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Paradigm Shift in Ethics Education

Giving Voice to Values

The benefits of the Giving Voice to Values approach to ethical decision making is it involves students directly by providing them with the tools to speak out against improper behavior. Rather than a focus on ethical analysis in a sterile way, the GVV curriculum focuses on ethical implementation and asks the questions: “What if I were going to act on my values? What would I say and do? How could I be most effective?

Piloted in over 1,055 schools, companies, and other organizations on all seven continents, the GVV curriculum offers practical exercises, cases, modules, scripts, and teaching plans for handling a wide range of ethical conflicts in the workplace. The curriculum is available to educators for free who register at the GVV website hosted by the Darden School at the University of Virginia (

GVV is a behavioral approach that builds on traditional philosophical reasoning methods and emphasizes developing the capacity to effectively express one’s values to ensure ethical action is taken. As such, GVV is an interactive, reflective approach to ethics education that involves students in the decision-making process in a meaningful way. GVV is best applied by having students script out responses to questions likely to be posed by superiors in the organization. As such, ethics education in GVV is best learned through roleplaying and developing the tools to counteract the reasons and rationalizations sometimes provided by superiors to deviate from ethical norms. The goal of GVV is to positively influence the decision-making process by developing alternative ways of dealing with an ethical dilemma.

What stands out most about GVV is that it goes beyond using philosophical reasoning methods to decide what to do, which has already been determined, and provides the tools for students to act on their values and ensure that the right thing to do gets implemented into action.

GVV identifies the most frequent categories of argument or rationalization that students may face when to help them speak out against unethical practices including: Values

Expected or Standard Practice: “Everyone does this, so it’s really standard practice. It’s even expected.”

Materiality: “The impact of this action is not material. It doesn’t really hurt anyone.”

Locus of Responsibility: “This is not my responsibility: I’m just following orders here.”

Locus of Loyalty: “I know this isn’t quite fair to the customer, but I don’t want to hurt my reports/team/boss/company.”

A fifth rationalization occurs in many instances when a superior pressures a subordinate to go along with wrongdoing promising it is a one-time request.

Isolated Incident. “This is a one-time request; you won’t be asked to do it again.”

Practical Wisdom and Moral Courage

The latest area of curriculum development in ethics is practical wisdom. In many ways it links to virtue theory and GVV. In Aristotelean ethics, practical wisdom is seen as a true and reasoned state of capacity that applies moral skill, or having the judgment capabilities to decide ethical issues, with moral will, or having the intent and character to carry out ethical judgments with ethical action. Moral will and moral skill are the two components of practical wisdom and work together to provide a framework for ethical decision making. In other words, absent the moral will, it does not matter how good one’s moral judgment abilities are (moral skill), a moral decision will not be made.

The goal of ethics education in practical wisdom is to develop moral courage through experiential learning exercises. It provides the tools for ethical analysis and decision-making that focuses on developing in students the capacity to maintain their integrity in the face of reasons and rationalizations to deviate from ethical norms

Educating students about moral courage is an important step in the evolution of ethics education because it provides a practical approach to teaching students to execute moral decisions by combining virtue theory with the GVV methodology. It enables students to voice their values and make a real difference in their organizations.

Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on June 3, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: Follow him on Facebook at: and on Twitter at: