You can use any or all of the resources linked below with attribution when appropriate
Web Resources on Ethics
Handouts and Activities
Ethics can be the most engaging AOK with students and often it’s hard to limit the number of topics you cover. You’ll find below a variety of topics and activities I have done over the years but clearly there is far more than should be done in any course.
Introduction to Ethics
Ethics is the AOK that most easily overlaps with others. I like to allow that overlap to happen naturally before exploring ethical theories on their own. After focusing on Art, I like to look at the overlap of Art and Ethics. Below is an introductory question and reading to have the kids think about ethical limitations of artwork and expression. They have particularly strong reactions to this article because it involves animals.
There are always new stories to focus on about tv shows or movies that have some negative impact on society. Recently, there was the case of the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why , that seemed to have caused an increase in teen suicide (this would provide an interesting example of asking how we know this is true and getting into the ins and outs of statistics and math to help us understanding reality). Here is the worksheet and article I worked with on this topic.
There are many, many other opportunities to explore topics related to animals.
There was an interesting story a couple of years ago about molten aluminum
The Trolley Problem
This famous thought experiment is a highly engaging way to intuitively introduce students to some of the various ways of approaching ethical questions.
This first handout lays out, in a nice neat drawing, the “the trolley problem.” It provides a good starting activity to have kids work by themselves and then be able to discuss their ideas. The follow up questions offer a lot more interesting discussion. Ultimately, what I end up doing is keeping track of all the various ideas and approaches kids apply to how they solve this problem which usually runs the gamut of different schools of ethical thought.
Also, here’s a clip from the TV show, The Good Place, that comically discusses the same dilemma.
There are a couple of interesting real life applications of this dilemma. This first one I came across by watching the excellent Michael Sandel lectures on youtube titled, “Justice: What’s the Right Thing To Do?” You can play this video for your students or you can watch it yourself and try to recreate the approach and energy.
The Queen vs. Dudley and Stephens
This famous court case from 19th century England is an interesting one to discuss with kids because it is a real life example and includes murder and cannibalism (use your best judgment). Here are my notes on the case that I read to the students.
Another real life situation that is really compelling for students is the issue of driverless cars. Despite being driven automatically, the program running the vehicles will have to be programmed by humans who will have to make moral judgments about various dilemmas the car may face; dilemmas similar to the trolley problem.
There is an MIT website that allows you to look at different scenarios to decide what you think a driverless car should do. You can have students complete this on their own or make a handout with the scenarios
I’ve also had my students explore the ethical dilemma faced by those in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in a hospital in New Orleans. Without power or a way out of the hospital, staff members had to figure out what to do with their most severely ill patients. Some doctors and staff members were accused of euthanizing patients and were put on trial. It is an interesting exploration of students’ ethical beliefs to look at situations in which scarcity requires hard decisions.
Here are various web resources I have tagged for “The Trolly Problem” if you’re looking for more inspiration.
Here are some of the handouts and activities I have used to introduce some of the specific language of ethics to the students. The ones I mainly focus on are deontology and consequentialism.
I also introduce concepts related to universalism and relativism. I don’t focus too much on these topics because kids go from being moral absolutists to absolute relativists in about one class period which is not the point and we don’t often have enough time to rebuild. Regardless, here’s another handout I use to introduce some specific language.
Applying Different Ethical Theories
There are countless ways to explore these. Here are some of the ways I have approach this.
Punisher vs. Daredevil
Central to much conflict in the superhero universe are differing views on ethics and justice. On the Netflix show, Daredevil, this difference is on display in this dialogue between Daredevil and Punisher. It is as if they are having the conversation for a TOK discussion on ethics. I adapted an accompanying online discussion after the videos that I have my students read to consider the ideas. The content matter and language may not be appropriate for class but better to ask forgiveness than permission.
The Ethicist and Ethical Dilemmas
One very engaging way to get students thinking about ethics is through giving them other ethical dilemmas. You can invent your own or find them online. The New York Times has a great column called, The Ethicist, in which people send the columnist ethical dilemmas they are facing in their own lives and the writer responds. I have found some great ideas here either taking the dilemmas completely as they are or adapting them. Here is a handout with a giant bunch of ideas.
Moral Games and Quizzes
Here are two websites students can explore their concept of morality
More resources on this topic: https://toktopics.com/tag/torture/
More stuff on this topic: https://toktopics.com/2016/01/08/articles-about-the-ethics-of-hunting-endangered-species/
During Donald Trump’s inauguration, a masked assailant attacked (alt-right, white supremacist, Nazi?) Richard Spencer. The clip was shared many times over the internet but it raised some interesting questions about the ethics of violence. My students had a lot to say about this. What follows is a handout I made based on an interview on Vice News the man who writes The Ethicist column for the New York Times. After that is a funny clip from tv hosts Desus and Mero about their thoughts on the subject.
One that is probably not appropriate for class but an excellent movie nonetheless. What are the ethical responsibilities that come with knowledge?
The Truman Show
A classic movie, very safe for class that raises a series of questions about ethics and the nature of reality.
There are a number of great books to explore ethics and related concepts. Here are just a few that I have created handouts and activities from.
Justice by Michael Sandel
Michael Sandel is an excellent and accessible writing on contemporary ethics and a great educator as well.
This book, adapted from his series of classroom lectures (linked above), provides some great reading materials for some discussions about ethics that is applicable in an every day way. There is also the accompanying Justice: A Reader that can provide valuable source material.
Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, national service, the moral limits of markets―Sandel relates the big questions of political philosophy to the most vexing issues of the day, and shows how a surer grasp of philosophy can help us make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions as well.
Justice is lively, thought-provoking, and wise―an essential new addition to the small shelf of books that speak convincingly to the hard questions of our civic life
What money can’t buy by Michael Sandel
May be more appropriate for an economics class when considering the nature of markets in allocating goods and being “efficient.” I do use readings from this for that purpose but I think it has a place in a TOK class as well to consider the nature of moral outcomes from an amoral science.
Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we put a price on human life to decide how much pollution to allow? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars, outsourcing inmates to for-profit prisons, auctioning admission to elite universities, or selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay?
In his New York Times bestseller What Money Can’t Buy, Michael J. Sandel takes up one of the biggest ethical questions of our time: Isn’t there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? If so, how can we prevent market values from reaching into spheres of life where they don’t belong? What are the moral limits of markets?
The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt
Intuition, Reason, Emotion, Ethics
Really fascinating, well-written book. Discusses the competing models for understanding the brain’s most basic mechanisms with regard to the relationship between intuition and reason. Makes a compelling argument for the primacy of intuition. Then moves on to discuss the evolution of morality in our minds and cultures and lays out the case for different moral matrices. Lastly, discusses the different moral beliefs of people who subscribe to different political philosophies (liberals and conservatives). Haidt also gave a TED Talk in which he lays out his beliefs. This book is worth a read though.
Drawing on his twenty five years of groundbreaking research on moral psychology, Haidt shows how moral judgments arise not from reason but from gut feelings. He shows why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have such different intuitions about right and wrong, and he shows why each side is actually right about many of its central concerns. In this subtle yet accessible book, Haidt gives you the key to understanding the miracle of human cooperation, as well as the curse of our eternal divisions and conflicts. If you’re ready to trade in anger for understanding, read The Righteous Mind.