty stems from the wide gulf among the three elements - the meditations, the readings, and the case work. For this reason, the order of the readings was changed and adapted to the meditations and case work. Secondly, suspicion was aroused among the students because I lectured little and gave no answers. I only presented possible positions. Yet this apparent noncommitment taught the students to think out their ethical positions for themselves. Thirdly, there was a problem with the maturity level of the students. The attention and concentration of some students were insufficient for the task of integrating the three elements of a business philosophy. Case work and small- group discussion were a great help in overcoming this difficulty.
1. Nondiscursive Meditation: Is Money the Only Value?
1.0 Introduction. in order to encourage philosophical thought and reflection, the course began with nondiscursive meditation, continued with a definition of practical ethics and two philosophical perspectives of professional life, and then ended with practical case studies. The purpose of part one, therefore, is to introduce and explain nondiscursive meditation, propose a basic philosophical position (Davies 1997, 15) around the purpose of professional life, look at two reading on Milton Friedman's thought, and then propose a case in the form of a question: Is money the only value in the world of the professions?
1.1 Nondiscursive Meditation. The reader may already be acquainted with various forms of nondiscursive meditation such as Zen, Yoga, Transcendental Meditation, Taichichuan, and other forms employed in the martial arts. Nondiscursive meditation has five characteristics. First, the participant is led by a master who gives a series of directions that guides the individual through his/her world of the present. Second, logical thought is positively discouraged. If affects arise, they are merely accepted as they are with no attempt to analyze or explain them. Third, the individual is merely told to "observe". No attempt is made to evaluate the experience. Fourth, the individual is led to become aware of his/her internal and external environment. The fifth and most important characteristic is that the body itself participates in the meditation as the locus of insight and experience.
Therefore, nondiscursive meditation is a powerful device to teach people how to stop the world and take stock of themselves. The focus of nondiscursive meditation is on the self and the environment, but it does not remain there. The discovery of the self leads to the discovery of the other in mutual relationships, to be preserved and cultivated by an ethical code. Practical ethics from a philosophical perspective begins with the self that gradually reaches out to the other, and eventually includes dealings in the social and professional world. Thomashow (1996, 23) described the ethical learning as an ever widening expansion of "concentric circles of identification". Moving through these circles might cause a great deal of personal change. As you probe the layers within, you might realize that your experiences are the source of profound wisdom. What are the implications for your everyday life - your job, your personal relationships, your professional goals? Perhaps it becomes necessary to rethink some aspects of your life which you previously took for granted (Thomashow 1996, 23).
1.2. Philosophy. Two readings are taken from chapter one of a book by Davies (1997, 15-17) called Current Issues in Business Ethics. The first chapter of the book is called "Business Philosophy: Searching for an Authentic Role." The chapter begins with two basic questions: 1) What is the meaning of professional (activity)? 2) What purpose is in it (if any)? The chapter then takes up the second question by examining five differing ethical perspectives of modern-day professional life. Then the author attempts to address the first question. Here he faces the problems of the meaning of professional life in relation to each perspective, and also the implications for ethical theory arising from each of the differing views.
1.3. Readings: Friedman. The second reading is from the section: "A Friedmanite 'The Purpose of Business is Business' Perspective." The basic method of Friedman and his followers is to define very tightly what is legitimately the territory and role of business, and then to go on to "solve" ethical problems using the tight definition. This define-tightly-then-logically- apply method can be a useful tool in philosophical logic, helping to keep arguments generally sound, but tends to close down options, whereas the nature of practical ethics is to explore right and wrong, good and bad, in a changing world, and hence to open things up.
1.4. The Case for Group Discussion: Is Money the Only Value? In order to present an open situation, the exploration and cultivation of mutual experiences and values, I posed the question to the students: Is money the only value in professional life? They were given a few minutes to write a brief answer to the question. The discussion following this silent period was centered on a brief article entitled "The Social Responsibility of Business" (Friedman 1983). The students were allowed to discuss the two readings freely among themselves.
1.5. An (Industrial) Democracy Perspective. Since students in Japan assume they are "supposed to" receive "answers" from their teachers, they became quite confused, at this point, about the meaning of practical ethics and the purpose of the ethics class. Rather than defining and limiting the scope of the class by providing "answers," I encouraged the students to explore and seek to find the answers for themselves through several more sessions of nondiscursive meditation.
