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The Neo-Socratic Dialogue (NSD): a method of teaching the ethics of sustainable development

Der Neo-Sokratische Dialog: eine Lehrmethode für ethische Fragen und nachhaltige Entwicklung
[collection article]

Littig, Beate

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Please use the following Persistent Identifier (PID) to cite this document:http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-5415

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Abstract Business enterprises are increasingly regarded as key actors of sustainable development. The development towards sustainable business is even more fostered by the spreading of business rankings based on corporate sustainability indexes, which assess the overall sustainable performance. But despite these trends the awareness of the necessary sustainability shift within business enterprises is rather moderate. At least to some extent this can be explained by the lack of instruments to teach sustainable development in business schools and in advanced business training. This holds especially true for the ethical questions of sustainability. This is amazing since the concept of sustainable development is strongly bound to moral principles (e.g. social justice, dignity of man, human rights, ethical concepts of a good life and of solidarity). Relying on these implicit principles sustainability indexes demand for sustainable products and services, for ecological management, for social reporting, for codes of conduct for suppliers, for equal rights and non-discrimination etc. Consequently some business enterprises have started to establish corporate value management to cope with theses challenges. Taking the ethical demands for sustainable corporate performance serious practising and teaching sustainability has to comprise ethical reflections on the relevant moral ideas for sustainable development, too. Thus this paper wants to put forward neo-Socratic dialogue (NSD) as a didactic method to teach fundamental ethical questions of sustainable development for business enterprises. A NSD is an inquiry into ideas, originally meant to find consensus on some topic through a joint deliberation and weighing-up of arguments. The dialogue aims at visioning, explaining values and clarifying fundamental concepts. It implies a systematic investigation of our assumptions, reasons and viewpoints, and a cooperative testing of their validity. In the dialogue participants attempt to formulate legitimate principles and develop a shared and inspiring perspective. A second aim of the NSD is to learn to have a dialogue instead of a discussion. This requires adequate command of a number of dialogical roles, skills and attitudes, especially suspending judgements and keeping a balance between taking position and resigning. Both aims are intimately connected to the development of strategy, organisational learning and knowledge management. The NSD has been successfully applied so far in medical ethics, university teaching, organisational learning, business ethics, as well as in primary education. A NSD is focussed on a single fundamental ethical question. A NSD is applied to a concrete experience of one of the participants that is accessible to all other participants. Systematic reflection upon this experience is accompanied by a search for shared judgments and underlying reasons for these. In the case of sustainable development examples for such fundamental questions are the following: What does it mean to conduct a good life? Is luxury unnecessary? What does participation in the context of business enterprises mean? How can business enterprises realize solidarity? What is basically Socratic in the NSD is the method of rigorous inquiry into the thoughts, concepts and values we hold as true. The NSD is a joint investigation into the assumptions we make when we formulate our thoughts. The proposed paper will give an overview on this method and its application for teaching ethical questions of sustainable development. The article will elaborate especially the business applications of NSD to teach sustainability. Besides describing the more theoretical background of NSD, the paper will present a case study of a NSD held with an interdisciplinary group of students studying sustainable development at the University of Vienna.
Keywords dialogue; teaching method; sustainable development; ethics; ethics instruction; enterprise; business ethics; subject didactics; morality; value-orientation; participation; solidarity
Classification Curriculum, Teaching, Didactics; Ecology, Environment; Philosophy, Ethics, Religion
Method descriptive study
Free Keywords Sokrates; sokratische Methode
Collection Title Teaching business sustainability : vol. 1, from theory to practice
Editor Galea, Chris
Document language English
Publication Year 2004
Publisher Greenleaf Publ.
City Sheffield
Page/Pages p. 240-252
ISBN 978-1-874719-54-0
Status Postprint; reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works
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