PHILOSOPHY 2306: ETHICS (ONLINE) DR. STEVE BEST FALL 2016 EMAIL: email@example.com (work); firstname.lastname@example.org (home) “If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.” Voltaire “He is a philosopher who tramples underfoot prejudices, tradition, antiquity, universal assent, authority, in a word, everything that overawes the mass of minds, who dares to think for himself, to go back to the clearest general principles, examine them, discuss them, admit nothing save on the testimony of his experience and reasoning.” Diderot “Why stay we on the earth unless to grow?” Robert Browning “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke “Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim.” Elie Wiesel “Cowardice asks the question, `Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, `Is it politic?’And Vanity comes along and asks the question, `Is it popular?’ But Conscience asks the question `Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.” Martin Luther King, Jr. ! “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King, Jr. “Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to humankind.” Albert Schweitzer Course Description This course is an introduction to ethics and ethical reasoning. We will spend most of the course getting acquainted with the definition and meaning of ethics, and seek in many ways to transcend conventional views to produce a broader and deeper definition and understanding of ethics that places it at the center of a meaningful, responsible, and compassionate life. We will examine key ethical issues, explore major philosophers’ ideas, and examine a number of core ethical traditions. The course aims not only to explain what ethics is, as a historical and philosophical matter, but also how to do it, as a reasoned practice relevant to contemporary society and to the quality of one’s own existence.
After the main focus on ethical theory, we devote the last part of the course to applied ethics, specifically to the topics of animal rights, ethical veganism, and environmental ethics. These profound issues surfaced in the last four decades to become major new fields of inquiry and to pose powerful challenges to Western dogmas and humanist traditions with their violent and destructive power pathologies. I chose these issues because: (1) they strongly relate to a key course goal to produce a more comprehensive and expansive concept of ethics than given by the Western tradition; (2) they are controversial, interesting, and stimulating; (3) they advance moral evolution and ethical progress; (4) they formulate bold new ways of thinking and relating to ourselves, other animals, and the world around us; and (5) they are deeply relevant to the social, political, and ecological change humanity so desperately needs in this time of planetary crisis. Course Purpose and Goals Key objectives of this course are to introduce students to traditional ethical figures, theories, and traditions, and to constantly relate these to current issues and problems in our contemporary world. The course has an activist thrust that emphasizes ethics not only as a theory but most importantly as a practice; thus, ultimately the course can help one to become a better individual and better citizen in an era of narcissistic egoism, vapid consumerism, apathy, and socially-induced passivity. By the end of the course, ideally, I ideally hope that each student will:
!! Be able to identify key figures, traditions, themes, and problems in philosophy generally and ethics in specific
!! Understand the importance of philosophy in one’s daily life, whatever one’s career profession
!! Be more capable in debate and argumentation, and in reflecting on ethical issues as they relate to one’s own life and to the contemporary world
!! Develop a great joy for reading, learning, and thinking !! Comprehend and use philosophical methods and techniques of thinking !! Apply critical thinking skills to various texts (articles, books, videos, etc) and
diverse areas of personal and social life !! Become a more autonomous and reflective person and better decision-maker !! Become a citizen instead of a consumer – a concerned, informed, and active
person, involved in the community and in civic life Course Requirements and Grading The class is 7 weeks long, and each week is a different and coherent unit unto itself, yet each module also builds on and advances preceding lessons. Each module is divided into sections, which include:
!! An italicized overview of the topics !! My background lecture (not to be skipped, these are hyperlinked in each week’s
!! A set of reading assignments !! Questions and issues for discussion, review, and self-evaluation !! Suggested further research for maximal learning
