Evaluating the effectiveness of the MacIntyrean philosophical approach in delivering a professional ethics course

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Abstract

This paper measures the effectiveness of a professional ethics course using the MacIntyrean Philosophical Approach (MPA) which incorporates virtues, narrative, tradition, and community. There has been limited empirical work using this framework in which the emphasis has been on ‘thick descriptions’ created through narrative, mainly the case methodology. To the best of our knowledge, there has been no attempt to quantify the constructs of the MPA which is one of the contributions of our paper. Our approach is the first to use a mixed method approach in applying the MPA and utilizes ten (10) virtues captured in the Moral Competency Inventory, developed by Lennick et al. (2011), to measure virtues at the personal and social levels. Data were collected from eighty-nine (89) students (comprising the treatment and control groups) and analyzed using various multivariate techniques including Exploratory Factor Analysis, MANOVA and Structural Equation Modeling. The results were also triangulated with self-reflective essays that were analysed using content analysis. The findings showed that students’ virtues were higher after exposure to the MPA which confirmed that it had a significant and positive impact on the delivery of the professional ethics course.

Keywords

MacIntyre Virtues Mixed methods Moral competency Professional ethics 

Introduction

This paper attempts to measure the impact and effectiveness of a professional ethics course in building moral competencies using a MacIntyrean philosophical framework that incorporates virtues, narrative, tradition, and community. There has been limited empirical work using this framework with an emphasis on ‘thick descriptions’ created through narrative (Moore and Beadle 2008). For instance, a special volume of Philosophy of Management (Moore and Beadle 2008), emphasizes the importance of empirical work which provides occasions for further learning from participation in the types of community politics and projects whose success requires the exercise of virtues, to be put into practice. Lawrence and Curlin (2011) observe that empirical research in ethics has become increasingly prominent in recent decades because it informs ethical deliberation and because of the dissatisfaction in applying abstract theoretical principles to resolve ethical dilemmas (especially when they recommend conflicting solutions). Although there have been several empirical studies that attempt to capture and measure virtues within the MacIntyrean perspective, especially within an organizational setting, Moore (2012) notes that empirical work on the MacIntyre’s philosophical framework are at an embryonic stage. Also, our review of the literature found that the case study methodology emerges as an effective approach for exploring the MacIntyrean perspective. To the best of our knowledge, there has been no attempt to quantify the constructs of this perspective. Our approach, which uses mixed methods, is the first to empirical test the MacIntyrean philosophical framework that includes a quantitative methodology.

A further motivation for our paper is that while there has been challenges to improve the effectiveness of ‘teaching’ ethics, Malpas (2012) argues that although contemporary governance structures and managerial practice are replete with the language of ethics and values, the disciplines of applied and professional ethics often appear as contributing to the ‘demise of ethics’. This demise is due to a loss of genuine ethical commitment expressed in and underpinned by individualism, proceduralism, genericism, and prudentialism. The format of our paper is as follows. We first discuss the philosophical framework of Alasdair MacIntrye. Next, we present this conceptual framework that includes the notions of practice, virtues, narrative, tradition, and community. This is followed by a discussion on the mixed methodology that we utilized for our data analysis. A discussion of the results and their implications are presented in the penultimate section followed by the conclusion.

MacIntyre’s philosophical foundation

MacIntyre (1984) argues that the Enlightenment Project, which attempted to provide a rational justification of morality and rejected the traditionally shared concept of the purpose of human life in favor of viewing humans as autonomous individuals, had to fail because of its loss of the concept of telos (purpose). Kallenberg (2011) notes that, as a result, our moral discourse, which uses terms like good, justice, and duty, have been robbed of the context that makes it intelligible. For example, Schneewind (1982) points out that the rejection of Aristotelianism (more so, the Aristoelian vocabulary of functional terms) leads to the rejection of the idea of humans as having a natural telos or end so that the idea of a natural human good disappeared. It therefore became impossible to give any rational justification for morality which ceased to have a coherent relationship to the nature of the humans it was meant to guide. Consequently, modern society reflects a fragmented culture which has lost its moral language and is incapable of arriving at a consensus on moral issues. The end result is emotivism in which all moral judgments are non-rational, and nothing but expressions of preferences and of attitude or feelings (by its own admission, itself lacks truth value) in which morality has been secularized, authority has been lost, moral agents have become autonomous with no given continuities nor ultimate governing principles, and we now live a morally-fragmented culture in which our society cannot hope to achieve moral consensus and perhaps, never to reach a resolution. According to MacIntyre (1984): Just as Hume seeks to found morality on the passions because his arguments have excluded the possibility of founding it on reason, so Kant founds it on reason because his arguments have excluded the possibility of founding it on passions, and Kierkegaard on criterion less fundamental choice because of what he takes to be the compelling nature of the considerations which exclude both reason and the passions (p. 49).

Kallenberg (2011) points out the utilitarianism was an attempt to fill the ‘moral vacuum’ of recapturing the notion of telos in guiding human behavior, but suffers from not being able to define what ‘good’ means adequately. MacIntyre (1984) argues that utilitarianism and analytical moral philosophy were unsuccessful attempts to rescue the autonomous moral agent from the predicament of the failure of the Enlightenment Project which provided a secular, rational justification for liberation from the external authority of traditional morality resulting in the loss of any authoritative content from the autonomous agent.

