Journal of Military Learning

Foundational Theories and Approaches to Ethics Education within the U.S. Military

A Literature ReviewPeer-Review

Stephanie K. Erwin

Leslie Kirsch

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The U.S. military faces significant challenges in addressing ethics learning due to the size, diversity, and complexity of the services. The issues are confounded by the large differences between the individual services and the wide range of demographics of their members. Further, ethical failures for the military are particularly damaging due to public scrutiny by media and external expectations of a higher moral standard. This literature review explores the theories and approaches used by the U.S. military in addressing the challenges of articulating, communicating, and training service members to act in accordance with the services’ values. Limitations and gaps in the existing research will be discussed. Given that the U.S. military’s driver for ethics education is a need for consistent action from its members, not consistent cognition, our focus is on approaches and methods that are expected to result in behavioral changes related to moral reasoning (i.e., applied military ethics). The authors present discussion of the underlying philosophies of ethics education influencing the selection of associated educational approaches, articulate the approaches in use by U.S. military educators, and conclude with an analysis of what gaps remain in the literature and associated implications for future study.


Modern warfare, due to its asymmetric nature, raises new challenges for the human resource development function and adult learning in military services. Among these challenges is the need to ensure that the services’ ethical values are conveyed, developed, and internalized by individual service members and civilian employees. The U.S. military faces significant challenges in broadly addressing ethics learning issues due to its size, complexity, diversity among the individual services, and wide range of demographics of its members. Further, ethical failures for the military are particularly damaging due to the public scrutiny via media, expectation for a higher moral standard, and determination that the military will remain subordinate to its civilian leadership. “America is vulnerable to the moral failings of its military commanders, whose injustice, indifference, impatience, or intolerance toward others peoples would secure us deep enmity and shame, shredding the last remnants of our leadership and moral authority.”1 High profile examples of ethics failures in the U.S. military such as the My Lai massacre, the Tailhook assaults, and the Abu Ghraib abuses illustrate the potential costs to the global reputation of the American Armed Forces and the criticality of strong ethical development in service members of all ranks. To this day, significant ethical failures by the U.S. military are highly subject to public scrutiny, as illustrated by the recent Fat Leonard corruption scandal.2 This literature review explores the learning theories and approaches used by the U.S. military in addressing the challenge of conveying and developing organizational ethics, including limitations and gaps in the existing research.


The purpose of this study is to characterize the learning theories and approaches utilized by the U.S. military for ethics development by asking, What theories describe and inform the learning approaches used by the U.S. military to convey organizational values related to military ethics and the relative efficacy of these approaches? Are there significant variations between the services? What alternative theories might potentially be applied to military ethics education? What gaps emerge in understanding the U.S. military’s ethical learning approaches and what are the implications for future research? For purposes of this review, we define the U.S. military to consist of the U.S. Army, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

There is no single accepted definition of military ethics; for the purposes of this review, we have used a definition of military ethics applicable to the U.S. military context: “those qualities of moral character that impel individual citizens to accept the civic obligation to prepare for, support, and fight well in defense of the republic, with a moral code congruent with the oath to support and defend the Constitution.”3 Further, there is no single accepted method or approach for transferring and developing ethical values, with competing conceptions provided by the disciplines of moral philosophy, behavioral psychology, education, and others. Given that the U.S. military’s driver for ethics education is a need for consistent action from its members, not consistent cognition, the focus herein lies on approaches and methods that are expected to result in behavioral changes related to moral reasoning, such as applied military ethics.


To identify potentially relevant literature, the authors conducted a keyword search in four academic and peer-reviewed databases related to either education or the military: Education Source, EBSCO, GWU ArticlesPlus, and the Military & Government Collection. The authors used varying combinations of the search terms education, training, military ethics, ethics, and military. The results were subsequently reviewed to determine whether they were responsive to the research question, removing sources not relevant to the U.S. context or that did not deal with ethics education or an associated theory. Ultimately, the authors identified sixteen publications that (1) were set within the U.S. military context and (2) related specifically to ethics education or training. This review does not offer a specific theoretical perspective on U.S. military ethics education; rather, it seeks to explore the literature to identify foundational educational approaches in use and the learning theories or philosophies that may underlie these approaches as well as gaps in the literature.