The discussion section provides questions and materials for students to critically reflect on in online conversations with one another. Students are encouraged to introduce their own perspectives, questions, and topics. The review section summarizes the key ideas you should have mastered for each section and serves as a self-examination to assess your comprehension of the material. There are no textbooks to buy for this course; all course material is online, and linked in the syllabus reading assignments for each week. It is crucial that you do all reading assignments on time and keep up with the syllabus and discussion. In addition to doing all the reading assignments, and demonstrating a good understand and ideally critical grasp of the main ideas, students are required to participate regularly and meaningfully in online discussion, engaging other students, and to write a final exam. Note: this class is fairly difficult: there is a fair amount of work to do in a short period of time, do not take it lightly or underestimate the challenge you will face, as well as the rewards you will gain. Immediately below and in the next section, I clarify what I expect in the 2 different areas I will evaluate your work and which will comprise your final grade: I. Discussion Posts I expect each student to make a minimum of 3 original INDEPENDENT discussion posts per week. These are to be responses to a chosen discussion topic or two which I have written up in the “Discussion” section following the assignments list for each week. Do NOT attempt to respond to all questions and topics, it is impossible to do justice to more than three. I deem a “quality” discussion post to fulfill key criteria such as the following:
!! It is at least 3-4 DETAILED (5-6 sentences) paragraphs in length !! It is clear and coherent in meaning, syntax, and style !! It reflects an accurate understanding of the course material being discussed (note
that some of the readings, such as introductions to a topic or figure as found on philosophy dictionary websites, are long and your task is to take as much useful information out of them as you can, not read and absorb everything)
!! It displays an ability to relate the issues, themes, and problems addressed in the material to other course topics, current events, or other figures, themes, and texts generally; and
!! It demonstrates a grasp of “philosophical” thinking in its ability, for instance, to define terms, separate various issues and draw relevant distinctions, and critically analyze (rather than take at face value as true) and questions or challenge claims made by authors, commentators, and philosophers — whether Plato, Kant, or Marx
— no philosopher, argument, or theory is flawless, perfect, or immune to questioning).
IN ADDITION, I am looking for evidence of INTERACTIVE posts whereby you comment on others’ thoughts and they comment on yours. These need not be as carefully constructed and thought out as you primary posts, and should be improvisational and free flowing as a good discussion would be. You should have a minimum of three comments a week on posts from other students in the class, and allow an open discussion dynamic. Thus, that is a minimum of six posts a week, and 42 for the entire course, 21 posts in each (independent and interactive category). Roughly, 42 good total posts would constitute an “A,” 32 would make a “B,” and 25 would be a “C,” etc., for your discussion grade. Since students have the most questions over the discussion posts let me summarize and clarify:
•! You are to chose 3 questions to address only, if you try to do more you will say too little about too much
•! Each independent post is to be substantive, thought through, and well-composed, and at least 3-4 good paragraphs in length
•! The interactive posts in no way need to be as long, but nor should they be thin, one sentence replies to someone (“Really liked your point, Jose!”) without elaborating on why one agrees or disagrees with someone else
•! The idea of the interactive posts is to critically dialogue with other students about philosophical issues and thus to allow free play
•! Do all the required reading first, making notes; then respond to the discussion questions that most interest you
•! At the same time, read what other students have posted and do the minimum responses to any post that interests you most
•! Begin the reading for each module on each Monday and complete your posts by the following Sunday, try to keep up with the pace
As philosophy is no doubt new to almost everyone in this course, I expect modest evidence of critical reading and thinking skills at first, but also to see gradually improvement and real learning demonstrated as the course proceeds. See the next section below on posting etiquette. II. Final Exam The final exam is a “take-home” and is to be 6-8 pages in length, double-spaced, and using a 12 point font. The final exam is comprehensive in nature, and thus will cover the entire semester’s course material. The questions will be handed out at least a week before the due date. You may discuss the exam with other class members should that prove helpful, but must not use the same examples or always answer the same questions (when given an option), and you must write wholly independent of one another and in your own words, or risk plagiarism (see below).