Schneewind (1982) comments that what then emerged to replace Aristotelian morality was essentially the ethics of modern liberalism (stressing individuality and the freedom to choose the sort of person one will be and the life one will live) resulting in Nietzschean nihilism and its social embodiment exemplified in our current moral chaos. In short, the abandonment of Aristotelianism (belief indeterminate human function and in a correlative human good) resulted in principles or rules-based morality which fails to address ethical motivation (it is not able to provide a plausible account of the rich diversity of moral life about being good and doing good: Why should I be good or do the right thing? Why be moral?). This new or revisionist morality resulted in excessive formalism (too abstract, indeterminate or general) or excessive rigorism (prescribes uniformity and ethical insensitivity for situations that differ in subtle and ethically-significant ways), and often prescribes incompatible solutions that promote a culture of relativism. In noting the absence of moral communities in the modern world, MacIntyre (1984) concludes that what is required is the construction of new local forms of community within which civility, the intellectual, and moral life can be sustained through the tradition of the virtues. In order to recapture moral certitude and promote rational deliberations in which people of different beliefs can come together to arrive at moral consensus, he argues that the Aristotelianism should not have been discarded and needs to be reconsidered given the dissatisfaction of the contemporary moral theories. The MacIntyrean philosophical framework (practice, virtues, narrative, tradition, and community) is discussed in the next section. This is then followed by the methodology, data analysis, discussion, and conclusion.

The MacIntyrean philosophical framework

MacIntyre (1984) explains the role of virtue within the context of practice-narrative-tradition in building moral communities within an Aristotelian framework. It presumes the idea of a telos or goal of eudaimonia (roughly translated as human flourishing – the state being and doing well) which is achieved through virtue. The concepts of practice, narrative, tradition, and community are all interwoven through the virtues. One of the main issues that emerge from MacIntyre’s work is that life is narrative in nature and is characterized by a set of actions geared to arrive at an objective ideal state (telos); dispositions that will aid a person in reaching this state can be rationally be called virtues. According to Kallenberg (2011), virtues are learned qualities that assist one in achieving the telos which can be understood by considering: (1) tradition which helps one to understand the functional definition of the human person, (2) internal goods of those practices that constitute the tradition (internal goods are unique to a particular activity and are the outcome of competition to excel, for example, pride in accomplishment, achieving excellence in products and services, etc.; these are to be distinguished from external goods which when achieved is always someone’s property, for example, profits, reputation, fame, etc.), and (3) those roles that arise at the intersection of our life stories. Kallenberg (2011) concludes that moral imperatives arise from those practices, narratives, and traditions in which one locates oneself to develop and build communities. As alluded to earlier, liberal individualism born out of the Enlightenment project, has fragmented society in the sense of neglecting narrative history, tradition, and community. MacIntyre (1984) argues that the Aristotelian tradition is one in which virtue is incorporated within the narrative unity of human life, evidenced in practices learned together with a community united by a shared vision of the good (p. 258). The strategy is to construct local forms of community within which intellectual and moral life can be sustained. The MacIntyrean conceptual model is presented in Fig. 1 which is followed by explanations of the concepts of practice, virtue, tradition, narrative, and community.
Fig 1

MacIntyrean conceptual model

Practice

MacIntyre (1984) defines practice as any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended (p. 187). Kallenberg (2011) notes that this definition reveals four central concepts of practices: (1) socially-established human activities (not activities of isolated individuals), (2) goods that are internal to the activity (internal goods can be recognized and appreciated only by the participants, are internal to practice, and their achievement benefits the whole community engaged in the practice – this emphasizes the communal nature of internal goods), (3) standards of excellence which presumes adherence to the rules of engaging the practice (without which internal goods cannot be fully achieved), and (4) systematically extended. Schwartz (1990) isolates three features of practices: (1) they establish their own standards of excellence and are partly defined by those standards, (2) they are teleological in which each practice establishes a set of goods (ends) that is internal and inextricably connected to engaging in the practice itself, and (3) they are organic in the sense that in the course of engaging in the practice, people change it, systematically extending both their own powers to achieve its goods, and their conceptions of what its goods are.

Moore (2012) notes that the essence of the MacIntyrean philosophical framework is that virtues are exercised particularly inside practices and give rise to internal goods, while to survive, practices need to be housed within institutions which are concerned with external goods (p. 365). It may be readily apparent that many institutions do not understand, appreciate or subscribe to the intricate relationship between the two types of good since they tend to focus on the latter while disregarding the former. Moore (2012) remarks that there is an inherent tension between the generation and prioritization of internal and external goods: promotion of the former at the expense of the latter can threaten the survival of the institutions, and promotion of the latter at the expense of the former can encourage ethical transgressions. Because of the lack of appreciation for the distinction between internal and external goods, institutions often prevent the achievement of goods internal to practice. Institutions are therefore required to sustain practices (including the achievement of goods internal to the practice) and, though concerned with the achievement of external goods, are also necessary for obtaining the internal goods of the practice. MacIntyre (1984) observes that institutions are characteristically and necessarily concerned with external goods: they are involved in acquiring money and other material goods; they are structured in terms of power and status; and they distribute money, power, and status as rewards. Institutions and practices characteristically form a single causal order in which the ideals and the creativity of the practice are always vulnerable to the acquisitiveness of the institution, in which the cooperative care for common goods of the practice is always vulnerable to the competitiveness of the institution. In this context the essential feature of the virtues is clear. Without them, without justice, courage and truthfulness, practices could not resist the corrupting power of institutions (p. 190–191).