This review is organized in three main sections. First, we present discussion of the underlying philosophies of ethics education influencing the selection of associated educational approaches, including acknowledgment of the differences between military and civilian ethics education. Second, we articulate the approaches in use by U.S. military educators as well as the criticisms of these approaches offered by researchers in the field. This includes the challenges present in the military ethics education literature regarding each approach in the U.S. military context, with a focus on ethical action versus ethical judgment. Finally, we conclude with an analysis of what gaps remain in the literature and associated implications for future study.

Philosophies and Theories Influencing U.S. Military Ethics Education

Ethics education, including military ethics education, draws influences both from theories of ethics and theories of learning. In the U.S. military context, there is debate as to whether the goal of the services’ ethics education should be to generally increase the moral judgment/action of the individual, or to convey a set of values specific to the military context. As Paul Robinson succinctly puts it, “are the ethics required of a soldier in his or her role (role morality) the same as those required of a civilian (ordinary morality)?”4 He argues that in the modern military, wherein an unethical action at any level by any service member can destroy public support for a mission, there is no longer a gap between civilian and military ethics; this view is disputed by Bradley C. S. Watson, who instead argues that military ethics will always be “at least in some measure of tension” with civilian ethics and virtues.5 Further, Evan H. Offstein et al. observed at the United States Military Academy that this tension affected the philosophies of learning used, in that leadership sought to increase the opportunities for ethical failures among cadets to provide real-life learning opportunities, whereas in most civilian settings, clear efforts are made to reduce opportunities for failure.6

Seemingly heedless of the philosophical debate on differences between military and civilian ethics, U.S. military ethics trainers and instructors state that they believe the purpose of formal ethics training to be the development of individuals who have internalized values as to what is right (from the U.S. military’s perspective) and can act on these values even in the face of contrary orders or peer pressure.7 Aristotelean virtue ethics provide that this type of moral action will occur if an individual is instilled with a set of virtues that are associated with good character. While Aristotle’s moral virtues may not be the same virtues prized by the U.S. military, virtue ethics as a philosophy does not specify which virtues must be instilled or their definitions.8

Social Learning

According to Robinson, social learning theory may dominate when the service believes that formal training is unnecessary and instead interprets organizational values as being conveyed through “unseen and gradual influences.”9 He also notes two major challenges to the efficacy of this approach: one from the existence of preservice values in the individual, and one from the potential for an elitist view of ethical superiority over the general public to emerge. Social learning theory would also seem to align with the virtue ethics philosophy, in that the installation of character is primarily conveyed through modeling and instruction. Many U.S. service academies have explicitly espoused Aristotle as the primary influence of their ethics education programs.10 However, social learning theory would also suggest that considerable instillation of values occurs prior to entering the military; in Watson’s view, “one is habituated to virtuous behavior over the course of one’s entire life, until such behavior becomes automatic.”11 Indeed, James H. Toner observes that “ethics will be caught more often than it is taught” in the military.12 There is also evidence that the rites and rituals common to any organization are a source of ethical development through social learning for attendees at the service academies; Offstein et al. suggest that at West Point at least some portion of the rituals they observed were purposefully crafted to this end.13

