Oct 17, 2011

A New Virtue Ethics Blog

One reason I've been unmistakably lax over the last month in meeting my self-imposed obligations to timely and consistent posting on this blog stems from what might be regarded as a species of inconstancy. It's fortunate that blogs cannot exhibit or feel jealousy, or else I might have problems on my hands in addition to those involved in skillful time-management -- or juggling the consequences of its lack thereof.   For, I must admit that another blog has been absorbing much of the energies and attentiveness I had earlier been devoting to Orexis Dianoētikē, which, to judge by readership counts, has not remained entirely unattended in my all-too-often absences.

I started a new blog, Virtue Ethics Digest, intended to function as a complement to Orexis Dianoētikē, much more tightly focused on one area of my lasting interests -- Virtue Ethics as a means for understanding moral issues in contemporary culture -- as well as sparer in design, shorter in post-length, with somewhat less of my own voice compensated by more block quotes from the sites whose articles and entries I would mine for relevant and provocative material.  The original impetus and idea emerged from a combination of two factors:  teaching Ethics to interested, well-motivated students and some degree of experience with another tumblr blog. [note:  I've since switched V.E.D. over to a Blogger platform]

In teaching Ethics to college students in a semester-long course, it is easy -- even natural -- to be pulled off in several directions by possibilities for introducing and apprenticing students to key dimensions of Ethics, stretching the available precious time accorded to class sessions too thin for anything to have a chance to stick, to be retained, to attain the deep and lasting integrative holds and hooks in student's psyches that will later avail them the welcome experience of having seemingly-forgotten intellectual resources rise to mind when called for and forth by problematic situations.

Ideally -- if I could have as long with my students as I'd like, if I knew that each day I had their attention, that their desires were bent towards deepening their knowledge, testing it, systematically integrating it, applying and practicing it in multiple dimensions and contexts -- I'd want to teach them, introduce them to, engage them within, exemplify, dialogue, problematize, think our ways through, and then think the world and ourselves through major moral theories -- encountering each through the words and works of their greatest representatives.  To do that is already to extend, to offer, to awaken the gift, the good, of knowledge in the students -- an even more, to make them aware, even bring them in to become parts and participants of an ongoing set of intellectual conversations that trace back in some cases millennia, that to the attentive eye pervade nearly all of culture, politics, common and individual life, that unlock hitherto unsuspected sides to so many of the other books, the stories, the disciplines they encounter in their education.

Exploring moral theories -- and the thinkers and texts through whom we first and, perhaps even til the end, best come to know them -- is only one of many things I'd like to do in an Ethics class.  Examining and applying theories to cases is another, one which possesses its own merits, exhibits its own peculiar virtues in providing occasions of practice -- and dialogue -- to students.  Assembling and annotating resources pertaining to their own chosen fields of study or to other passions that draw in and out their interests -- that too would be a component to an ideal Ethics curriculum.  Exercises and discussions in which students over and over set their own lives, their own desires, actions, choices, attitudes, justifications, their own stories into the mix and onto the table for examination by the lights provides by ideas, distinctions, arguments they learn in Ethics classes -- this reflexive dimension is an irreplaceable component as well.  One could go on and on in this vein -- and these realizations are the fruits, I have to admit, of teaching Ethics classes over and over again, realizing only too late how much more could have been done, emphasized, learned.

Technology provides aids of potentially enormous scope, ways to multiply and render more complexly connected the time our students spend on and in their subjects.  Implementing it, of course -- not only bears its risks, but also imposes its costs, which are never paid all at once nor even all up front through course design, but continuously (and always over budget) over the course of a semester, but also providing occasional unforeseen dividends. For we instructors also learn in the process, not in the trite, even silly manner depicted in movies about education, where the "teacher becomes the student" or any other such nonsense.  We develop further skills, discover new tools and opportunities, find out where our students actually are, where their interests and passions do lie, how classic concepts look through the eyes and measured by examples of a new generation.

And that is where Virtue Ethics Digest was to fit in, as a means by which I could, entry by entry, demonstrate to my students how one of the moral theories they were studying applies in real life circumstances and cases, to actual discussions, debates, developments, adding perspective, reopening some questions and resolving others.  I started a little over a month ago, predictably setting myself an unrealistic goal of writing five entries per week, then revising it downward to four, finally settling on making Virtue Ethics Digest a tri-weekly.  I also found myself struggling with the Tumblr format, which despite some of its great format and style features, remains in many respects less user-friendly, less intuitive, less easy to manipulate into the format one envisions than is Blogger.

This last week I produced only the eleventh entry, HBR:  The Secret to Dealing With Difficult People.  But, I also finally managed to settle upon, experiment with, and tweak the features of a decent theme, then learn how to insert the coding for sharing buttons and comments sections -- lacking which, however attractive the blog may be, there's no interactivity, no entry into the world of web 2.0.  Now, Virtue Ethics Digest is at last ready to debut, so here it is.  From this point in, I'll be sharing my time roughly equally between these two blogs, even on occasion following up loose ends first grasped, knotted, and pulled out in Virtue Ethics Digest later in Orexis Dianoētikē, as I'll be doing later this week with Junk Food is Not Really Cheaper, But Habits Cost You.

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