With respect to our paper, MacIntyre (1984) argues that teaching is not a practice because it is not a coherent practice (one cannot apprentice oneself to this helping profession as one can with plumbing) and also because it is but a fragment of other practices, that is, a set of skills put to the service of a variety of practices. Higgins (2010) however, demonstrates that teaching does indeed meet some of the criteria of MacIntyrean practice: it is a complex activity with social origins with a long and rich tradition, and it seems to offer its participants a unique way (a distinctive existential pitch) of being in the world. Dunne (2003) also takes issue with MacIntyre’s denial that teaching is a practice and argues that the MacIntyrean conception does less than justice to what good teachers accomplish in which the good of teaching does not exclude the diverse goods of different subjects, but it also includes the good of helping others to share in them. There are therefore clearer grounds for acknowledging teaching as a practice. In our paper, we are of the view that teaching is indeed a practice within which personal and social virtues can be fostered and developed.

Virtues

MacIntyre (1984) proposes three main questions that are at the heart of virtue ethics and moral thinking: Who I am? Whom I ought to become? How ought I to get there? Virtues assist the movement toward the telos that provide the moral imperatives of eudaimonia or a life that is complete and satisfying as a whole. He also notes that virtues allow us to achieve internal goods of practices and that there is nothing arbitrary about any given list of virtues since many discrepancies can be reconciled as a matter of differences of practice. MacIntyre (1984) defines the virtues, which are required for obtaining the internal goods that are derived from practices, as those dispositions which will not only sustain practices and enable us to achieve the goods internal to practices, but which will also sustain us in the relevant quest for the good, by enabling us to overcome the harms, dangers, temptations and distractions which we encounter, and which will furnish us with increasing self-knowledge and increasing knowledge of the good” (p. 219). “Virtues are required for sustaining those relationships necessary if the variety of goods internal to practices are to be achieved, in sustaining the form of an individual life in which the individual may seek out his or her good of his or her entire lives, and in sustaining those traditions which provide those practices and individual lives with their necessary historical context” (p. 223).

MacIntyre’s theory of virtue is developed in three stages, each representing a phase of the moral life (Schneewind 1982): virtues within activities within individual lives, virtue in a whole life, and how virtue relates the life of the individual to that of his or her community (in this phase, virtues are seen sustaining the social framework and traditions that provide both practices and individual lives with their necessary historical context).

To capture virtues, we utilize the Moral Competency Inventory (MCI) adopted from Lennick et al. (2011). Ten (10) virtues which fell under three (3) broad categories were investigated: (1) Integrity (acting consistently with principles, values, and beliefs; telling the truth, standing up for what is right; and keeping promises), (2) Responsibility (taking responsibility for personal choices, admitting mistakes and failures, and embracing responsibility for serving others), and (3) Compassion and Forgiveness (actively caring about others, ability to let go of one’s own mistakes, and ability to let go of others’ mistakes). The personal virtues are: acting consistently with principles, values and beliefs (integrity), keeping promises (fidelity), taking responsibility for personal choice (responsibility), admitting mistakes and failures (sincerity), ability to let go of one’s mistakes (detachment), standing up for what is believed to be right (courage), telling the truth (honesty). The social virtues include: embracing responsibility for serving others (justice), actively caring about others (compassion) and ability to let go of others’ mistakes (forgiveness).

Narrative

Narrative is the story of how we can come to understand and make sense of our lives through our actions and practices in which we engage in search of our telos. According to Jones and McBeth (2010), a narrative is a story with a temporal sequence of events unfolding in a plot that is populated by dramatic moments, symbols, and archetypal characters that culminates in a moral to the story that helps in shaping beliefs and actions, and is a primary means by which individuals organize, process, and convey information. Holzapfel (2009) also notes that the concept of the narrative in a human life exposes the inadequacies of modern conceptions of human life and provides an overall end for a human life in light of which goods of different practices can be ordered. This narrative quest is situated within a community context. MacIntyre (1984) develops the relationship between narratives and the virtues, explains the narrative mode in explaining human action, and captures the coherence or unity or unity of life in the quest for the good. To successfully complete one’s journey in life, the narrative describes the completion of the tasks are accomplished by the virtues. It is in the course of the quest and only through encountering and coping with the various particular harms, dangers, temptations and distractions which will provide any quest with its episodes and incidents that the goal of the quest is finally to be understood. A quest is always an education both as to character of that which is sought and in self-knowledge (p. 219).

