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Values and Norms: Don’t "Teach", Encourage Independent Acquisition!

By Gerhard Kruip

Gerhard Kruip explains why ethical competence is indispensable for military personnel. Firstly, as a result of individualization, the individual’s moral awareness is increasingly important, and secondly, expectations concerning the moral judgement of “citizens in uniform” are generally high. Kruip believes that this conflict between subjectivity and the claim to universal validity of moral norms can be resolved from a cognitivist perspective: only a rationally justifiable morality can be acknowledged as right by each individual and at the same time by all. In other words, the justification must not rely solely on the individuals themselves, or on traditions or authorities.

From this starting point, one can sketch out the dimensions of ethical competence. The first of these, according to the author, is a cognitive, argumentative dimension. It consists of the ability to examine norms to determine whether they are right, as well as to analyze specific situations and the moral legitimacy of actions. The author outlines various suitable methods. However, it is essential that these partial competences be complemented by emotional and motivational aspects – in a sense, the “moral drive” that precedes any reflection.

This moral drive depends on internalization through the setting of examples, encouragement and recognition; classroom teaching of content and methods will not help to develop it. The corresponding learning processes should be based on “open communication oriented toward understanding, without coercion or discrimination”. Especially in an organization like the Bundeswehr that is strictly regimented and subject to everyday practical constraints, Kruip argues that it is important to create and enlarge islands of freedom to allow reflection on ethical issues away from day-to-day pressures of the job.

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