1 Aristotle’s guidance on virtuous behaviour
It is difficult to discuss ethics for long without coming across references to guidance by Aristotle. Now that you have met a number of contemporary researchers and considered ethical choices in imaginary scenarios, this is a good time to highlight the relevance of Aristotle’s thinking to contemporary researchers.
Aristotle’s views on living a good life through finding a path between extremes, something he referred to as the Doctrine of the Mean (or the middle way) have been interpreted by MacFarlane (2009, 2010) as guidance for researchers in contemporary times. In the first activity, you will watch an animation to find out how virtues such as courage and sincerity should form part of a virtuous approach to research.
Activity 1 Identifying vices and virtues
Watch the animation for an overview of virtues and vices in relation to six stages of research.
Now sort these six stages of research into the correct order and place each one in the column on the left:
|Disseminating – through publication or performance|
|Generating – collecting data, ideas|
|Creating – related to results, interpretations, critiques and models or theoretical insights|
|Negotiating – gaining access, permissions, consent and support|
|Framing – setting questions or hypotheses|
|Reflecting – on personal learning about the process of research|
- Framing – setting questions or hypotheses
- Negotiating – gaining access, permissions, consent and support
- Generating – collecting data, ideas
- Creating – related to results, interpretations, critiques and models or theoretical insights
- Disseminating – through publication or performance
- Reflecting – on personal learning about the process of research
You might have found it hardest to place ‘Reflecting’ in order, because an ethical researcher should be reflecting throughout the research process.
Watch the animation in Part A again.
Then look at the lists below, of research activities related to the negotiating and creating phases of research.
Indicate whether you think the behaviour could represent an ethical virtue or unethical vice depending on the context. In each case the researcher has a choice.
You might have found it difficult to make a judgment. For example, for the negotiating activity, you might have found it most difficult to decide about the use of financial incentives. It is sometimes defensible to use incentives. Consider the following guidance from the British Educational Research Association ethical guidelines for educational research:
Researchers’ use of incentives to encourage participation should be commensurate with good sense, such that the level of incentive does not impinge on the free decision to participate. Payment for participation in educational research is generally discouraged, not least because of the extra burden of cost that the extension of this practice would place on the practice of research. The use of incentives should be acknowledged in any reporting of the research.
You will have a chance to think about this issue further in Activity 3 in relation to a particular research project.
It is not always straightforward to judge whether a behaviour or action is virtuous or would be considered a vice; a researcher needs to remain open to a range of actions and commit to being reflective about their merits in the specific context of the research they are leading.
Write notes on the following:
- Which of Aristotle’s concepts of virtues and vices add to your understanding of becoming an ethical researcher?
- Is there anything that puzzles you?
In the next section, you will look at how accountability to others matters in teamwork, and you will return to virtues and vices at the end of this session.