Final Grade The final grade for the course will be broken down as follows: Discussion forum participation: 50% Final Essay exam: 50% As philosophy is no doubt new to almost everyone in this course, I expect modest evidence of critical reading and thinking skills at first, but also to see gradually improvement and real learning demonstrated as the course proceeds. See the next section below on posting etiquette; I also expect polite, civil, and respectful tones to be maintained in class discussion at all times. I will provide general class feedback on performance after the first and second week, and I will provide each of you individual feedback on your posts after the third week. Online Etiquette When you log on for discussion, be prepared by having done the reading and assignments, and also be active and strive to put philosophical skills and methods into practice. Because of the controversial nature of the topics we will explore, there will naturally be differences in viewpoint, and thus arguments. But disagreements need not be disagreeable, and the clash of ideas is vital to learning, the enterprise of philosophy, and personal growth. It is imperative that you always express yourself and interact with others with sincerity, honesty, kindness, and respect. Humility, openness, and self-questioning are cardinal virtues in philosophy, whereas dogma, arrogance, and closed-mindedness are debilitating vices. Whatever your views, don’t assume they are the best or correct ones, that they cannot or should not be modified or even abandoned, or that you cannot learn from dialogue with others. Please avoid self-righteousness, hostility, ridicule, sarcasm, or other disrespectful behaviors. While of course I encourage your active participation in class discussions, please seek the Golden Mean: speak not too little, nor too much; be neither passive, nor aggressive. Your grade for the discussion part of the course will be based on the quantity of your contribution (regular, steady, but not excessive) and the quality of your input, based on accuracy of understanding texts and ideas, creative application of ideas, critical thinking skills, and ability to dialogue and argue in productive, persuasive, and interesting ways. Students are not expected or required to believe any particular viewpoint or to agree with me or any issue, in fact you may freely disagree with and challenge anything find productive to do so. But you are asked to be open to exploring different viewpoints and challenging ideas, and to think critically about your own assumptions, received values, and worldview. This class asks you to study new information, to understand and critically
assess ideas, and to apply new ideas and skills toward your everyday life and involvement in this world in crisis. Contacting Me and Tech Support Students of course may freely contact me at any time they have a concern, question, or need. Rather than writing me through Moodle, please contact me at my university address or you will get a much quicker response if you write me at my home address: email@example.com. If you are as new to online courses, you will want to take the Blackboard tutorials which you can find here: http://admin.utep.edu/Default.aspx?tabid=74094. You may also contact the Technology Support Help Desk, which lists hours of operation, phone numbers, and other relevant information here: http://admin.utep.edu/Default.aspx?tabid=63402. Plagiarism Policy Regarding your presentations and final exam, plagiarism will not be tolerated. Any use of material from reference works not cited, footnoted, quoted, or paraphrased in your own words, or any two student exams too closely resembling one another, is considered plagiarism. Instances of suspected plagiarism will be reported to the Dean of Students, no — questions asked or taken, and it is completely out of my hands once I report a suspected plagiarism case. I catch this a lot, and students pay a heavy price, please don’t even think about it. For resources on plagiarism and the UTEP plagiarism policy, see: https://academics.utep.edu/Default.aspx?tabid=65927 http://sa.utep.edu/osccr/faculty-staff-resources/resources-links/.
Weekly Assignments and Modules
Week I, October 17: Introduction to Philosophy What is Philosophy? What are the different branches and some main traditions? Why pursue philosophy in a materialist, profit-driven, consumerist society? Is philosophy relevant to my life, concerns, problems, goals, and happiness? Does it have any “practical value” in a crude utilitarian society? How can the study of philosophy enhance our lives in numerous ways? Lecture: Introduction to Philosophy (this and all lectures for each week are linked on the Blackboard version of the syllabus) Reading
Bertrand Russell, “10 Commandments of Philosophy” http://www.uctaa.net/articles/reflections/ref01/ref019.html The Main Branches of Philosophy http://www.importanceofphilosophy.com/FiveBranchesMain.html “The Field of Philosophy” http://academics.utep.edu/Default.aspx?tabid=24640 “Why Study Philosophy?” http://philosophy.louisiana.edu/why.html Discussion
“! Considering the various main branches of philosophy and their different emphases, what do they have in common? Can we usefully distinguish between the content of philosophy (the philosophy of … virtually anything) and the form of (the way or process of philosophy)? What is involved in doing philosophy of any kind?
