Ethical Reasoning and Critical Thinking: Some Thoughts from FHSU’s Department of Philosophy

Throughout the process of re-thinking our liberal and general education curriculum, faculty have the opportunity to contribute to the conversation.  That input has taken many forms.  Faculty have participated in the open forum, attended sessions of the listening tour, responded to this week’s survey, shared their thoughts with members of the committee, and engaged with this blog.  Today we welcome insights from the Department of Philosophy regarding Ethical Reasoning and Critical Thinking.  In this guest post, the department shares some language they would like the campus community to consider as well as some resources that may help guide further discussion.  Here is their post:


The Department of Philosophy believes that it is the responsibility of each department at FHSU to offer its expertise, when relevant, in assisting the Liberal Education Committee in their task of developing the objectives and student learning outcomes of our new Liberal Education program.

In our case, the relevant areas are Critical Thinking and Ethical Reasoning. To the end of assisting the Liberal Education Committee in developing these components of the new program, our department has been engaged in examining the Lumina Foundation’s DQP and the AAC&U’s LEAP proposals with an eye towards evaluating the statements in each that relate to critical thinking and ethics. It is our view that, in both sets of documents, there are important items that are either specified too vaguely or left out entirely. We are in the process of drafting language for objectives in both areas.

We have formulated a draft of the Ethical Reasoning objective, including three student learning outcomes, and we attach it below. In working on this draft, we have attempted to blend our own work and wording with that of the statement released by the Liberal Education Committee in last Thursday’s blog post. We believe this new draft to capture, in simple language with an eye toward assessment, proficiencies that should be required of any graduate of Fort Hays State University. We encourage interested readers to study this document and send us feedback.

We are also in the process of finishing a draft of the Critical Thinking objective. Our version of this objective is heavily influenced by, and draws primarily from Peter A. Facione et al., “Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction” (American Philosophical Association, 1990) also known as “The Delphi Report” on critical thinking. The model of critical thinking developed in the Delphi Report has a lot going for it: it is the product of years of interdisciplinary work from experts across various departments in the humanities and the sciences, it is more explicit and more detailed regarding what constitutes critical thinking than DQP or LEAP, and it was developed and formulated with a focus on assessment. Below are links both to a summary of the Delphi Report and to the full document. Interested readers may study the summary in order to get an idea of what the Department of Philosophy’s proposal for Critical Thinking objective will look like. We plan to have a draft of our Critical Thinking objective completed by early next week.

In conclusion, let us all to do what we can to aid the Liberal Education Committee in their important work. The more seriously we take this, the better the result will be.

[FHSU Philosophy Department Proposed “Ethical Reasoning” Student Learning Outcomes] – see below

[Delphi Report – Executive Summary] –
[Delphi Report – complete] –



Ethical reasoning is thinking that aims at determining what the right thing to do is, all things considered. It involves thinking well about core personal beliefs, apparent duties to oneself and to others, practical deliberation, respect for persons, traits of character, religious aspirations, legal considerations, and harm/benefit analysis, among other things.

While achieving proficiency in ethical reasoning is the work of a lifetime, the FHSU student who successfully completes the Liberal Education program at the Bachelor’s degree level should at least be able to:

(1) describe, in detail and in writing, situations, in areas such as private life, business, health care, politics, applied science, and the arts, where reasonable, well-informed people disagree about what the right thing to do is;

(2) explain, in detail and in writing, the underlying values that are in apparent tension in these situations, bringing to bear relevant ethical theories and principles; and

(3) respond intelligently to these situations, in detail and in writing, providing well-reasoned arguments that either resolve the underlying tensions, find one of the competing considerations decisive, or explain why it remains unclear what ought to be done.

These three student learning outcomes should be understood as an application of the core intellectual skills identified in the Liberal Education program’s Critical Thinking Objective.



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