MacIntyre (1984) argues that all human lives embody narratives having definite narrative forms in which both our identities as individual persons and our continuing responsibility for our past actions can be explained only in terms of the narrative unity of our lives which relate to the telos of eudaimonia (Schneewind 1982). The notion of narrative unity therefore is the basis for understanding human actions. It provides a basis for the virtues by providing function and fixity within our lives (a narrative explanation is typically in place when we know, or have decided, what is the significant end of a series of events and actions in seeing how they have helped or hindered the attainment of the telos (Schneewind 1982). Given the narrative-based component of the MacIntyrean framework, studies employ the case study methods for exploring virtue in business organizations and institutions. Jones and McBeth (2010) also observe that narratives are increasingly subject to empirical studies in a wide variety of disciplines. They introduce a Narrative Policy Framework for elaboration and policy testing.

In our case, narratives are captured through the development of a Student Learning Portfolio (SLP) which is used to assess behavioral and affective outcomes. The SLP is an evidence-based method for improving and assessing learning outcomes through a critical self-reflective process which is submitted weekly and is based on three criteria: (1) a critical summary of the assigned readings and material covered including practical ways in which ideas can be implemented in personal and social life, (2) the development of a personalized moral development plan which includes goals and specific actions, and (3) activities to build community in creating an active and vibrant learning environment. At the end of a twelve-week period, a self-reflective integrative essay is submitted and comprise a professional development plan built around a structured five-step process (Lennick et al. 2011): (1) understand your ideal self (the person that you want to be), (2) recognize your real self (your actual strengths and weaknesses in the context who you want to be), (3) decide on how to build on your strengths and weaknesses in order to reduce the ‘moral gap’ between your real self and ideal self (that is, in the MacIntyrean sense, to reduce the ‘moral gap’ between man-as-he happens-to-be and man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-essential-nature (MacIntyre 1984 p. 52), (4) experiment with new behaviors and feelings, and (5) develop trusting relationships with those who support your learning process. Both personal and social virtues are captured through narratives as reflected in the SLPs.

Tradition

MacIntyre (1984) notes that tradition can serve to solve the problem of many coordination problems throughout the stages of life because, for instance, if one were to decide that one’s life is meaningless, one is implicitly stating that the narrative of one’s life is unintelligible to one. MacIntyre (1984) defines a living tradition respectively as a historically extended, socially embodied argument and an argument precisely in part about the goods which constitute that tradition in which the pursuit of goods extends through generations (p. 222). Kallenberg (2011) notes that tradition forms the backdrop to all the various accounts of virtue and comprise three components: historically extended (the self and community are understood to be narratively extended), socially embodied (traditions are lived in communities) and long-standing arguments (remains a live option as long as the discussion about relevance and meaning are sustained).

MacIntyre (1984) claims that people live in a morally-disordered world and that practices, narratives, and traditions that promote the virtues are critical to the moral life, have been refuted by several authors. For instance, Frazer and Lacey (1994) note that discourse on practice fails to recognize that individuals do not engage in practices on equal terms. Smith (2003) views that the attempt to secure moral knowledge and restate virtue ethic is relativistic and has failed. Similarly, Clayton (2005) disagrees that people live in a state of disorder and that people in the modern liberal capitalist world do not make decisions based on moral reasoning. Traditions provide communities, (discussed next), with the contexts to render their practices, virtues, and narratives intelligible as activities aimed at a pursuit of truth (Jeffries 2003). In our case, tradition is captured through a checklist of almost five hundred (500) traditional/proverbial wisdom sayings developed from a Caribbean Studies Project through interviews (Tang Choon 1982).

Community

In Book 1 of the Politics, Aristotle contends that a human being separated from the polis is deprived of some of the essential attributes of a human being for the polis is human community perfected and completed by achieving its telos. The polis of city-states is the form of social order whose shared mode of life already expresses the collective answer or answers of its citizens to the question - what is the best mode of life for human beings? – and such infrastructure is essential to foster the development of the virtues (MacIntyre 1984 p. 133). MacIntyre (1984) concludes that the best type of human life is one in which the tradition of the virtues is most adequately embodied and is lived by those engaged in constructing and sustaining forms of community directed toward the shared achievement of the common good without which the ultimate human good cannot be achieved. Dobson (2007) adds that the individual must be educated in virtues by a nurturing community so that one is simply not guided by a credo or code of conduct, but professional life is integral with the conception of what it is he or she is about. Mintzberg (2009) argues that while individualism provides incentives, promotes leadership, and encourages development, it cannot succeed on its own since we are social animals who cannot function effectively without a social system that is larger than ourselves – the community which is the social glue that binds us together for the greater good (caring about our work, our colleagues, and our place in the world, and in turn being inspired by this caring).

Ultimately, therefore, professional ethics is about building a strong sense of a vibrant and caring community. MacIntyre (1987) examines the extent to which two goals of contemporary education (one that is aimed at helping students fit into certain social roles within society and to help them have the intellectual autonomy to think independently) can be consistently pursued given the conditions of modernity and identifies three conditions: (1) a significantly large group of people must have a tradition and context for sharing in rational debates that have shared sets of questions and important forms of application to the life of the community, (2) there must be agreement within the community in regard to criteria of evaluation and standards of rational justification for the assessments of arguments, and (3) there needs to be a shared intellectual background that includes shared beliefs and attitudes. Further, if the main role of the University is to be a place of constrained disagreement and of imposed participation in conflict (p.230–231), then it can be reasoned that the University is such a community that is at the service of society in promoting the common good and enabling the development of virtues. In this case, community is represented by the students who comprise the class and is captured through the social virtues: justice, compassion, and forgiveness.

