Professionals’ Ethos and Education for Responsibility


“Beyond Professionals’ Ethos”

Brigitte Latzko, Universität Leipzig

CV Brigitte Latzko.pdf


There can be no doubt that professionals’ ethos is one of the  key dimensions of pedagogical professionalism. In fact, the former could be considered as one of the most central dimensions of the latter. At the same time, within the field of study of science of education it is granted to understand the development of a professionals’ ethos as the biggest challenge within the process of professionalizing. This is, as it is broadly recognized, not only the most important but also the most difficult part of professionals’ education. Nonetheless, and even more so, because of that we, as scientific community, need to go beyond professionals’ ethos. At last, this is what current political situation urgently demand.

Against this background the keynote aims at clarifying the core of professionals’ ethos in order to discuss different possibilities to systematically develop the same. To do so, I first wish to provide an overview of different theoretical conceptualizations of the professionals’ ethos as well as respective empirical approaches. Secondly, these approaches shall be evaluated in terms of their pedagogical implications



Metaethical Non-Cognitivism – and its Consequences for Moral Education

Metaethics and Moral Education

Edgar Morscher


Education and teaching are certain kinds of communication. Not the only, but the most important medium of human communication is language. This holds therefore also for the education of moral values and the teaching of ethical norms. In order to teach ethical norms and values we have to use language and express the values and norms to be taught linguistically, i.e., to use prescriptive (viz. evaluative or normative) sentences. In VaKE (Values and Knowledge Education) we have to use, of course, prescriptive as well as descriptive sentences. Teaching ethical values and norms requires in any case therefore also the usage of prescriptive sentences; it does not require, however, that we mention them in our teaching, i.e. that we talk about them. In order to proceed purposefully, however, the teacher must know a lot about the prescriptive language she or he is using in her or his moral teaching. The study and investigation of the prescriptive language used in the theory and in the teaching of ethics belongs to metaethics which is an important branch of philosophical ethics. A teacher of ethical values and norms must there¬fore have some basic knowledge of metaethics, although metaethics is not part of the subject matter of her or his teaching.

I will show by means of examples how important metaethical knowledge is for teachers of ethical values and norms.

1. Hermeneutics

1.1. Since in everyday language one and the same linguistic expression or sentence (such as, e.g., ‘Nobody is smoking in this room’) can be used in a merely descriptive or in a prescriptive way, the first – hermeneutic – question will be: how can we find out whether a linguistic expression is used in a prescriptive or in a merely descriptive intention? The mere linguistic form of an expression or a sentence alone is obviously not decisive for the way it is used in a certain context. We must therefore not remain on a mere syntactic or semantic level when we look for a distinction between prescriptive and descriptive discourse in everyday language. This distinction concerns in fact the complete speech act in question and is therefore of a pragmatic nature. John Searle, one of the representatives of modern speech act theory, has proposed what he called the direction of fit as a criterion for distinguishing between prescriptive and descriptive speech acts.

1.2. Being able to distinguish between prescriptive and descriptive dis-course is not enough, however. In everyday language it is very often undoubtedly clear that a speech act is of a prescriptive nature and at the same time pretty unclear what kind of prescription is intended by it. Even in the philosophical jargon an action is very often simply called correct and you do not know whether it is meant to be obligatory or merely permissible, which makes quite a difference. A second hermeneutic task is therefore to find out how to distinguish between different prescriptive categories in natural language.

2. Regimentation

Since everyday language is full of irregularities and chance, a careful teacher of ethical values and norms must develop her or his own standards for a well-ordered and systematic prescriptive language to be used in her or his moral teaching. Such a language which avoids ambiguities and displays its logical structure was called a “regimented language” by W.V.O.Quine.

2.1. In a regimented prescriptive language it must be clear from the be-ginning whether an expression of the language is purely prescriptive or not. In order to fulfil this requirement the primitive prescriptive expressions of the language must be specified by enumeration, and the formation rules (i.e. the rules which tell us how to construe complex expressions, in particular sentences, with the help of the primitive prescriptive expressions and other components of the language) must be specified in a purely syntactic way. This allows us to distinguish exactly in a merely syntactic way different kinds of sentences of our regimented prescriptive language, viz. purely prescriptive ones, mixed ones, and purely descriptive ones. The requirement to deal with these distinctions on a merely syntactic level – in clear opposition to everyday language – is specific for any kind of regimented language, and it should be fulfilled at least approximatively.

2.2. In a second step the basic prescriptive categories of the regimented language must be specified, and it must be shown how the more complex prescriptive categories can be reduced to them. An example can help us understanding how important this task is: The concept of a human right is an important prescriptive category of ethics. The Swedish logician Stig Kanger has shown that we can distinguish in a systematic way 26 different types of human rights, and that they all appear already in the U.N. declaration of human rights. A common term such as ‘right to live’ allows within Kanger’s framework to choose between opposite interpretations such as “you must not kill anybody against his will” and “you must keep alive everybody with all possible medical means – even against her or his will”. No wonder that in ideological and political discussions the term ‘right to live’ is very often misused.

2.3. The main metaethical question however is whether prescriptive ethical sentences can be true or false in the usual sense of these words at all. The so-called metaethical non-cognitivismus answers this question in the negative: According to metaethical non-cognitivsmus there is no moral truth and no moral knowledge. I will argue for this position and show what its consequences are for moral education.