“! Why is philosophy such a foreign, misunderstood, largely ignored, and stereotyped discipline, when it has obvious benefits for training the mind, deepening culture and education, producing better citizens, and even benefiting career pursuits?
“! What forces in society militate against philosophical thinking and a more prominent role for philosophy in our lives, schools, and culture? Consider, for instance, the imperatives, logic, and goals of the scientific-technological world, on the one hand, and those of the capitalist, consumerist, and mass media cultures as well.
“! What would you propose for boosting the role and influence of philosophy in the education system and cultural life? Can philosophy help to promote better citizenship skills, and thus a more vigorous democracy?
“! Upon viewing the film, “Philosophy: Guide to Happiness” (http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/philosophy-guide-to-happiness/ [note: this film is long and divided into many sections, but well worth an entire watch; if nothing else, watching at least the first two segments on Socrates and Epicurus), what can you say about the role and relevance of philosophy to history, cultural development, and the pursuit of happiness and the good life?
!! Define philosophy and the main traits of each branch of the discipline. !! What are key virtues for the practice of philosophy? !! How is philosophy a unique discipline and pursuit knowledge as opposed to
science on one side and religion on the other? !! What benefits does studying philosophy have for the spiritual, moral, and
practical life, as well as for various career pursuits? Further Research
! Lou Marinoff, Plato Not Prozac: Appling Eternal Wisdom to Everyday Problems (http://www.amazon.com/Plato-Not-Prozac-Applying- Everyday/dp/0060931361/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1312934356&sr=8-1). A vivid, clear, and compelling example of the new (and controversial and contested) field of “philosophical therapy.” Regardless, the book makes it clear that there is deep wisdom in the philosophical traditions that are directly relevant to between life management and coping skills, and to increasing meaning, happiness, and satisfaction in one’s life. ! “In the Cave: Philosophy and Addiction.” Can Plato’s allegory of the cave shed
light on the condition of addiction? (http://nyti.ms/ycs1iT). ! “Western Philosophy’ (3 part documentary: http://www.infocobuild.com/books-
and-films/social-science/western-philosophy-2002.html). ! Numerous satirical films and videos attack widespread ignorance and apathy in a
soulless society dominated by corporations, government, media monopoly, and apathy. For a few of these, see: (1) Being There (starring Peter Sellers as an illiterate gardener who is mistaken for a genius and then elected President of the United States) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Being_There); (2) Processed People (which critiques a gullible, naïve, ignorant, and easily manipulated American public) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGaImGRGYgE); (3) Idiocracy (in which a man wakes up 500 years in the future to discover a society so stupid he is easily the most intelligent person on earth; and (4) The Age of Stupid (a future archivist tries to understand why humans in the 20th and 21st centuries so stupidly, callously, and complacently ignored the signs of impending climate change and ecological disaster) (on Netflix at: (http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/The_Age_of_Stupid/70117903?trkid=23616 37). ! For classic literary and philosophical critiques of conformist societies devoid of
critical thinking, see Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, and Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man. ! For a compelling call for a new way of thinking that is distinctly philosophical
and ethical in nature, see “Why We Need New Ways of Thinking” (http://mindful.org/at-work/leadership/why-we-need-new-ways-of-thinking).