Methodology

Our study utilizes a combination of quantitative (Exploratory Factor Analysis, MANOVA, Multiple Discriminant Analysis, and Structural Equation Modeling) and qualitative approaches (content analysis) in the research design. Quantitative data collected from structured questionnaires were qualitatively supported by textual data from the SLP. This triangulated design provides the opportunity to gain a wider coverage and a more comprehensive picture that would not have been achieved otherwise. Data were collected through structured self-administered questionnaires from the MCI, which is a self-reporting and self-development tool that measures Martin and Austin (2010) moral framework. It measured the ten virtues with forty (40) items on a 5-point Likert scale. A copy of the instrument is provided in Table 1.

The MCI instrument was administered to forty-one (41) students enrolled in a third-year undergraduate Professional Ethics course, offered by The University of the West Indies, Trinidad. A test-retest method collected data on student’s individual and social virtues. Specifically, the MCI instrument was administered twice: during the first day of class and on the last day of class. Data collected from the two stages provided a quantitative measure of student’s moral competencies, strengths and skills prior to and after exposure to MacIntyrean Philosophical Approach (MPA). The sample composition remained constant throughout the semester with no additions or dropout. The questionnaire just about an hour to complete: about twenty (20) minutes to complete the survey, about ten (10) minutes to fill out a scoring sheet, and about thirty (30) minutes to reflect and record the results. Students were briefed on confidentiality and reminded about the drawbacks of giving higher ratings or being too critical of themselves by giving low ratings (Lennick et al. 2011). A total of eighty-two (82) questionnaires were completed and categorized into two groups (cells): (before and after exposure to the MPA). Each cell consists of forty-one (41) cases which satisfied the practical guidelines set by Hair et al. (2010), that is, a minimum of twenty (20) cases per group. Students were between the ages of nineteen (19) to thirty-two (32) years old. Seventy-eight percent (78%) were female. The sample represented the three major religious groups at the University: Hindus, Chrristians, and Muslims and the majority of students pursued a management specialist degree (60%).

To establish validity, a control group was used in our research design. The control group allowed the researchers to isolate the effect of the treatment and eliminate alternative explanations for the findings. Forty-eight (48) undergraduate students enrolled in The University of the West Indies voluntarily participated in the control group study. To qualify for participation in this group, students met two pre-established criteria: (1) they should have no prior knowledge of professional ethics, and (2) they have never been enrolled in any ethics course offered by the university. Their demographic profile also mirrored the main experiment group, with the majority of students between the ages 19–32 years, pursuing a specialization in management studies. The data collection methods mirrored the main study. The MCI instrument was administered to students twice: during the first day of class and on the last day of class. The sample composition remained constant throughout the semester with no additions or dropouts.

Data analysis

One-way ANOVA was used to compare the MCI score between groups using pre-test and post-test. As expected, the results showed a significant difference in overall virtue competencies for students who were registered in the professional ethics course using the MPA. The results for the control group also adhered to our expectations as students’ overall moral competencies were not significantly different. These results provide support that the MPA to teaching professional ethics can positively and significantly impact students’ personal and social virtues.

Exploratory factor analysis

At the initial stage of the data analysis, Principal Component Factor Analysis with Varimax rotation reduced the forty-item scale to a smaller number with minimum loss of information. The items retained met the pre-specified criteria: (1) all inter-correlation coefficients were statistically significant and exceeded the prescribed 0.3 and (2) items did not load on more than two factors. Test diagnostics also indicated that there were sufficient inter-correlations among items to warrant factor analysis. Consequently, the twenty (20) items were reduced to two factors labeled as personal virtues and the second as social virtues. Cronbach’s alpha reliability coefficients for each factor were 0.889 and 0.795 respectively indication high reliability. Content, convergent, and discriminant validity requirements were satisfied when evaluating the retained items.

Multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) and multiple discriminant analysis

We then employed a one-way multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) to test the effect of the two groups (before exposure and after exposure) on the two (2) dependent variables: personal virtues and social virtues. We found that the overall MCI scores were significantly different between the two groups for both personal and social virtues. Furthermore, the results show a greater impact on personal virtues than the on social virtues, a finding consistent with the MPA in understanding the stages involved in the development of virtues. Multiple Discriminant Analysis also confirmed that personal virtues explained more than social virtues supporting the conclusion made previously.

To ascertain which indicators were most affected by the MPA, a comparison of MCI mean score on each of the ten virtues for each of the two groups (before and after exposure) was examined. The results confirmed that all ten (10) virtues were higher after exposure to the professional ethics course. Relative to personal virtues, responsibility, and sincerity were most impacted, followed by courage and integrity. With respect to social virtues, justice and forgiveness were most impacted followed by compassion.

