- Crucial to Optimal Learning and Practice of EthicsVirtuous Relationships and Diligent Processes that Account for Both Shared and Conflicting Values
The article by Potter and Rif S. El-Mallakh (2019) read empathically, invokes a sense of fulfilment in their experiences, serving as inspiration for others to learn and practice ethics better. It describes their growth that has culminated to this sense of fulfilment and inspirational dignity. Crucial for this desirable growth has been, I want to highlight, their good investment in virtuous relationships and diligent processes. I also highlight from their article a potential conceptual restriction to growing in our learning and practicing of ethics. That is, the restriction that occurs when blinded by too narrow a view (applying Wittgenstein, 1958) on what ethics is about or where its emphasis is supposed to be.
It is striking in their article that the afforded growth has been by virtue of the more than 10-year relationship between Potter and Rif S. El-Mallakh: they collaborated. They engaged reciprocally and empathically with the views of each other. They worked and reasoned together.
The article relates their growth together as an increasing awareness of and sensitivity to ethical issues and the values of each other and their patients. They have gained knowledge by description and by personal acquaintance (cf. their reference to Russell), enlightening experiences, reasoning skills, enhanced empathetic capacity, and resilience in each other for containing uncertainty and the shortcomings that are inevitable in ethical practice. They have benefitted from each other a "fresh perspective," even in "mundane" cases, that substantively informs practice (particularly for Rif S. El-Mallakh). For Potter, her perspective has deepened into how philosophy stands to gain from work on "how mental disorder and phenomenological experiences of mental illness relate to [End Page 203] questions of consciousness, dualism, knowledge of other minds, mental representations, emotions, personal identity, and other related topics."
The article highlights the most valued virtuous qualities of their interdisciplinary relationship: reciprocal trust and trustworthiness, professional competence, shared concern for each patient, openness to learning, mutual respect, humor, and working against a natural inclination to be defensive. These virtuous qualities have resulted dynamically from their efforts. They are not mere static endowments upon which the relationship were initially founded.
We may do well in following their example in the teaching, learning, and practice of ethics. As teachers, we need to invest in virtuous relationships. The guiding questions are: What may we do to engage our students (better) in learning relationships not only with teachers but also with patients, fellow students and other professionals? How may we nurture optimally virtuous relationships and growth? Potter and Rif S. El-Mallakh underscore the point that lecture hall teaching of ethics and the ethics literature do not have sufficient reach for gaining knowledge by acquaintance. For the latter, I accentuate, participation in virtuous relationships is required. As learners and practitioners, we need to engage ourselves, as a mark of professional maturity, in relationships for the sake of learning ethics, aspiring to and developing virtuous relationships to which Potter and Rif S. El-Mallakh inspire us.
Ethics Is About Both Shared and Divergent, Even Conflicting, Values
We may further learn by spotting a potential conceptual restriction to growing in our learning and practicing of ethics, specifically by being blinded by too narrow a view. The restrictive view confines ethics, or at least its emphasis, to the pursuit of what is right and good by common standards or shared values. The growth point in the learning, teaching, theorizing and practice of ethics is to account additionally but crucially for diversity of values, when for example they are legitimately conflicting,
The article by Potter and Rif S. El-Mallakh contains hints of too narrow a view, rather dominant in bioethics, which may conceptually foreclose growth in learning and practice of ethics. The hints are that ethics might be taken to be about the pursuit of good or right decisions by a "gold" standard, or if not this strong version, ethics should be undertaken so predominantly. The authors for example are generally pursuing "arriv[ing...