An Experiential, Game-Theoretic Pedagogy for Sustainability Ethics

Jathan Sadowski, Thomas Seager, Evan Selinger, Susan G. Spierre, Kyle P. Whyte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Scopus citations

Abstract

The wicked problems that constitute sustainability require students to learn a different set of ethical skills than is ordinarily required by professional ethics. The focus for sustainability ethics must be redirected towards: (1) reasoning rather than rules, and (2) groups rather than individuals. This need for a different skill set presents several pedagogical challenges to traditional programs of ethics education that emphasize abstraction and reflection at the expense of experimentation and experience. This paper describes a novel pedagogy of sustainability ethics that is based on noncooperative, game-theoretic problems that cause students to confront two salient questions: "What are my obligations to others?" and "What am I willing to risk in my own well-being to meet those obligations?" In comparison to traditional professional ethics education, the game-based pedagogy moves the learning experience from: passive to active, apathetic to emotionally invested, narratively closed to experimentally open, and from predictable to surprising. In the context of game play, where players must make decisions that can adversely impact classmates, students typically discover a significant gap between their moral aspirations and their moral actions. When the games are delivered sequentially as part of a full course in Sustainability Ethics, students may experience a moral identity crisis as they reflect upon the incongruity of their self-understanding and their behavior. Repeated play allows students to reconcile this discrepancy through group deliberation that coordinates individual decisions to achieve collective outcomes. It is our experience that students gradually progress through increased levels of group tacit knowledge as they encounter increasingly complex game situations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1323-1339
Number of pages17
JournalScience and engineering ethics
Volume19
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2013

Keywords

  • Ethics
  • Experiential pedagogy
  • Game theory
  • Group tacit knowledge
  • Professional ethics
  • Sustainability
  • Wicked problems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy
  • Management of Technology and Innovation

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