Structural equation model (SEM) analysis

SEM provides a useful alternative that links philosophy to theoretical and empirical research (Bagozzi and Yi 2012). Through its integrative function, SEM provides a holistic approach in estimating the theoretical model and insights into the model’s respecification (Hair et al. 2010). The results showed that six (6) personal virtues were statistically significant in explaining the social virtues. Additionally, the model mapped a reversed link between the virtues of forgiveness with honesty. This link suggests a degree of reciprocity in the relationships between personal and social virtues. Further evidence of this conclusion is demonstrated by the high level of correlation among personal and social virtues. These findings are in line with McIntyre’s (1984) views.

Content analysis

Integrating qualitative analysis into this study allowed us to construct a rich contextual basis. It also increased the robustness of our analysis, validating and in some cases strengthening our findings. Textual data were generated from the forty-one (41) self-reflective integrative essays (an integrated form of all the weekly SLPs of each student over a twelve (12) week period).These essays were analyzed qualitatively using the content analysis following guidelines outlined by Graneheim and Lundman (2004). The systemic descriptions and reflections contained in each manuscript justified the use of content analysis for our qualitative approach. Before coding, all identifying marks were removed to preserve participant anonymity. Each script was read through several times to get a feel of the general sentiments. Each script was numbered for coding purposes. Only visible, obvious content were considered in this analysis. The analysis occurred in stages. Firstly, each sentence was summarized and salient points extracted. Secondly, points were grouped together and renamed using two headings (narratives and traditions). Headings allowed the content of each script to be clustered into homogeneous themes. Each cluster comprised several themes, coded based on each researcher’s individual interpretation. The different codes were compared for similarities and differences and then sorted. Finally, codes were grouped into categories based on commonality. Twelve (12) categories emerged under narrative and seventeen (17) under tradition. The categories were subsequently discussed by two researchers for consensus before final classification. The final stage involved exploring the content for meaning for an understanding of the constructs. To ensure reproducibility, the researchers applied the same coding instructions to the same set of units and worked independently from each other (Krippendorff 2004). Validity issues were addressed by the processes used to collect data (data were collected from students personal account of their own experiences, background and life stories which were sourced from the student learning portfolios, one component used to understand virtues at the individual and community levels) and by the triangulation built into our research design. A summary of narrative and tradition-related virtues are presented in Tables 2 and 3.
Table 2

Tradition-related virtues

Category

Virtue

Traditions

Personal

Integrity

• A good man is hard to find

• Believe in yourself

• What your ears hear your tongue should not know

• Practice what you preach

• Walk the talk

Personal

Honesty

• Cut to the chase

• Don’t beat around the bush

• Deception by others

Personal

Courage

• Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me

• Big boys don’t cry

Personal

Loyalty

• Blood is thicker than water

• I am my brother’s keeper

Personal

Responsibility

• Mind your own business

• What you sow, so shall you reap

• Children should be seen and not heard

• Go to school and learn or jumbie (evil) will take you

• If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail

• Procrastination is the thief of time

• Save today so that you can have tomorrow

• Make your dreams a reality

• You need to be in it to win

• Don’t trouble trouble until trouble troubles you

• Give it all you got

• Go for it

• Make hay while the sun shines

• A woman’s place is in the home

Personal

Humility

• Better belly burst

• Don’t hang your heart higher than you can reach

• Don’t bite more than you can chew

• Eat little and live long

Personal

Detachment

• Don’t miss the water till the well run dry

• Marriage have teeth

• Just let it be

Personal

Prudence

• Choose a friend wisely

• Get a cage before a bird

• When your neighbor’s house on fire wet yours

• Bushes have ears

• Make sense out of non-sense

• Monkey don’t watch his own tail

• Monkey knows what tree to climb

• Think before you leap

• Ignorance is bliss

• Prevention is better than cure

• Experience is the greatest teacher

• Don’t put all eggs in one basket

• Do not cast your pearls to swine

• Add insult to injury

• Hurry! Hurry!, spoils the pot

• Strike while the iron is hot

• Success follow hard work

• Silence is golden

• Think twice before you answer

Personal

Patience

• Patience is a virtue

• Rome was not built in a day

• Take what you get until you get what you want

• Time and place for everything

Social

Compassion

• Do on to others like others shall do on to you

• Never criticize someone until you walk a mile in their shoes

• Do so don’t like so

• Thou shall honor father and mother

Social

Justice

• Interfere less in others life

• Do so don’t like so

• All fair in love and war

• Don’t bite the hand that feeds you

• Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s goods

• Never criticize someone until you walk a mile in their shoes

• Interfere less in others life

• Respect your elders

• If you can’t say anything don’t say anything at all

Social

 