Moral Cognitive Development

As a contrasting philosophy of learning specific to ethics, in the Kohlberg model of moral development, individuals move through up to six stages of cognitive development regarding moral problems; these stages occur in order, and an individual might not progress through all stages over a lifetime.14 At the first two stages, the notion of right is mostly determined based on strength and avoidance of punishment; at the middle two stages, by laws, societal norms, and avoidance of loss or reputation; at the top two stages, by notions of universal principles.15 In this model, moral development (i.e., progression through these stages) is often facilitated through the use of moral dilemmas or conflicts.16 For trainers aiming to develop service members who are able to act upon their values in the face of a contrary order, it is not surprising to see Kohlberg as a major influence. For instance, Eva Wortel and Jolanda Bosch state that the purpose of military ethics training is to strengthen moral competence, which they define as “the ability and willingness to carry out tasks adequately and carefully, with due regard for all the affected interested, based on a reasonable analysis of the relevant facts.”17 A “reasonable analysis” being the endpoint of ethics training is consistent with Kohlberg’s theory, which emphasizes moral judgment. Kohlberg’s theory is at odds with the virtue ethics approach, which he explicitly criticized as being insufficient to resolve conflicts between values. Kohlberg’s criticism has been echoed in the military context by others.18 Further, Kohlberg’s focus on moral judgment has been criticized as being insufficiently linked to moral action.19

Approaches to U.S. Military Ethics Education

Turning philosophy and theory into grounded functional and practical applications is not only challenging but also cause for a multitude of interpretations and approaches aimed at enhancing ethical decision-making amongst service members. As Michael Hallett puts it, “discerning, while in the shadows, the ethically appropriate action requires robust competency development.”20 Founded on the theories and philosophies described above, three principal approaches have generally been reflected in U.S. military ethics education: critical thinking, consequentiality, and deontology. While all approaches agree that ethical development is a necessity for military service, how that aim is achieved varies profoundly. Matthew Beard notes that “what remains to be seen is what form it should take in order to achieve this goal.”21 These distinct approaches reflect the inherent assumptions for both ethics and military service contained within.

Critical Thinking-Aligned Approaches

Critical thinking approaches have been the predominant method utilized by the U.S. military. This approach focuses on the individual service members and their evolution as critical and ethical thinkers by developing a foundation of critical thinking capability and ethical dilemma experience to expand cognition. This is generally accomplished through a comprehensive educational experience incorporating case studies or “sea stories,” ethical theory reading and background, collective discussion, and a personal mastery attained by the instructor or trainer, through train-the-trainer.22 Deane-Peter Baker provides a strong example of this style of exercise at the U.S. Naval Academy, wherein theory of the week ethics classes for cadets are jointly taught by civilian moral philosophy experts and military instructors with command experience. He names this exercise “ethical triangulation,” wherein multiple ethical philosophies are applied to real-life scenarios.23 Offstein et al. also found strong evidence of independent triple-loop learning among West Point cadets, wherein these cadets consciously reflected on deep-seated assumptions impacting ethical decision-making; this reflection was found to occur in social interactions between cadets outside of formal classrooms.24

Proponents of this approach espouse critical thinking as the first step for those with no other moral grounding in developing personal ethics. Developing moral and ethical foundations by learning “to reason wisely and well” enables decision makers to approach each unique situation with the ability to determine the most ethical course of action regardless of precedent.25 The challenges of combat and ever-changing military environments demand “robust competency development.”26 Toner utilizes the “sword and shield” concept to illustrate virtue ethics and critical thinking as a means to safeguard service members from the harsh realities of war and thereby remove any prospective ethical failures.27 Furthermore, the development of critical thinking as a virtue supposes that character is essential for its own sake; a virtuous soldier is a virtuous person.28

Certainly, virtue ethics and critical thinking-aligned approaches have been the predominant underpinning for U.S. military ethics education, yet by no means is this a universally accepted standard. Detractors enumerate several prospective flaws in this approach, including the requirement for a service member to clearly grasp ethics and the ability to exercise effective critical thinking, as well as assuming critical thinking skills as simply a by-product of higher education and therefore easily instilled in such environments.29 This need for higher education enables the susceptibility to elitism, where only the officer corps (those required to obtain such advanced degrees) are presupposed as capable of critical thinking and therefore ethical decision-making.30 Further, in a virtue ethics system, which virtues or values take precedence in competing situations is at the discretion of the individual and/or service.31 Each military service has identified a finite list of values by which it inspires and informs its constituents, and each service’s values differ from the others. Furthermore, Roger Wertheimer warns that such personal interpretations are intrinsically susceptible to perversion by politics, public opinion, and personal bias (moral relativism or subjectivism).32

