Virtuous soldiers: is the current ethical training sufficient for the United States Army or is a character development programme what soldiers and officers need?

Parsons, David Scott ORCID: 0000-0001-6839-0568 (2021). Virtuous soldiers: is the current ethical training sufficient for the United States Army or is a character development programme what soldiers and officers need? University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Recent years have seen a few academic studies on ‘morality and the military’. Some of those studies have attempted to measure moral reasoning while others constituted an intervention or a course evaluation, but none of the studies has involved both. This doctoral study is the first to evaluate the effectiveness of the coursework on a measure of moral reasoning at the intermediate-concept level. The aim of this thesis is to determine if the current ethical training for cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point has a significant effect on how they reason about and adjudicate moral issues. More specifically, the main research question is: ‘Does the ethical training for cadets in their required ethics and philosophy course at West Point have a significant effect on how they reason about moral issues?’ To achieve this aim, the research design needed to be a course evaluation to see if cadets would improve their moral reasoning after receiving instruction in normative ethical theories, specifically virtue ethics and just war theory. Before reporting on the empirical part of the study, the thesis critically reviews some of the relevant background literatures. The ethical theories reviewed include utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, and just war theory. Arguments are presented as to why adopting a virtue-and-character-based framework, as opposed to a rule- or consequence-based one, would be advisable for the military profession, specifically at a military academy. After reviewing the ethical theory, opportunities for ethical training at West Point and in the United States (US) Army are considered. Following this, an overview is given of six empirical studies that have focused on ethics and moral reasoning in a military setting. The ensuing empirical research involves an evaluation of a required philosophy and ethics class during the fall 2018 semester. The evaluation included 129 cadets of whom, 97 were male (75.2%) and 32 (24.8%) were female. The research measures used were an army-centric intermediate-concept measure (ICM), called the Army Reasoning and Ethical Training and Education Test (ARETE), the VIA Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS) and semi-structured interviews. Among several interesting findings in the study is that the female cadets performed better on the ARETE than the male cadets in a variety of ways. Female cadets start at a higher baseline in moral reasoning than do male cadets at roughly the same age. Further, while female cadets did improve after the coursework, male cadets remained stagnant in moral reasoning. A second conclusion is that cadets at West Point are not able to take ethical concepts and apply them to novel or complex dilemmas or situations without explicit instruction. A third conclusion is that cadets struggle to reason about the right action and justification when two or more virtues collide. Further, the cadets prioritise character traits that are not virtues and that might not lead to virtuous actions. These findings have implications for West Point and those other military academies trying to improve the moral reasoning of cadets, as well as more generally for the moral education undertaken in these institutions.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: School of Education
Funders: Other
Other Funders: Kern Family Foundation
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
L Education > L Education (General)
U Military Science > U Military Science (General)


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