• We are all one

• Birds of a feather flock together

• Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are

• Plenty hands make work light

• I am my brother’s keeper

• If you follow bad company you will end up in trouble

• It takes a whole village to raise a child

Table 3

Narrative-related virtues

Category

Virtue

Narratives

Personal

Humility

• See personal weakness

• Acknowledge contributions of others

• Recognize faults

• Realize personal flaws

• Recognize the good in myself

• Accept flaws

• Admit mistakes

• Accept rejection

Personal

Responsibility

• Take responsibility for action

• Reduce excuses

• Make an effort to know people

• Make less excuses

• Don’t blame others for personal mistakes

Personal

Courage

• Resist temptation

• Build courage

• Stand up for beliefs

• Became more assertive

• Willing to express my opinion

• Less fear of failure

• Strengthen character

• Build assertiveness

• Develop discipline

• Develop belief in myself

Social

Justice

• Try to help others

• Less judgmental of others

• Serving others

• Make friends

• Care for others

• More accommodating

• Accept choices other make

• Reduce expectations of others

Personal

Honesty

• Being straight forward with others

Personal

Integrity

• True to self

Social

Compassion

• Sensitive to others

• Show compassion towards others

• Value the power of friendship

Personal

Detachment

• Less worried about the future

• Embrace life and death

• Rely less on approval of others

• Willingness to let go of mistakes

• Less controlling behavior

• Learn to let go

Personal

Human Nature/Solidarity

• Accept mistakes made by others

• Accept mistake made by self

• Freedom from bondage

• Freedom from guilt

Discussion

The application of the MPA to test the effectiveness of professional ethics has its basis in viewing the learning and living environment of students as forms of ‘local’ communities which operate within tradition and inform narratives in which intellectual and moral life are sustained through the virtues. The idea that virtues are developed through activities within individual lives and how they relate to community and tradition, is reflected in the findings of this study. In particular, the reciprocal relationships between personal and social virtues support the Evaluative Integration Thesis that all virtues are intimately related. The relationships among the virtues are of course more general, and the estimated model simply speaks to this data set. What is critical is that at the level of the individual, it is important to identify one’s dominant vices or defects (for example, anger, a critical disposition, impatience, disorder, etc.) so one can apply the appropriate remedy through counterpart virtues. The ethical culture of the community defined through the practice of the virtues would help sustain and develop the individual. The main idea here is that when one improves in a particular virtue that remedies a dominant defect, one improves in all aspects of the virtuous life.

A corroboration among narrative, tradition-related, and MCI virtues reveals that they mutually reinforced and validate each other. In particular, the virtues of honesty, courage, responsibility, humility, compassion, and justice descriptors in the three measures of virtues. Other virtues that were specific to each measure were prudence and patience (tradition), forgiveness and detachment (MCI). This can be accounted for since the MCI is more defined and narrative and tradition were open-ended. A closer examination showed that, within the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, all the virtues fall under or are reducible to the four (4) cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and courage. Each cardinal virtue can be sub-divided into three parts: (1) subjective (sub-categories of the virtues that are distinct from each other), (2) potential (virtues related to the cardinal virtues but are not a complete expression of the cardinal virtue), and (3) integral (conditions and actions that are necessary to perfect the virtue (Stedman 2010). In our case, while prudence is captured directly under tradition; justice is captured directly in all three qualitative descriptors and is reflected through loyalty, integrity, and responsibility; temperance is reflected in honesty and humility; and courage is directly captured in all three qualitative descriptors. The empirics therefore is encompassed within this framework within which to understand virtues. Students are formally exposed to sessions on virtues. Based on the theory of virtues (Carr and Steutel 1999; Adams 2006), the operational approach in enacting them into reducing the students’ ‘moral gap’ is as follows: honesty and detachment informs humility (knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses) which triggers the other virtues.

What is also interesting with respect to tradition and narrative, is the identification of an objective morality (the idea of an objective right and wrong) along with the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity (faith can move mountains, God will never forsake you, God will never give you more than you can handle, good things come to those who wait, always pray before you go to bed) were central to their moral intelligence. In addition, the social nature of the human person is also reflected in tradition: we are all one, birds of a feather flock together, show me your friends and I will tell you who you are, plenty hands make work light, I am my brother’s keeper, if you follow bad company you will end up in trouble, it takes a whole village to raise a child. The lack of appreciation and awareness of this Aristotelian-Thomistic realism often results in moral disagreements which are mainly rooted in some failure to satisfy the conditions for rational deliberations, namely respect for human freedom and dignity, and working for the common good. Experience has demonstrated that it is possible for people of different beliefs to discover their fundamental relations and an objective order of nature by communicating and seeking truth together through dialectical argumentation using constructive confrontation or creative conflict based on the first principles of reasoning (for example, do good and avoid evil, two contradictory statements cannot be true in the same sense, a thing is always what it is).

One may observe that the control subjects were enrolled based on their ‘lack’ of prior knowledge of professional ethics. However, since knowledge of ethics does not come only from formal tutelage, one may question how does our study treat with those (in particular, from the control group), who may have acquired ethical knowledge through other means including experience, self-reflection, religion, spiritual and cultural background, and so on (Emerson and Mckinney 2010; Waggoner 2010). Burley (1990) recognizes that such formal informal education tends to ignored or underplayed, and that students should be at liberty to include a range of experiences. A covariate analysis was conducted to control for the possible influence of the two confounder variables of students’ age (as a proxy for experience) and religion in our study in evaluating the effect of professional ethics course on students personal and social moral competencies. The results show that students’ moral competencies were not significantly affected by age (p > 0.05). This was expected since the sample reflected a homogeneous group with respect to age. On the other hand, when the effect of religion was modeled, the results confirmed a significant impact on students’ moral competencies (p < 0.05). More specifically, there were significant differences in personal competencies but not among social competencies. This is to be expected given that there is a point of departure in religious beliefs (personal competencies) which seems to converge in the way in which it is practiced (social competencies). In this regard, all subsequent analysis controlled for the resulting impact by integrating religion as a covariate in the one-way MANCOVA analysis. This procedure allowed us to extract the interaction effect of religion on the relationship between the professional ethics course and students’ moral competencies which improved the impact or effect size of our results. Specifically, the overall effect size without religion as a covariate was 32.3% (20.7% with respect to personal competencies and 20.7% with respect to social competencies). When we include or control for religion as a covariate, the effect size increased to 34.2% (22.4% with respect to personal competencies and 12% with respect to social competencies). Notwithstanding these result, our study was designed to measure the change in moral competencies and not the comparative levels in them.

