Ethics in Estonia
Courses in ethics constitute an integral part of higher education in Estonia. The majority of vocational and professional higher education institutions and all Estonian universities offer their students introductory courses in ethics and/or one or several courses in professional and business ethics in the area of their specialisation. The widest selection of courses in ethics related to various professions and scientific disciplines is offered by the largest three universities, the University of Tartu, the Tallinn University of Technology and the University of Tallinn. In addition to that, it is also possible to study philosophical ethics as a part of studies in philosophy at the University of Tartu (at all levels of higher education) and the University of Tallinn (at the Bachelor’s and Master’s level).
The University of Tartu, the largest and oldest university (founded in 1632) and the leading centre for research and teaching in Estonia, also leads in teaching in the sphere of ethics. There are general introductory courses for students regardless of their specialisation, such as “Basics of Ethics”, meant for students of Bachelor’s programmes and “Ethics and Methodology of Science” for doctoral students; there are also discipline-specific courses in bioethics, medical ethics, ethics of health care, archaeological ethics, business ethics, pedagogical ethics, and various courses in animal and environmental ethics. Students specialising in philosophy can take advanced courses in ethics, such as “Metaethics”, “Normative Ethics” and “Practical Ethics”. In addition to the regular courses, there are frequent one-time special courses, often given by visiting scholars, on a particular topic or author in ethics.
The Tallinn University of Technology specialises in research and teaching in the areas of technology (manufacture, construction and engineering) and natural sciences, with a number of programmes in social sciences, business and law. The technological orientation of the university is reflected in the focus on professional ethics, with courses, for example, in medical and health care ethics, engineering ethics, ethics of public service, ethics and law, and ethics and accounting.
The University of Tallinn (formed in 2005 as the result of consolidation of several existing universities and research institutes, including the Tallinn Pedagogical University) conducts research and teaching in a wide range of disciplines; teacher training constitutes an important part of its activities. It offers general introductory courses in ethics, such as “Introduction to Ethics” on the Bachelor’s level and “Ethical Guidelines in Science” on the Master’s level, and a number of courses on professional ethics, such as courses in ethics and law, media ethics, ethics of social work, business ethics, environmental ethics, science ethics, sports ethics, and various courses in pedagogical and teacher ethics.
2. Research in ethics and Centres for Ethics
The chair of practical philosophy at the department of philosophy of the University of Tartu acts as the centre for research in the sphere of ethics and its popularisation in Estonia. In addition to it, there exist two specialised Centres for Ethics.
The Centre for Ethics of the University of Tartu was established in June 2001 as an interdisciplinary unit associated with the Faculty of Philosophy. From 2009 it has operated as a consortium uniting almost all of the faculties of the university. It is governed by the Board that includes representatives of the faculties and the student body.
The aims of the Centre for Ethics of the University of Tartu:
- to lead interdisciplinary research in the sphere of ethics with the focus on issues that are relevant for Estonian society and scientific research in Estonia;
- to encourage public reflection upon the values of Estonian society by organising public colloquia, conferences and lectures;
- to publish anthologies and textbooks on ethics and to improve teaching of ethics in Estonia;
- to develop cooperation with other Centres of Ethics.
An overview of the research activities of the Centre is given here.
The Centre for Ethics of the Estonian Business School (EBS) was established in 2001and in 2013 became the Centre for Business Ethics. It focuses on the issues of business ethics, corporate responsibility and diversity, offering education, research and popularsation of business ethics for EBS students and staff, people working in the business world and Estonian society in general.
The aims of the Centre for Business Ethics of the EBS:
- to prepare EBS students to become responsible and ethical decision-makers;
- to lead teaching and research in the area of business ethics in Estonia, acting as a competence centre in this area;
- to work for creating environment that encourages ethical reflection and ethical behaviour in business;
- to participate in Estonian and international projects in the sphere of business ethics and corporate responsibility.
3. Ethics committees
Medicine and biomedical sciences as well as any research involving human subjects or animal testing raise some of the most pressing ethical questions. A number of ethics committees provide oversight over the ethical aspects of research and practice in these areas in Estonia.
Committees that provide oversight over research
- Research Ethics Committee of the University of Tartu,
- Tallinn Medical Research Ethics Committee,
- Project Authorisation Committee for Animal Experiments (link in Estonian).
Clinical ethics committees
- Ethics Committee of the Tallinn Children’s Hospital (link in Estonian),
- Ethics Committee of the Tartu University Hospital (link in Estonian).
Other ethics committees
- Ethics Committee of the Estonian Medical Association (link in Estonian),
- Health Information System Ethics Committee (link in Estonian),
- Ethics Committee of the Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers in Estonia (link in Estonian),
- Ethics Committee of the Estonian Social Work Association (link in Estonian).
The activities of the committees are coordinated by the Estonian Council on Bioethics (link in Estonian). The Council advices policymakers and governmental institutions in bioethics-related questions, takes part in the preparation of relevant laws and governmental acts, educates the public about the issues in bioethics and works for the creation of a shared understanding about the principles of bioethics in Estonian society.
4. Ethics codes
The recognition of ethical questions inherent in various professions has found reflection in ethics codes or codes of conduct adopted by professional organisations and companies in Estonia. The ethics code may describe the values that underlie the activities of the respective organisation, represent its position concerning various social and ethical issues and describe the procedures for addressing behaviours breaking the code.
In 2007, the Centre for Ethics of the University of Tartu published The Handbook of Codes of Conduct that addresses different aspects of ethical codes.
The first part of the book discusses general concepts such as profession, rights, religion, etiquette etc. and gives an overview of the history of codes of conduct from Ancient Greece to the modern day. The book offers guidelines for organisations and companies intending to establish their own codes of conduct. It also suggests ways to enforce the codes and discusses problems that may arise.
The second part of the book contains eighty-six codes of conduct that are currently in effect in Estonia. Some of the codes are limited to one page with a general description of relevant values, others span multiple pages and include detailed explanations of the relationship between clients, co-workers and supervisors.
The Handbook is available in full here (in Estonian).