Gradually, the focus of the class (with the help of another brief reading from Frederick, Davis, & Post (1988, 52-53) centered on a simple definition of ethics as right and wrong conduct in the professional world. But then another more important question had to be faced: Who decides what is right and wrong?
This question led to another: Do we decide right and wrong by democratic procedure? A second reading, therefore, was "An (Industrial) Democracy Perspective" (Davies 1997, 17-19). Davies briefly reviews the development of the modern corporation over the last hundred years as reflected in corporate legislation. From the industrial perspective the purpose of business organizations is to support democracy by letting the people have power in their internal affairs and by encouraging them to be involved in "citizenship" duties and in their overall regulation. Corporations should be evaluated ethically by criteria such as these.
This perspective is developed in more detail in a later chapter of the book: "The Business Organization: A Locus for Meaning and Moral Guidance" (Davies 1997, 65-75). At the end of the chapter, the author has to admit that ethical standards in society are slipping, and this is reflected in behavior at the workplace. Companies are increasingly seeing the necessity of filling the moral vacuum by some sort of remedial training in ethics. This appears to be because family, school, and church are no longer effectively fulfilling this role (Simon Webley in Davies 1997, 74).
1.6. The Parable of the Sadhu. The weaknessesof an (Industrial) Democracy Perspective on ethics were shown by a classic case, The Parable of the Sadhu (McCoy 1991). Bohen McCoy and his anthropologist friend (and committed Quaker) Stephen were on a very dangerous trek through a treacherous mountain pass in Nepal. There were other completely independent groups from New Zealand and Japan, and a couple from Switzerland, facing the same hazardous passage. An advance party had suddenly discovered an almost naked, barefoot Indian holy man at the 15,500-foot level. The Sadhu was found lying on the ice, shivering and suffering from hypothermia. He was summarily dumped into the care of McCoy and Stephen. Another party departed without rendering any assistance; a third positively refused to lend their pack animal to transport the Sadhu further back down the pass to the nearest village. The students were given this part of the case to decide in small groups what should be done in an ethical manner. The solution of the case and its implications for ethical theory were given to the students after the small-group discussions. Because of the climatic conditions, McCoy and his friend, who were also in poor physical condition themselves, decided to leave the Sadhu at a point where it was physically possible for the him to walk down to a village some 500 feet below. McCoy and his friend Stephen, a deeply committed Quaker, had serious discussions for days afterwards on what should have been done, ethically, for the Sadhu as a fellow human being. As a result, McCoy saw the plight of the Sadhu as similar to ethical situations faced in the corporate world. First of all, the groups in Nepal had no ethical leader. Similarly, when there is no ethical leadership in the corporate world, ethical procedure becomes unhinged. Each individual or group panics, attempts to "bail out," in order to avoid the whole awkward situation. An ethical system with a vertical dimension - from top to bottom - is needed to unite democratic groups. Learning a lesson from the parable of the Sadhu, McCoy sees the need of a strong ethical leader in the modern corporation. Secondly, the individual needs some group support for an ethical position. Stephen tried hard to argue for complete assistance for the Sadhu until his safety was assured, but he received no support from others in the democratic situation. The parable of the Sadhu shows the same need of support for the ethical individual in the modern corporate world. Thirdly, there must be some form of clear process for handling ethical issues. This did not exist in the situation in Nepal. Corporations that have such procedures can gather together and weather the ethical crisis. In such a case, the democratic voice of an individual with a strong ethical vision can be of great support to others.
2. Semidiscursive Meditation: The Ethics of Nature
2.0. Purpose. The purpose of part two is to introduce the ethics of the natural environment through semidiscursive meditation. Section one consists of an explanation of semidiscursive meditation; section two deals with the reading "An (Eco)Systems Perspective" on business ethics (Davies 1997, 19- 21); section three is about cases dealing with the natural environment.