Consequentiality-Aligned Approaches

The consequentialist approach utilizes an objective, heuristic, practical model as a foundation for developing methodologies for instruction. Often reflected in the use of compliance lists, rote memorization, and pocket checklists, the consequentialist approach focuses on codified laws, rules, and regulations as determinants for ethical decision-making, thereby removing the individual’s subjective cognition from the equation with the purpose of providing ethically consistent action. This approach focuses on the consequences in decision-making (i.e., the ends versus the means), addressing both individual rule-breaking decisions as well as larger professional ethical dilemmas.33 It is generally inculcated via classroom lectures, rote memorization, repetition, behavior modification, and conditioning.34 This approach presents a faster, mass approach to developing ethical behavior within the services. Pocket checklists for ethical behavior remove the individual from the equation, thereby eliminating any supposed hidden osmosis and personal interpretations of situations, built from an assumption that “a professional military ethic must be objective.”35 The removal of individual subjective interpretations hearkens to the rules-based utilitarian moral philosophy that ethical decisions are evaluated on their expected favorable and unfavorable results.36 From a professional standpoint, the Uniform Code of Military Justice and other military rules and regulations provide clear sanctions for ethical failures.37 As for the pedagogical and andragogical perspectives, this approach views senior leadership and training as a method by which teachers or trainers are expected to convey knowledge and experience. Offstein et al. articulate the primary purpose of approaching ethical training from a consequentialist approach as being to provide ethical clarity in times of personal and professional confusion, particularly in high-stress environments such as combat.38

Critics of consequentialist approaches argue that such reliance on rules and regulations limits the moral and character development of service members. Kenneth Williams maintains that ethical, moral, and character development require dialogue, interactions, personal investment, and practice resolving ethical dilemmas that cannot be enabled via the presumption of black-and-white answers to ethical dilemmas.39 Watson argues that “there are universal obligations that are nonsubjective, nonrelative, but they may conflict with one another; how these obligations are to be obeyed depends on the circumstances.”40 This presumption of simplistic moral absolutes fails to reflect ethical dilemmas involving competing values, ethical judgment, and experience and assumes an inability amongst service members to demonstrate critical thinking. Considering Kohlberg’s model of moral development, the consequentialist approach risks failing to develop service members who act ethically regardless of conflicting dictates and will not enable service members to make ethical decisions when in conflict with orders or peer pressure.41 Service members may find themselves asking if the ethical decision is worth the cost demanded by a superior or comrades. This cost analysis may result in an action contrary to the service’s intended moral calculus.

