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Arts & Letters Daily


10b. Rights - Jerry - Social Studies teacher


Actual and potential objects of interest


Duty. ‘This is the last time I will allow you back into my class!’ shouted Jerry a third year Social Studies teacher at Middletown Middle School, at one of his ninth graders. Jerry had been a good student himself and always had this dream of being a star teacher. But teaching wasn’t working for him … the students’ lack of interest in Canadian Social Studies annoyed him. He felt the students were irresponsible and immature and he let them know it.

Jerry’s beliefs, attitudes, feelings, and emotions engulfed his sense of duty about teaching adolescents … he felt a huge sense of guilt about how he felt about his students. What could he do about it?

Rights. In utter frustration, Jim discussed his disappointments with Betty, an experienced and successful Math teacher on staff. Betty listened and at one point asked Jim if had any other interests. He hesitated and finally indicated that he also was somewhat interested in law but had never considered it because he could not afford law school. What’s more, he did not have the grades to qualify for law school. Betty ask, ‘What about training to become a para-legal?’ Jim certainly had not considered this option because it would mean a considerable cut in pay. Could this potential object of interest become his actual object of interest? Jim will never know till he tries it.


  • Discuss Betty’s understanding of actual and potential objects of interest. Did she give Jim appropriate informal coaching?
  • Discuss other situations where people use this kind of thinking.

You may want to discuss other dilemmas.

Consider this view of actual/potential rights

  • Crooked thinking

Punishment cannot be regarded as an objeect of interest.

  • Straight thinking

How can punishment be a right when it is clearly regarded as an object of disinterest? However, for Plato (Plato’s statement, ‘Every man has a right to be punished’, punishment is a cure for vice which is an illness of the soul. Plato seems to assume that punishment would be regarded as an object of interest by those who understood its true function of curing the soul. Plato’s statement draws attention to a distinction between actual objects of interest and potential objects of interest. Actual objects of interest refer to what a person would wish for, want, or desire if he understood the nature of the object. For example, it is often said that “Every child has a right to an education” even though it is commonly recognized some children do not care to continue their education. How can a good education be a right for someone who does not regard it as an object of interest? The argument is as follows. Whereas education is not an actual object of interest for some children, it is, nevertheless, a potential object of interest because children would desire a good education if they understood the nature or value of it.

Moral principle value tests

An application of the moral principle value tests probably illustrates most clearly what is entailed in evaluative reasoning. They are:

It is important to emphasize that the moral-value principle tests are not designed to resolve issues (guarantee right answers!) but to assess the ‘justification’ for moral value decisions.

To view the Dilemma from the perspective of Duty, Rights, Motives, Desert and Justice, click the following:

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