2.1. Semidiscursive Meditation. What is semidiscursive meditation and how does it operate? Semidiscursive meditation exhibits the following four characteristics. First, by way of contrast to nondiscursive meditation, semidiscursive meditation allows a limited use of logical, especially imaginative and artistic, thinking. The creative and artistic process becomes an ethical learning process. In other words, ethics is joined to art. Second, semidiscursive meditation moves beyond art and seeks to educate the ethical judgment. As in the art process, an ideal ethical norm is introduced. The student accepts some elements of the norm and rejects others in working on his own artistic product. Then in comparing his product to an ideal, the personal norms of the individual are transformed into objective norms called ethical values. The participant learns to judge cases from an objective ethical standard. The process is greatly enhanced with the introduction of readings and cases from a philosophical and ethical perspective. Third, in common with nondiscursive meditation, the master guides the participant during the meditation. He operates in a very sensitive way to encourage the creativity of the student, introducing the ideal artistic norm, and gradually guiding the student toward an ideal objective work of art. Lastly, semidiscursive meditation lays the groundwork for broadening and deepening an ethical perspective through discursive meditation. The ethical perspective is not imposed by the master, but creatively developed by the participant.
2.1.A. Semidiscursive Meditation: An Example. The following example may assist the reader to a better understanding of semidiscursive meditation. The students were gathered on the roof and allowed to view the world from there for about fifteen minutes. They were all seated on chairs along the edge of the roof of the university classroom building. A wide panorama both of the large city below and the surrounding mountains was visible. I gave very few directions, just allowing the students to observe and listen. During this time, a few of them closed their eyes in order to listen either to their inner reactions or to the sounds from the environment. In effect, they were engaging in nondiscursive meditation, as I had directed previously. Now they were doing this spontaneously, without my direction. After about fifteen minutes, I distributed some art paper and asked each one to draw a picture of the world as they observed it. A selection process was in evidence here. Some chose to depict the natural elements of the environment, while others ignored these and chose to emphasize the buildings, roads, or TV towers of their large city. I made no attempt to direct the artistic process at this point. I merely allowed the students to codify their basic impressions of the environment. As an art master, I left the responsibility for depicting the world to each individual participant. This session of semidiscursive meditation lasted about thirty minutes.
The semidiscursive meditation session was followed by a period of reflection held back in the classroom. The reflection consisted of three parts: a period of silent reflection by individuals, a time of mutual sharing in small groups, a period of reporting. During the silent reflection, individuals were given time to think about the meditation, evaluate it, and give a brief report on their drawings. Then they were allowed time to share their reports and their artistic products in small groups. Each group then prepared a short summary of the individual reports, which was then communicated to the whole class.
2.4. Environmental Case Work. Since the ecosystems perspective loomed so important to the participants, a number of environment questions were taken from a simple book, The Book of Questions: Business, Politics, and Ethics (Stock 1991). The questions for small-group discussion were very brief and included practical cases such as illegal dumping of wastes, taxes for environmental restoration, and the regulation of international corporations in regard to the natural environment.
3. Discursive Meditation: The Cultivation of an Ethical Vision
3.0. Introduction. The purpose of part three is to explain the cultivation of an ethical vision through discursive meditation, a "Western Christian Theological Perspective" on business ethics (Davies 1997, 16-17), and conclude with a "Virtues Perspective" (Davies 1997, 22-24). A Western Christian theological perspective has deeply influenced our understanding of all areas of life, including business (Davies 1997, 16). Introduced here as a philosophical perspective, it proposes three aspects widely accepted in the Christian tradition: the existence of God, the origin of evil, and human dignity (Davies 1997, 16- 17). Since the Christian theological perspective has been criticized in regard to the natural environment and in relation to the existence of evil, I felt justified in introducing readings from the Bible not as definitive for non-Christians, but as examples of ethical norms. As an example of an ethical perspective, Christianity teaches about good, but it also has a theory about the origin of evil. Since both the readings and the students had referred to the problem, I thought it timely to introduce Biblical readings both on the origin of evil and on the natural environment.
The cases here are especially important because they serve to translate traditional moral language into the language of today's marketplace. They are connected with an application of general moral principles to specific ethics of modern professional life.