Deontologically Aligned Approaches

Deontological perspectives impose a focus on honor, duty, and purpose. “Duty ethics implies we should be able to stand by the decisions we make with a sense of integrity and commitment, regardless of the consequences.”42 This functional approach, which assumes an inability for critical thinking, redirects to focus on the naturally collectivist nature of the Armed Forces. This reinforcement of the collective ideals over individualism utilizes exhortations to act in accordance with the integrity and character of the archetypal soldier, sailor, airman, marine, or coast guardsman. Situation-specific challenges are recognized; therefore, a set standard of behavioral responses is not provided. Members are encouraged to view ethical dilemmas from the lens of their service archetype rather than their own individual ethical decision-making—for example, “Be a Marine.” This approach utilizes archetypal ideals and reinforcement of the concepts of honor and integrity.43 The foundational aspect of this approach lies in the notion of honor as a key virtue of service, wherein “the high-minded person is concerned with the greatest of external goods—honor.”44 Betrayal of this archetypal honorable ideal is considered a shameful act. Utilization of this concept as an ethical foundation enables services to hold their members to a set standard while still reflecting unique situational experiences, action and cognition.45 A relative one-size-fits-all concept of honor is therefore intended to protect “the soul of the military profession.”46 Beard, and Wortel and Bosch state that this honor-bound component enables service members to evaluate ethical dilemmas regardless of legality and, if necessary, in direct conflict with a superior’s orders.47 To do the right thing is in keeping with a nebulous warrior’s code. Additionally, this approach removes the requirement for virtuous people because it only requires virtuous soldiers. John W. Brinsfield references Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who argues that soldiers need only be virtuous in so far as they keep to their duty (regardless of personal virtue).48 The vices they exhibit in their personal lives, such as alcoholism or adultery, are irrelevant to their duty and honor as a soldier, sailor, airman, marine, or coast guardsman: a significantly more realistic portrayal of the expectations service members might be held to in defense of their Nation.

As with the previous approaches, deontologically aligned approaches have their share of denigrators. Robinson notes that this approach makes the supposition that instilling the rank and file (namely, enlisted) with moral philosophy is a waste of time and effort, compounding a belief of critical-thinking inability.49 Furthermore, this approach presumes that within the U.S. military, or at the very least within each service, there exists a firm and cohesive perception of the honor-bound archetype, allowing for no variance in the discernment of what it means to be a soldier, sailor, airman, marine, or coast guardsman.

Challenges in U.S. Military Ethics Education

Regardless of the approach to ethics education utilized, there exist several overarching limitations facing U.S. military ethics educators. The U.S. military exists as a rules-based compliance organization and, as such, ethics education is approached from a doctrinal perspective where one size fits all. This need for one best answer exacerbates the divisions amongst proponents of the aforementioned approaches as to which provides the appropriate means to develop ethical decision-making. Determining which approach best meets the needs of military service is met with the challenge of measurement. While ethical failures are often high-profile, ethical dilemmas met with success are difficult to identify and subject to causal interpretation through the lens of any of the described approaches. Further, when faced with ethical dilemmas, it is difficult to determine whether personal ethical development or military-instilled ideals resulted in any given action. Finally, the extenuating circumstances military service members face, particularly in combat, are fundamentally difficult to reproduce in a learning environment and therefore compound obstacles in measurement.

Debates abound as to what can be taught versus what is ingrained (learned prior to service). Military service gets “a microcosm of America, good, bad, and indifferent.”50 Toner, an experienced military ethics trainer himself, argues that U.S. military ethics education too often fails to acknowledge that service members come equipped with preexisting values.51 From his perspective, the approaches used presume the need to build from the bottom up, as though the service members are a blank slate. He argues that effective ethics training can only occur if we presume that service members already have the capability of ethical judgment and some ability to differentiate between right and wrong. He does note, however, that we cannot assume that they will have superior ethical judgment after training.

There is also some debate as to whether the ethics construct of the good man is a valid one, or whether virtue is inherently situational and dependent on external factors. This provides an obvious challenge for U.S. military ethics education, particularly that which is heavily influenced by Aristotelean virtue ethics. However, George R. Mastroianni cautions against overreliance on situational ethics in the development of service members, in that it leads to a perception that the situation is responsible for an ethics failure, thereby absolving the individual.52 He also recognizes that ethics training for service members must consider the stress of combat situations and attempt to counter it; his suggestion is a greater emphasis by military leaders on visibly modeling ethical behavior and the construction of environments to build muscle memory for all service members. Offstein et al. describe this same concept in West Point’s policy of increasing opportunities for temptation to increase ego strength by continuous resistance.53 The learning goal is thereby transformed from the installation of a specific virtue to the building of an ethical reflex, which is strong enough to engage even under the heavy pressure of a military environment.


