Developmental programming of ethical consciousness: impact on Bioscience Ethics Education and Learning

Irina Pollard

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Personal ethics are strongly influenced by emotions, particularly secondary emotions, because these emotions expand ethical reasoning and development as the child matures. A well-developed consciousness profoundly influences a person’s actions and conduct when solving problems of what is thought, or taught to be, right or wrong. Compelling neurological evidence supports the claim that children begin to develop enduring ethical standards at an early age and that these standards are largely based on the experiences of early childhood. Essentially, the innate sense of ethics requires nurturing during infancy before it can be cognitively understood and practiced in maturity. In biological terms, the development of neural networks that regulate emotional growth, and subsequently, the capacity for ethical discrimination, depends on the infant’s early social environment. Thus, the toddler’s early epigenetic experiences enhance, or impede, its innate still dormant genetic potential. Importantly, personal character development and ethical discrimination begins long before the child’s formal educational years. As a consequence, early learning has to discover ways of conserving adaptive thinking which can be applied to the choices that may confront future generations. Early ethics education, including accurate access to scientific, medical, and technological knowledge, is thus critical. Future generations will increasingly require education from a global perspective when making major ethical decisions in areas, such as nuclear technology, disposal of wastes, preservation of biodiversity, global warming, and unregulated human population growth. As long as our culture continues to reflect advances in science and technology, there is an obligation to make science education overlap with crucial periods in the advancement of ethical consciousness. Significantly, when considering the human capacity for excess at times of conflict, it is incumbent on the scientific community to integrate research-based knowledge with wide-ranging learning and problem-solving skills. Bioscience ethics, the established interface bridging applied science and applied bioethics, can assist in this process of integration. To become fully responsible adults, we must share our extraordinary cognitive talents and respect life on earth in all its rich diversity. In biological terms, human uniqueness resides primarily in our brains with its products being co-operation in family and ancestral units, long education, sophisticated language and culture, and importantly, ethical consciousness—all attributes held in trust by knowledge and wisdom for future generations.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)431-442
    Number of pages12
    JournalPhilosophy study
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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