3.1. Discursive Meditation. As was mentioned in part one, logical thought and affects are discouraged during nondiscursive meditation. In part two we saw that semidiscursive meditation allows a partial use of the logical faculties, mostly the imaginative and artistic faculties. Discursive meditation has the following four specific characteristics. First, by way of contrast to nondiscursive meditation and semidiscursive meditation, it allows and encourages full use of logical thinking, all the powers of the intellect, and the total engagement of the affects. Second, discursive meditation is, consequently, more content-oriented than nondiscursive and semidiscursive meditation. That is to say, discursive meditation is compatible with reading and other textual materials. In fact, by being introduced through the meditation experiences, principles of business ethics are made more readily understandable, especially when followed by reflection and small group discussions. Third, the guidance of a master becomes unnecessary during discursive meditation. The individuals are left free to pursue the meditation individually or in groups together with others. Fourth, discursive meditation is also more flexible; it can be introduced as an experience of constructive thinking or reflection for individuals; or it can be used in small groups as either an experience in reflection on, or discussion of, ethical issues.
3.2. Two Philosophical Perspectives. Two philosophical perspectives were introduced in connection with discursive meditation: a Western Christian Theological Perspective and a Virtues Perspective. A series of Biblical readings served to illustrate the Christian vision of the world, an ethical standard necessary to uphold the vision, and the origin of evil. These three topics were presented together with discursive meditations on ideal Biblical figures who represented a world vision, upheld the norms, and lived out the consequences of an ethical life. The Virtues Perspective was presented here for two reasons. First, the very essence of the virtues was woven into the Biblical context. They come alive for the students. Second, the virtues from a Christian theological viewpoint are radically different from an Aristotelian philosophical position. As Hauerwas and Pinches (1997) have shown, the presupposition for the virtues of Aristotle is a world of war, whereas the Bible shows that the product of creation was originally a peaceful world. In the case of the virtue of courage, for example, they write as follows:
It should not surprise us that the paradigm for courage for Aristotle is facing death in battle, for we know that his ethics is but the preface to his politics. (Hauerwas & Pinches 1997, 153)
It should not surprise us that the paradigm for courage for Aristotle is facing death in battle, for we know that his ethics is but the preface to his politics. (Hauerwas & Pinches 1997, 153)
3.3. Cases. At this point the participants needed to think ethically. This is a skill that can be taught, especially after some experience in dealing with the ethical ideals and standards provided by the Bible. Since this article was written from a philosophical viewpoint, the Bible was used as a philosophical perspective. Simple cases can be derived from recent philosophical sources other than the Bible, such as Cases in Business Ethics (Garrett, & et al. 1968), and more recent sources such as Perspectives in Business Ethics (Hartman 1998). There is also a two-volume series entitled What Would You Do? It consists of case reprints from Business Ethics magazine from 1989-1992 (Volume I) and 1992-1995 (Volume II). The cases are explained on one page, and they always end with the question: What would you do? The solutions are preceded by comments by two CEOs and the author. Since they are real cases, what really happened is in the conclusion of each case.
4. Conclusion: The Results of a Philosophical Perspective
4.0. Three Ways of Learning. Practical ethics based on philosophy leads to significant learning in three ways: through personal experience, through art, and through life. The experience of meditation gives a chance for personal exploration through nondiscursive meditation. Semidiscursive meditation through art leads to the awareness and cultivation of personal values. These personal values are gradually reorganized and lead to a redescription of reality called a vision. The process of constructing an ethical vision begins during semidiscursive meditation, but comes to life during the discursive meditations, readings, and case work. In fact, the knowledge gained through the philosophical readings and case work establishes the framework and structure for an ethical vision. They focus on the ethics, and specifically, on the professional ethics of the vision. The next three sections will show how this occurs.
4.1. Self-Understanding, Self-Identity, Self-Transcendence. In the ordinary ethics class as we know it, the participant learns by abstract principles. In a philosophical approach, he learns first through experience. Three things learned during the experience of nondiscursive meditation are self-understanding, self-identity, and self-transcendence. The master leads the participant to self-exploration in two ways. Without the burden of logic, the individual is led to an awareness of what is going on inside the body - here and now. Second, during nondiscursive meditation, the individual is led to explore outside the body in the immediate physical environment. This exploration even takes place, at times, with eyes closed. The participant learns a relationship to him/herself through the experience of meditation. For a person in the world of computer science and engineering, the relationship to one's self, or self- understanding through the body, is of extreme ethical importance. A recent observation by Verstraeten (1999) is very pertinent here. Quoting Burkhard Siefers, he claims that one of the greatest deficiencies of managers, business leaders, and perhaps even engineers and computer experts is that they live in the illusion of immortal power over others. Such a person starts to deify him or herself and, in so doing, to reify and manipulate others as things. Nondiscursive meditation breaks through this attitude, for silence and meditation confront even the most powerful person with his or her own vulnerability and mortality, and this discovery of oneself as a mortal being is a fundamental condition for human communication and encounter, whether in the social or professional world.