Considering the size and complexity of the U.S. military, in approaching this review, the authors were cognizant of the potential for differences to exist between the services. Ultimately, while we did not find significant differences, of the ten empirical studies reviewed, we note that five dealt with the U.S. Army; no other service had more than two related studies, and the U.S. Marine Corps had none. This suggests the possibility that if differences do, in fact, exist between the services, in educational philosophies, teaching approaches, or their resulting efficacy, additional empirical studies specific to each service would need to be undertaken to identify said differences. Given the popularity of surveys as the methodological approach taken in the research reviewed, we wonder what potentially interesting results might be revealed by extending these same surveys to additional services. Furthermore, given the unique nature, size, and mission, as well as its separation from the Department of Defense into the Department of Homeland Security, we also wondered if the U.S. Coast Guard should be analyzed as uniquely different from the other military services, or does military service encompass any combat-ready uniformed service?

As described above, the bulk of research in U.S. military ethics education is targeted toward the service academies, the primary entry point to military service for many future officers. However, it is just as compelling to consider how the ethical values conveyed during initial entry to service are reinforced and evolve over the course of an entire military career. Further, there may be significant differences in the theories and approaches used in continuing ethics education, especially considering the demographic differences between the young adult entrants and the older career service men and women. For instance, as noted above, there is a clear Kohlbergian influence on service academy ethics education; however, the ultimate Stage Six ethical judgments posed by Kohlberg’s developmental model are not necessarily consistent with the ethical values espoused by the U.S. military (which generally holds a Stage Five utilitarian orientation) and, therefore, may be less philosophically appropriate with increases in rank. Hence, it may be that postentry ethical training and development activities are less commonly rooted in a Kohlbergian developmental philosophy—a hypothesis that would need to be confirmed by empirical study.

Finally, we noted that the studies presented focused heavily on the ethics training of U.S. military officers versus the enlisted ranks. This contextual focus by researchers likely stems from the assumption that the officer corps is the bastion of military professionalism and thereby ethical decision-making. Watson notes that officers are generally considered a profession, in contrast to enlisted men and women; professionalization brings with it a notion of professional ethics, often conveyed through formal codes and training mechanisms.54 Indeed, the Uniform Code of Military Justice includes a legal violation titled “conduct unbecoming,” specifically reinforcing this notion that to behave ethically as a representative of the military is a mandate of military professionalism, yet the law only applies to officers.55 This focus on the ethics training of officers is not unexpected, given that the service academies are an obvious site of professionalization with formal ethics training programs available for study, and a result of the expectation that officers are responsible for instilling values in the enlisted ranks. However, there may be considerable value in studying the methods by which ethical norms are instilled in the enlisted ranks, including study into the efficacy and consistency of value transfer from the officer corps and senior enlisted.


Providing service members with the tools and knowledge to navigate the unique ethical dilemmas faced in military service is imperative to maintaining the national confidence in the professionalization of the U.S. military. As Hallett puts it, “warriors must conduct ethical decision-making … in poorly illuminated ethical environments, characterized by chaotic situations in which individuals must deal with other impassioned individuals through the filter of their own passions.”56 While many of the foundational theories and philosophies that inform military ethics education are universally appreciated, the method and approach by which these are practically applied is still deeply contested. Regardless of the approach, service members are still held to the highest of ethical standards and are both expected and exhorted to act in accordance with them.