Of course MacIntyre’s work is not without controversy. For instance, Turner (2013) explores MacIntyre’s social philosophy claiming that his work creates a nostalgic picture of the coherence of past communities and that it neglects the growth of international law and human rights as instances of a shared moral system that is not based on emotivism. One the other hand, one may argue in fact that many aspects of law today does reflect emotivism. Bertucio (2016), drawing on the thought of MacIntyre, contends that the decline of moral philosophy has reduced contemporary moral utterances to the mere restatement of incommensurable ideologies. He concludes by proposing two possible remedies: (1) the introduction of intellectual history into secondary social studies curricula in order to help students and teachers become aware of the contours of contemporary moral debates and to examine their own epistemic assumptions, and (2) a foundation to approach controversial issues based not on incommensurate conceptions of rationality, but on existential desires. In furtherance of this view, Bielskis and Mardosas (2014) articulate aspects of MacIntyre’s account of human flourishing and how it challenges post-modernistic conceptions regarding self, morality, and politics. They argue that MacIntyre’s account of human flourishing consists of people becoming independent practical reasoners who are able to use their rational powers for the pursuit of a meaningful life (existential desires). Mitchell (2006) notes that MacIntyre argues that the modern project is self-destructive and what is required to overcome such tendency is to recover important pre-modern concepts such as tradition, belief, authority, and practice.

In his latest book, MacIntyre (2016) suggests some ways for constructing a contemporary politics and ethics to act against modernity from with modernity through a proper understanding of human goods, normative and evaluative judgments, practical reasoning, narrative within the modern condition from a neo-Aristotelian or Thomistic perspective. Interestingly, these suggestions have substantially been put into practice by a number of groups including business, sports, and the military. Coyle (2018) examined what makes for an infectious and out-performing culture that is energizing and supports cohesion, cooperation, and creativity. Against conventional wisdom, he found that it was not the collective intelligence nor financial and talent resources, but three factors: (1) a sense of belonging (community), (2) a shared purpose as part of the bigger story (tradition and narrative), and (3) a sense of safety for people to be who they are (virtues).

On a final point, Perkins (2017), although directing his comments to lawyers, points out the causes and consequences of moral decline from the ‘wise counselor’ to ‘businessman’ among professionals which include: increased competition, increased firm size, early specialization, increased mobility, high overhead costs, invalidation of minimum fee schedules, solicitation of clients, and unrelenting pressure to record more billable hours. He further argues that rules and tend to operate negatively, be minimalistic, understate the significance of the call to a moral life, and do not teach us to become that kind of person that we ought to be (rules do not bestow on us the honesty and insight needed in order to determine what out to be done). He concludes that beyond compliance with rules, there is a need for supererogatory action (virtues) that is both socially-useful and life-enrichening. Herein lies the role of virtues in developmental theory and positive psychology. Stewart-Sicking (2008) suggests that MacIntyre’s virtue-centered approach can be used as a form of applied ethics in counseling that can help clients cultivate the qualities necessary to live the good life. Stedman (2010) notes the remarkable depth of the virtues in understanding human psychology and its development, and elaborates of how the cardinal virtues can be applied in psychopathology and intervention.

Conclusions

This paper empirically demonstrates the effectiveness of the MPA to teaching professional ethics in improving ethical behavior. Specifically, the ten (10) virtues captured by the MCI showed significant improvement after exposure to the MPA. The idea that virtues are developed through activities within individual lives and how they relate to community and tradition is reflected in the findings of this study. The implications of our study suggest that self-reflection and a personal moral development plan in addressing the moral gap between the real and ideal self ought to be integrated into the delivery of professional ethics training. This gap can be effectively reduced through the acquisition of virtues in the context of practice, narrative, tradition, and community. Our findings support MacIntyre’s (1984) view that what is required to promote the good in the world is the construction of new local forms of community within which civility, the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the tradition of the virtues. The role of virtues in the development of the morally and psychologically healthy professional (accomplished through reducing the moral gap between man-as-he happens-to-be and man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-essential-nature, that is between the real and ideal self) is also presented in order to address the moral decline as a consequence of the modern project of which MacIntyre is highly critical. Our paper demonstrates that it is possible to arrest the moral demise through the MPA.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Management Studies/Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of BusinessThe University of the West Indies (St. Augustine Campus)St. AugustineTrinidad and Tobago
  2. 2.Department of Management StudiesThe University of the West Indies (St. Augustine Campus)St. AugustineTrinidad and Tobago

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