Skepticism in Higher Education
California State College, Bakersfield
As it perhaps should, the present UCRA conference on the Ethics of Teaching and Research has raised more questions than it has answered. The papers and ensuing discussions suggest that much of the practical ethical perspective which we have developed in clinical psychology applies to the teaching of professionals and researchers in general.
Let me cite some principles of general validity. One must account for the ethical adequacy of one's decisions in the light of competing values and considerations of their consequences. One should be more concerned with conflict resolution than with the advocacy of any one value taken as an absolute. It is ultimately the ethical quality of the overall decision which should be judged rather than the particular components in isolation.
Nonetheless these principles are not sufficient. The researcher whose aim is the development of knowledge and its intelligent application to appropriate problems faces, on the one hand, the ethical imperative to pursue research as objectively as he can and, on the other hand, the recognition that efforts to reduce the ambiguity in causal inference to a minimum, may conflict with values flowing from concern for the welfare of the research participants. Scientific knowledge and techniques which may be used for human betterment may also be used for manipulative and exploitative purposes. The consequences of scientific theories and inventions derived in strict accordance with the ethics of research may on occasion be socially harmful.*