  1. Roger Wertheimer, “The Morality of Military Ethics Education,” in Empowering Our Military Conscience: Transforming Just War Theory and Military Moral Education, ed. Wertheimer (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2010), 255.
  2. In 1968, during the Vietnam War, U.S. Army troops massacred unarmed civilians in the village of My Lai. In 1991, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps officers allegedly sexually harassed and assaulted more than one hundred fellow officers at the Tailhook Association Symposium held annually in Las Vegas. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, circa 2003, U.S. Army and Central Intelligence Agency members were found to have committed human rights violations against detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison. For further details on the Fat Leonard scandal, see Craig Whitlock, “Admiral, Seven Others Charged with Corruption in New ‘Fat Leonard’ Indictment,” The Washington Post, 14 March 2017.
  3. David K. Hart, David W. Hart, and Rebecca Nesbit, “Martial Virtue: Civic Humanism as a Groundwork for American Military Ethics,” Administration & Society 43, no. 5 (2011): 490, doi:10.1177/0095399711413711.
  4. Paul Robinson, “Ethics Training and Development in the Military,” Parameters 37, no. 1 (2007): 24.
  5. Bradley C. S. Watson, “The Western Ethical Tradition and the Morality of the Warrior,” Armed Forces & Society 26, no. 1 (1999): 66, doi:10.1177/0095327x9902600104.
  6. Evan H. Offstein et al., “Reconciling Competing Tensions in Ethical Systems: Lessons from the United States Military Academy at West Point,” Group & Organization Management 37, no. 5 (2012): 617–54, doi:10.1177/1059601112456594.
  7. Robinson, “Ethics Training and Development”; Deane-Peter Baker, “Making Good Better: A Proposal for Teaching Ethics at the Service Academies,” Journal of Military Ethics 11, no. 3 (2012): 208–22, doi:10.1080/15027570.2012.738502.
  8. Kenan Malik, The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2014), 36; Christopher Toner, “Military Service as a Practice: Integrating the Sword and Shield Appr Military Ethics,” Journal of Military Ethics 5, no. 3 (2006): 183–200, doi:10.1080/15027570600911993.
  9. Robinson, “Ethics Training and Development,” 25.
  10. Robinson, “Ethics Training and Development,” 25; J. Joseph Miller, “Squaring the Circle: Teaching Philosophical Ethics in the Military,” Journal of Military Ethics 3, no. 3 (2004): 199–216, doi:10.1080/15027570410006219.
  11. Albert Bandura, Social Learning Theory (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1977); Watson, “The Western Ethics Tradition,” 68.
  12. James H. Toner, “Mistakes in Teaching Ethics,” Airpower Journal 12, no. 2 (Summer 1998): 47.
  13. Offstein et al., “Reconciling Competing Tensions in Ethical Systems.”
  14. Lawrence Kohlberg, Essays on Moral Development, Volume One: The Philosophy of Moral Development (New York: Harper & Row, 1981).
  15. Kohlberg, Essays on Moral Development, 72.
  16. Kenneth R. Williams, “An Assessment of Moral and Character Education in Initial Entry Training (IET),” Journal of Military Ethics 9, no. 1 (2010): 41–56, doi:10.1080/15027570903523107.
  17. Eva Wortel and Jolanda Bosch, “Strengthening Moral Competence: a ‘Train the Trainer’ Course on Military Ethics,” Journal of Military Ethics 10, no. 1 (2011): 17, doi:10.1080/15027570.2011.562372.
  18. Robinson, “Ethics Training and Development,” 31.
  19. James Rest et al., Postconventional Moral Thinking: A Neo-Kohlbergian Approach (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999), 10.
  20. Michael Hallett, “Cultivating Sailor Ethical Fitness,” Naval War College Review 69, no. 4 (2016): 97.
  21. Matthew Beard, “Virtuous Soldiers: A Role for the Liberal Arts?,” Journal of Military Ethics 13, no. 3 (2014): 288, doi:10.1080/15027570.2014.977546.