Week II, October 24: Introduction to Ethics and the Ethical Life The standard definitions of ethics are too narrow, and allow us to ignore the substantive duties we have to other humans, as well as forgoing responsibilities we have to the millions of other species with whom we share this planet, and to the earth itself. In this week’s section, we discuss what it is to be ethical, how far our duties extend, and why we should be ethical. On this last point, contemporary philosopher Peter Singer’s essays about poverty and famine provide provocative arguments that out duties to others are far more extensive than we ordinarily believe. We also discuss the central role ethics plays in the “good life.”A skeptical question inevitably arises here: If ethics entails concern for the other, and often acting against one’s own (at least immediate or short-range) interests, how can it be beneficial to act for the good of others rather than focusing exclusive on advancing one’s own interests? Doesn’t rational self-interest demand that
we maximize our own good? How can we possibly benefit from altruism and advancing the good of others? Why – beyond the obvious problem of being caught and punished – should we not just lie, cheat, and steal as it benefits us? If you had the fabled Ring of Gyges (discussed in Plato’s Republic) that endows you with powers such as invisibility, would you use it for your gain despite violations of the law and codes of ethical decency? Or, as Socrates argues, are happiness and the good life inseparable from the ethical life? Lecture: Introduction to Ethics and the Ethical Life Reading “Ethics” http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/L132 Plato, “The Ring of Gyges” http://philosophy.lander.edu/intro/introbook2.1/c5641.html Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1972—-.htm Peter Singer, “The Singer Solution to World Poverty” http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/19990905.htm Peter Singer, “A Meaningful Life” http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1998—-.htm Discussion
“! Define the nature of ethics, drawing salient distinctions and touching on fundamental issues. Distinguish ethical from non-ethical issues (where this distinction can be made) to clarify the meaning of ethics and nature of bona fide ethical choices, actions, and contexts.
“! Discuss the meaning of the parable of the ring of Gyges and its implications for ethics. If you had such a ring in your possession, what would you do or not do with it, and why?
“! In his powerful speech, “The Perils of Indifference” (http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/ewieselperilsofindifference.html), Elie Wiesel argues that “neutrality,” passivity, and indifference in the face of injustice and evil is morally corrupt and contemptible as actively doing harm. What do you make of this argument and what are the implications for assessing human moral character and our duties to others?
“! What central messages does the documentary, The Examined Life (https://vimeo.com/103430700) make about society and the role of philosophy in modern life? Critically evaluate the claims of the film and state whether or not you think it made a persuasive case for the role of philosophy in education and everyday life, and state why or why not.
“! What is Singer’s “solution” to world poverty and famine? What is he asking of us ethically and is or is it not too much to ask? Why?
“! Reflect on Peter Singer’s essay, “10 Ways to Make a Difference” (http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1998—-02.htm), with an emphasis on (1) his
argument that ethics is sterile without activism and concrete involvement in movements for progressive change, and (2) the ways in which you are, can, or ought to be making a difference in the world. How does this activism relate to his concept of the “good” or “meaningful” life?
!! Be able to provide your own definition of ethics. How narrow or wide, exclusive or inclusive would you make it? Do you believe it is important to expand the moral circle to other sentient beings and the natural world, or should ethics only concern itself with human-to-human relations?
!! What arguments does Singer use to support his claim we have substantive duties to those in poverty and need?
!! What are some of the relations one could identify among the ethical life, the meaningful life, and the good life? How does Singer frame the issue? Provide some examples of your own. How does society work to impede, rather than encourage, the ethical life in its values, ideologies, mass media and advertising systems, and its various institutions (legal, political, and economic)? Can you link Singer’s concept of the meaningful life with that advanced by Socrates and Epicurus in the first two segments of the film, “Philosophy: Guide to Happiness”?
! Peter Singer, “Ethics” http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1985—-.htm ! Ethics Resources and Applied Ethics
http://ethics.sandiego.edu ! For a remarkable documentary about a New York construction worker who had a
series of epiphanies that awakened a dormant compassion for animals and inspired him to lead an ethical life as an animal rights activist, see “The Witness” (http://documentaryheaven.com/the-witness-a-tribe-of-heart/; also see their website at: http://www.tribeofheart.org/index.htm.
