Canned or Substantive Response?


   How does one stir the embers within the hearts and minds of students in their search for knowledge and their quest for understanding?  If a student’s assignment submission is substantive, thought-provoking, and uses examples to give evidence of the depth and breadth of the subject matter, hopefully my response to the submission will not be canned.  If so, the students’ embers will soon die, whereas if my response mirrors their submission, the embers will burst into flames.

   The following is an example from my most recent ethics course this summer—it includes the student’s email to me, his substantive assignment submission, and my substantive response which fanned the embers of his responses to assignments throughout the course. Thus, by chapter 12, there is evidence of the glow and warmth of the fires of learning, understanding, and application; the student is afire with excitement, appreciation, and a desire to continue to push back the horizons of learning.

Roger, (email from the student)

 “Thank you very much for your teachings. This has been such an enjoyable class for me as I am able to learn through discussion and delve into what it means to be human. I appreciate your wisdom and commitment to the class, as well as your thorough responses to assignments.” 


An example of this student’s response to an assignment on virtue ethics of Aristotle:

  1. I really enjoyed the reading on virtue ethics. Virtue ethics recognizes the importance of character and being the best person, you can be, homing in on your strengths, and working on your weaknesses. I actively seek to improve my character and I try and work on my weaknesses every day. While I did not really know exactly what virtue ethics was before the reading, I now realize it is something that is relevant for me. I think that yes, if you are a virtuous person and continually act in a way that benefits oneself and others this can lead to happiness. If you have these positives traits, and choose to act on them to benefit others, I do not see how you could not be happy. Really, I do not think someone can disagree with virtue ethics. Everybody’s goal in life is to be happy, and if you have good virtues and value things like love and friendship, I think that is all you need.
  2. In the reading it said that wisdom is the most important virtue because it is the foundation of all other virtues. I would have to agree with this, I think only through wisdom can you truly value anything. With wisdom you learn what is important to you, and by knowing this it encourages other virtues. This is just how I see it, looking at my own life, without wisdom and without that knowledge of what is important to me, I would not know how to act. Wisdom for me gives me the ability to know what I value in life, what makes me happy, and how to act in a way that promotes the happiness of myself and others.
  3. Depending on the situation having too much of one virtue can lead to a negative outcome… Do you agree?


My response:

Your responses were substantive and supported by examples which gives evidence of the depth and breadth of your understanding of virtue ethics. I, like you, favor virtue ethics which is the most realistic and practical way of living the virtuous life. It is important to connect virtue ethics with your behavior in that it eventually becomes a habit – caring about developing the right character is a 24/7 job,  a nonstop challenge in all times of your life. Character development is not something you engage in now and again. It is a way of life. The moral of the story in virtue ethics: Life has no ethical-free zones.

 You are always at bat when it comes to virtue. It may be the case that being virtuous means something a bit different if you are a parent, a citizen, a student, but that does not mean that vice is acceptable in some situations. Virtue ethics care about character development, and they think that virtues are needed for you to live in a way that allows you to flourish as a human being. 

In response to your question – Yes, seek the middle way and avoid extremes which can become more a vice than a virtue. For exam courage is a virtue, however, too little of courage is being a coward and too much courage can be fool-hearty or at-risk. As Aristotle once wrote: “The way I think determines what I say, and what I say determines my behavior, and my behavior becomes my habit, and my habit becomes my character and my character becomes my destiny.”


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