Second is an experience of self-identity. Unfortunately, most of us have to learn who we are through our discomforts and even pains. During nondiscursive meditation the participant may grow restless and uneasy. It is clear that the confrontation with one's own limits is not easy. The experience of nondiscursive meditation leads to a confrontation with an inner emptiness that causes anxiety. This anxiety is one of the main reasons why modern professionals, who have no direct relations to their inner self, are trying everything possible to fill or bypass that emptiness. They do it by multiplying activities, working harder, or surrounding themselves with consumer goods. "Work-o-holism" (Verstraeten 1999) has its roots in the lack of meditative or reflective experiences. To hike the meditative path implies a searching process. The direct experience of meditation becomes the framework for personal decisions, professional choices, political action, and spiritual inquiry (Thomashow 1996, xiii). Third is self-transcendence. The chirp of a bird, the flight of a passing jet plane, the sound of people conversing outside, or the noise of a passing car, all remind us that something outside of ourselves exists in the world. These events occur during nondiscursive meditations, but are not normally attended to. A strong sense of transcendence also occurs during the reflection periods, the philosophical readings, and especially the discussion of cases in small groups.
4.2. Semidiscursive Meditation: Sketching, Comparing, Transforming. There are three activities that contribute to the establishment of a basic ethical vision through semidiscursive meditation: sketching, comparing, and transforming. Since all three are connected with art, it is necessary to explain how the artistic process is connected to ethics. It is important to realize that matter can be used to express meaning through architecture, sculpture, or painting, and other forms of art such as a simple pencil sketch.
The artist does not see or observe the whole of reality, but only a small portion of the world from his or her unique position. When the artist is struck by the beauty of a scene or an object, basic stimuli are selected, such as form, light, color, and so on. But in addition to merely observing, the artist also makes a basic selection according to the artist's choice or value system. Some phenomena from the environment are emphasized; others are excluded. For example, a country scene may be portrayed in summer or winter, in good or bad weather, in the light of the sun or at night under a full moon. In addition, a medium such as stone, wood, or color is chosen according to the message that the artist wishes to express.
Since every ethical decision entails a selection or a choice, I felt that the process of artistic selection was similar to the process of ethical selection and choice. What did the students see and what did they not see, what did they emphasize or exclude, what did they depict or omit? These are all basic choices in meaning that stand for the personal values already inherent in the participants.
But in addition to the sketch, I ask for a written explanation of the sketch. For example, why did one produce a human-made scene with buildings, or a nature scene with trees, bushes, or flowers? The reason for this selection is connected with the artistic product, the "vision" of each participant. How does the individual view the world? What are the reasons for the selection? Why was the selection made? All these issues point in the direction of a value selection process inherent in the participant as a human person. The value selection here focuses on the attention the individual gives to ethical issues operative in present-day society.
I have used the artistic process as was pointed out previously, as a semidiscursive meditation, but now I am pointing at issues beyond art into ethics. For example, if a person has chosen to depict a city with its buildings, the problem of environmental pollution is likely to creep into the scene. The same problem may arise if another person has chosen to depict a nature scene. An artist would merely depict these scenes, but I have used the artistic process to help the students visualize their concerns in the hope that their new-found vision would lead them to greater trust in their ability to do something about the problem. Having them take action was not my intention at this time, but establishing an awareness of the ethics of the situation.
The next step was to introduce the comparison to an ideal picture of the world. Many ideal pictures of the world are available: a globe, a map, beautiful photography, and paintings of different nature scenes. Slides and photographs are extremely beautiful and useful for this purpose. With the intention of introducing an ideal picture from the Bible, I began to read slowly a long passage from the Book of Daniel 3, 52-88. I chose this passage because the Judaeo-Christian picture of the universe was indirectly depicted here. Then I attempted to draw the picture from the Bible on the blackboard in my own crude and simple way. The students were then asked to prepare a written report comparing the pictures they had drawn the previous week with the picture in the Bible.
The dispersed elements of each picture had to be reorganized by the individual into a coherent, meaningful whole. Each student had to reconcile his or her personal view of the world with an ideal picture of the world in the Bible. As a result, the students began to develop their own incipient worldview, just as an artist who begins to produce a masterpiece. The Bible was one ideal out of many, but it helped the students to learn the important task beyond art, of comparing their product with an ideal.
During the reflection and small group-discussion that followed, the students gained an awareness that ethical issues were connected with a worldview. This conviction was enhanced by the readings and the case work concerning the ethics of the environment. Trust in ideal ethical standards, as values or guides to behavior, was engendered as a result.
A transformation in judgment occurred here. First of all, the picture in the Bible illustrated the beauty and peace of the natural world. The students remarked that their pictures of civilization - buildings, streets, telephone posts,and TV towers - represented the pressure and stress of modern life. The Biblical picture depicted a more peaceful world. Some students expressed the trust, hope, and optimism they had discovered in the ideal; they felt refreshed after comparing the two. Those who depicted natural scenes remarked that the smog and haze over the real environment was caused by human beings. There was evidence of care for nature in the ideal picture. Contemporary civilization has gradually destroyed nature and we are responsible for it. Many saw the world through the lens of how there was order and peace in the Biblical scene and disorder, warfare, and chaos throughout the human world. The students realized that if they were to establish the peace of the Biblical environment in their own lives, they would have to take some time daily to think about ethical issues. The most important lesson that the students learned was to compare and systematize - to redescribed the reality that they saw and experienced. The natural world had now become a source and norm of values.
4.3. Discursive Meditation: Learning through Life. The third result of a philosophical approach is learning through life. Nondiscursive meditation and semidiscursive meditation show us where we are. By way of contrast, discursive meditation opens possibilities by showing us what we can become. The seeds of an ethical vision have been planted during semidiscursive meditation. The ethical vision begins to grow and is cultivated to maturity through discursive meditation.
The end result, therefore, of a philosophical approach is the birth and growth of a living ethical vision. An ethical vision is a redescription of reality with three components: first, an understanding component; second, a value component, and third, an action component. Since this article is written from a philosophical perspective, I would like to suggest other possible ways of constructing an ethical vision than through the Bible.
First is the understanding component. The understanding component paints a picture of the world. This is the artistic picture that I drew from the Bible. But any other understanding of the world would do as well. The participants can be asked, for example, to draw a picture of the world from their imagination. The second component is the value component. The value component is important, because it upholds the world picture. If the value component is not cultivated through meditation, philosophical and ethical reading, and consideration of concrete cases, then the vision will fade. Guides to behavior in terms of ideal people and ideal norms are available in the literature today. Three examples are Merchants of Vision: People Bringing New Purpose and Values to Business, about ideal people (Liebig 1994); Say It and Live It: The 50 Corporate Mission Statements that Hit the Mark, about the mission of business corporations (Jones & Kahner 1995); and third, 75 Best Business Practices for Socially Responsible Companies, concerning ethical action (Reder 1995).
The last component of an ethical vision is the action component. In a positive sense the action component keeps the vision down to earth. Without any ethical action a vision becomes a will-o'-the-wisp and disappears. The action component reminds us that we must engage in the kind of meditation that best cultivates the vision. In a negative sense, we have to recognize that evil is a reality in the world, as Alford (1997) has reminded us in a recent book, What Evil Means to Us. An ethical vision is a re-description of reality. We all have a description of reality dictated from childhood by our social and cultural heritage, our home and religion, and education. However, as adults, we have to redescribe and redefine the ethical vision that guides our lives. A philosophical position that includes nondiscursive, semidiscursive, and discursive meditation is a good way to begin. The ethical vision gained through meditation can be nourished by reflection, constant reading on ethical issues, and discussions with our friends and colleagues who share an interest in a philosophical approach to ethical issues.