Week III: October 31: The Specters of Relativism and Egoism But is there such a thing as “the right” or “the good,” as some kind of real or objective qualities, acts, or things in the world, or is everything hopelessly relative and subject to individual, cultural, and historical conditioning without objective, substantive, and enduring weight and meaning? How be ethical? How distinguish good/bad and right/wrong at all? Also, is there really an ethical core to human behavior, one that truly and irreducibly seeks the good of others, or are all altruistic acts ultimately done for selfish reasons, such as to make people feel good about themselves? Lecture: The Challenges of Ethical Relativism and Egoism Reading
“Moral Relativism” http://www.iep.utm.edu/moral-re/ Jesse Prinz, “Morality is a Culturally Conditioned Response http://www.philosophynow.org/issue82/Morality_is_a_Culturally_Conditioned_Respons e “Psychological Egoism” http://www.iep.utm.edu/psychego/ Peter Singer, “The Biological Basis of Ethics” http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1981—-.htm Peter Singer, “My Better Nature” http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/20020302.htm Peter Singer, “The Escalator of Reason” http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1995—-.htm Discussion
“! Clearly define the concepts of egoism and altruism, giving some nuance to these complex concepts. How does engaging the biological dimension of human nature, as does Singer, help to frame these issues?
“! Is altruism really reducible to (psychological) egoism, as cynics and skeptics like to say? Can you think of examples of actions that clearly were selfless and meant to benefit others?
“! Does the fact that humans are animals with a long biological past mean that they are violent and egoistic? Do animals have a sense of care and mutual aid that might have shaped our moral life? Describe Singer’s effort to ground ethics in evolution, and provide a critical assessment of it.
“! What are some of the main implications for ethics, the notion of “rational man,” and strict rational accounts of ethics (such as given by Kant) if they have evolved from other animals and over millions of years of time? What roles do both feeling and reason play in ethics and moral judgments? Is it true, as David Hume argues, that “reason is the slave to the passions,” or does reason play an important role in ethical life (through deliberation, justification, and so on)?
“! Watch some of the vignettes from CNN’s inspiring show, Heroes, which honors the extraordinary achievements of “ordinary” people (see the archives for the show at: http://www.cnn.com/specials/cnn-heroes). What pattern do you see throughout the various examples? How do all these people represent the “ethical life”? Does the argument that humans are egoistic and selfish stand in the face of these real-life examples of people leading an ethical life?
!! What is absolutism? What is relativism? What are the problems with each position? How is emotivism a form of relativism?
!! Is there a way beyond the impasse of relativism, toward factual and ethical judgments that are not arbitrary and purely subjective yet not “absolute truth” either?
!! Define psychological egoism and describe some of the main arguments for and against it.
!! Define altruism, and discuss the meaning and significance of the concepts of “kin” and “group” altruism.
! Peter Singer, “Ethics and Sociobiology” http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1982—-.pdf ! “Emotivism
http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/introduction/emotivism_1.shtml Week IV, November 7: The Art of Thinking and Reasoning If ethical judgments are not merely arbitrary, subjective, or capricious, and there is something called “the better argument,” then clearly ethical argument and debate depends on logic and reasoning, and indeed these are foundational skills for ethics, for philosophy in general, and for a rational life. It is therefore imperative that we learn some basic concepts and skills in logic and reasoning. Lecture: Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking Reading Paul Gregory, “A Brief Introduction to Logic” http://philosophy.wlu.edu/gregoryp/class/Brief%20Intro.pdf “Logical Fallacies and Practical Logic” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logical_fallacies “Logical Fallacies” http://www.logicalfallacies.info/ Roger Darlington, “How to Think Critically” http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/thinking.html Discussion
!! Explain the difference between deductive and inductive logic, and give an original example of each. Explain why it is one argument or the other, and what the different criteria are for evaluating it as a good argument.
!! Identify some of the main principles of critical thinking and apply them to an analysis of a media text, news story, or editorial of your own choice. Identify at least three fallacies, and explain why they are such types of logical errors.