Morality And Ethics Essay Rubric

The VALUE rubrics were developed by teams of faculty experts representing colleges and universities across the United States through a process that examined many existing campus rubrics and related documents for each learning outcome and incorporated additional feedback from faculty. The rubrics articulate fundamental criteria for each learning outcome, with performance descriptors demonstrating progressively more sophisticated levels of attainment. The rubrics are intended for institutional-level use in evaluating and discussing student learning, not for grading. The core expectations articulated in all 16 of the VALUE rubrics can and should be translated into the language of individual campuses, disciplines, and even courses. The utility of the VALUE rubrics is to position learning at all undergraduate levels within a basic framework of expectations such that evidence of learning can by shared nationally through a common dialog and understanding of student success.

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Ethical Reasoning is reasoning about right and wrong human conduct. It requires students to be able to assess their own ethical values and the social context of problems, recognize ethical issues in a variety of settings, think about how different ethical perspectives might be applied to ethical dilemmas and consider the ramifications of alternative actions. Students’ ethical self identity evolves as they practice ethical decision-making skills and learn how to describe and analyze positions on ethical issues.

Framing Language

This rubric is intended to help faculty evaluate work samples and collections of work that demonstrate student learning about ethics. Although the goal of a liberal education should be to help students turn what they’ve learned in the classroom into action, pragmatically it would be difficult, if not impossible, to judge whether or not students would act ethically when faced with real ethical situations. What can be evaluated using a rubric is whether students have the intellectual tools to make ethical choices.

The rubric focuses on five elements: Ethical Self Awareness, Ethical Issue Recognition, Understanding Different Ethical Perspectives/Concepts, Application of Ethical Principles, and Evaluation of Different Ethical Perspectives/Concepts. Students’ Ethical Self Identity evolves as they practice ethical decision-making skills and learn how to describe and analyze positions on ethical issues. Presumably, they will choose ethical actions when faced with ethical issues.


The definitions that follow were developed to clarify terms and concepts used in this rubric only.

  • Core Beliefs: Those fundamental principles that consciously or unconsciously influence one's ethical conduct and ethical thinking. Even when unacknowledged, core beliefs shape one's responses. Core beliefs can reflect one's environment, religion, culture or training. A person may or may not choose to act on their core beliefs.
  • Ethical Perspectives/concepts: The different theoretical means through which ethical issues are analyzed, such as ethical theories (e.g., utilitarian, natural law, virtue) or ethical concepts (e.g., rights, justice, duty).
  • Complex, multi-layered (gray) context: The sub-parts or situational conditions of a scenario that bring two or more ethical dilemmas (issues) into the mix/problem/context/for student's identification.
  • Cross-relationships among the issues: Obvious or subtle connections between/among the sub-parts or situational conditions of the issues present in a scenario (e.g., relationship of production of corn as part of climate change issue).

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Certain customs or behaviours are recognised as good and others as bad, and these collectively comprise morality – arguably the summation of our value system as human beings. So a conversation about ethical and moral decision-making is important.

But problems arise when the terms “ethics” or “morals” are used interchangeably.

The words derive respectively from the word in Greek (ethos, ethikos) and Latin (mores, moralis), variously translated as customs, manners or social norms. In fact, however, it is possible to differentiate the Greek root of ethics from the Latin root of morality in a way that may be practically helpful.

According to this understanding, “ethics” leans towards decisions based upon individual character, and the more subjective understanding of right and wrong by individuals – whereas “morals” emphasises the widely-shared communal or societal norms about right and wrong. Put another way, ethics is a more individual assessment of values as relatively good or bad, while morality is a more intersubjective community assessment of what is good, right or just for all.

The relevance of the distinction is seen when questions such as “how should I act?” and “what should I do?” are broadened to Socrates’ question, “how should we live?”. Granted modern society’s multiplicity of cultures and traditions, resulting in a diverse moral collage, with no single truth easily identifiable, the big moral question is surely, “how should we live together?”.

In approaching such a question, the individual ethical answer can be limited by its essential egotism. It can be restricted to one’s own worldview rather than being inherently aware of the existence and relevance of others. Since recognition of others is implicit to moral questions, according to the distinction made above, moral questions can and must be answered universally. This requires having a shared dialogue – precisely since these questions deal with good, right, and justice for all.

Put another way, moral decision-making relocates ethical decision-making away from an individualistic reflection on imperatives, utility or virtue, into a social space. In that space one is implicitly aware of the other, wherein we understand from the start that we need to have a dialogue. There is a difference between what I should do in an ethical dilemma, and what we should do in a moral dilemma.

In ethical dilemmas, individual decision-making may draw on the frameworks of “must-do” imperatives, utility consequences, the seeking of goodness, or a guiding framework from God.

But ethical decisions should recognise the context within which they are set. That is, they must recognise that duties can be ranked in a hierarchy (for example, to stop at an accident to render assistance trumps the promise of meeting for coffee); in a similar way, consequences can be ranked too.

In moral decisions, in which the importance of others and their actual situation in the world, is recognised, community decisions are based on dialogue between all those on whom the decision impacts. That dialogue should aim to be inclusive, non-coercive, self-reflective, and seek consensus among real people, rather than seek an elusive absolute moral truth.

As a simple example, consider the decision of which career I choose.

First I collect the facts (such as the pre-requisites I need in order to enrol in a course). Collecting the facts precedes any ethical or moral decision-making. The ethical dimension of the decision leads me to think about myself and recognise, say, that I have certain talents, or that I would like to maximise my work-life balance.

The moral dimension is added when I recognise my decision affects others – my family, the community in which I live – in terms of being able to serve others, rather than simply earn an income. Thus, I widen my own perspective and discuss with those around me how we should decide.

But it is contentious whether certain dilemmas are seen predominantly (or exclusively) as ethical or moral ones. Just consider euthanasia, homosexuality, suicide, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to name a few.

Each may be seen by different observers as a dilemma either for the individual to make a decision about (an ethical dilemma), or for a society to make a decision about (a moral dilemma). How we see the dilemma in large part determines the approach we will take to the decision to be made. That is, whether I think about it via a monologue with myself, or whether we, all together, enter into a dialogue about it.

In short, there is a valuable difference between ethics and morals.

This article is part of a series on public morality in 21st-century Australia.

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