Stephen Walt has an interesting blog post over at Foreign Policy on the "Top ten things that would-be foreign policy wonks should study." It's basically a list of classic liberal arts education, which Walt acknowledges at the end. Underlining the list, down in tenth position, is ethics:
Universities teach classes on ethics, but apart from favoring free speech and opposing academic fraud, they don't endorse any particular ethical stance. So don't expect your college to teach you what is right or moral. Nonetheless, if you haven't figured these things out for yourself yet, college is a good time to get cracking on it. You'll meet lots of people with different views on this subject, and engaging with them will help you sort out where you stand. What's your view of the good or virtuous life? Where are the lines that shouldn't be crossed? How do you propose to handle the ethical tradeoffs that will inevitably greet you as you advance through life? And as you study, keep a sharp eye out for role models: which people strike you as admirable and worthy of emulation and which seem morally challenged? And on what basis did you decide?
Do you think that's a fair assessment, or should ethics be given more prominence? Top ten lists tend to be a catchy way of organizing information, but often their rankings are quite arbitrary. Something as important as ethics seems like it should be more of a parallel study for all the fields on Walt's list, not merely a footnote.
For more on this topic, we recommend Joel Rosenthal's basic course on ethics in international affairs.