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Why the Study of Ethics is Paramount to a Good College Education

Aug 18, 2007
The study of ethics is paramount to a good education. James Q. Wilson, in his commencement speech "Habits of the Heart" explains why ethics should be at the heart of every truly intelligent member of our American society. First, he very wisely points out that "intellectual virtue owes it's birth and growth to teaching, while moral virtue is the product of habit. . . and that good character is formed through repetition of right actions."

I have found this so true in my life, as I personally went through a phase in college, whereby a relationship failed, and as a result, I found myself turning away from God, yet never left him. As Wilson illustrates: "Ethics" comes from the Greek word "ethos" which means habit.

The reason I mentioned the relationship fallout is important to my discussion of why ethics is essential for a good education. After losing my girlfriend, I went through a time where my habits became less and less like the truly family-formed morals I had been brought up with. I even went to the point where I left church all together.

That said, I agree with Wilson, when he says that college is important to expanding your world and seeing it through a longer lens so to speak. However, I also agree with his premise that one has to see through this lens more fully and clearly.

Wilson goes on to discuss how drugs became a huge part of our society and how "intellectuals" are largely to blame for it. To my surprise, it was largely due to intellectuals who began using the substances to escape and discover new territory. These were largely the rich and affluent people who could afford to use them daily.

You see, when a person abandons his ethics, he or she is left open to the mind, and all that the minds wants, it often pursues and gets, even at the expense or defeat of others.

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about what impact my family has had upon my education. Everyone in my family, especially my mother, illustrated good morals and self-control. However, our family had a lot of dysfunction (like most families. I dare say) and even though my parents were good moral, God-fearing people, they sometimes had actions that were quite the opposite.

I do not wish to demean my family, of course, but just to point out that it has taken me time to realize, that although I was raised as a Christian, the "habits" or "ethics" of a truly Godly family--may not have always been there in the consistency that it should have been.

And I think that is Wilson's point when he says: "I thank the parents for paying for that college experience and for providing that family life that will enable you to sustain the delicate balance between humanity and intellectuality." It is a balance indeed. I think this is his point of the entire commencement speech.

We are given intellectuality as a gift, not to be abused, but to be utilized for God's glory, and for the advancement of others. If we allow our minds to control our actions, then we are truly in trouble. Why? Our minds are not reliable until they are trained, led by the spirit, and ultimately in tune with the mind of Christ. Christ gave us our intellectuality, our emotions, our need to explore every aspect of the universe. But he also given us mentors, family members, and the priesthood-the pastors and teachers that we serve under every Sunday.

Thus I believe the conclusion has to be this: "Love the lord thy God and love thy neighbor as thyself." The intellectual part of us must be let loose to explore, arise, and be heard. Familial values are probably a bit more important though, because only by them do we find self-control, right actions, and the choice to live by sound ethical values. Ultimately, Biblical values should be the guiding light of our lives. Sound ethical values are truly implemented when we live by the Words and Spirit of our Lord.
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