  22. Beard, “Virtuous Soldiers,” 288; Baker, “Making Good Better”; Wortel and Bosch, “Strengthening Moral Competence”; John W. Brinsfield, “Army Values and Ethics: A Search for Consistency and Relevance,” Parameters 28, no. 3 (1998): 69–84; Watson, “The Western Ethics Tradition”; Silvana Ianinska and Jean-Claude Garcia-Zamor, “Morals, Ethics, and Integrity: How Codes of Conduct Contribute to Ethical Adult Education Practice,” Public Organization Review 6, no. 1 (2006): 3–20.
  23. Baker, “Making Good Better,” 213.
  24. Offstein et al., “Reconciling Competing Tensions in Ethical Systems.”
  25. Toner, “Mistakes in Teaching Ethics,” 4.
  26. Hallett, “Cultivating Sailor Ethical Fitness,” 97.
  27. Toner, “Military Service as a Practice.”
  28. Robinson, “Ethics Training and Development,” 25.
  29. Baker, “Making Good Better.”
  30. Robinson, “Ethics Training and Development.”
  31. Brinsfield, “Army Values and Ethics,” 69–84; Robinson, “Ethics Training and Development.”
  32. Wertheimer, “The Morality of Military Ethics Education.”
  33. Hallett, “Cultivating Sailor Ethical Fitness”; Ianinska and Garcia-Zamor, “Morals, Ethics, and Integrity”; George R. Mastroianni, “The Person-Situation Debate: Implications for Military Leadership and Civilian-Military Relations,” Journal of Military Ethics 10, no. 1 (2011): 2–16, doi:10.1080/15027570.2011.561636; Miller, “Squaring the Circle”; Offstein et al., “Reconciling Competing Tensions in Ethical Systems”; Watson, “The Western Ethics Tradition.”
  34. Williams, “An Assessment of Moral and Character Education.”
  35. Miller, “Squaring the Circle,” 201.
  36. Ianinska and Garcia-Zamor, “Morals, Ethics, and Integrity,” 11.
  37. Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. § 801-946 (2012); Hallett, “Cultivating Sailor Ethical Fitness,” 93.
  38. Offstein et al., “Reconciling Competing Tensions in Ethical Systems.”
  39. Williams, “An Assessment of Moral and Character Education.”
  40. Watson, “The Western Ethics Tradition,” 69.
  41. Robinson, “Ethics Training and Development.”
  42. Ianinska and Garcia-Zamor, “Morals, Ethics, a 69.nd Integrity,” 10.
  43. Beard, “Virtuous Soldiers”; Brinsfield, “Army Values and Ethics”; Ianinska and Garcia-Zamor, “Morals, Ethics, and Integrity”; Mastroianni, “The Person-Situation Debate”; Offstein et al., “Reconciling”; Watson, “The Western Ethics Tradition.”
  44. Watson, “The Western Ethics Tradition,” 58.
  45. Offstein et al., “Reconciling Competing Tensions in Ethical Systems”; Toner, “Military Service as a Practice.”
  46. Brinsfield, “Army Values and Ethics,” 73.
  47. Beard, “Virtuous Soldiers"; Wortel and Bosch, “Strengthening Moral Competence.”
  48. Brinsfield, “Army Values and Ethics.”
  49. Robinson, “Ethics Training and Development.”
  50. Offstein et al., “Reconciling Competing Tensions in Ethical Systems,” 627.
  51. Toner, “Mistakes in Teaching Ethics."
  52. Mastroianni, “The Person-Situation Debate."
  53. Offstein et al., “Reconciling Competing Tensions in Ethical Systems."
  54. Watson, “The Western Ethics Tradition,” 68.
  55. Uniform Code of Military Justice.
  56. Hallett, “Cultivating Sailor Ethical Fitness,” 96.


Stephanie K. Erwin is a doctoral student at the George Washington University studying human and organizational learning. Her area of research focuses on military leadership and culture. She holds an MA in security studies from the Naval Postgraduate School. Erwin served as a naval aviator for fourteen years. Her assignments include tours in Italy and Bahrain and multiple deployments in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

Leslie Kirsch is a principal at the public accounting firm of WithumSmith+Brown in Washington, D.C., specializing in antifraud and organizational ethics interventions. She is a doctoral student at the George Washington University studying human and organizational learning, with a research focus on ethical decision-making in the organizational context. She holds an MS in cybersecurity.

October 2018