Introduction to Philosophy: Ethics & Politics

This course introduces students to philosophy with a special focus on issues in moral and political philosophy. Topics to be discussed may include justice, the nature of the good, different conceptions of happiness, virtue, ethical theory, moral relativism, feminist ethics, liberty, equality, and the foundations of rights, as well as particular applied topics in moral and political philosophy (such as economic justice and the ethics of war). 

Spring 2018 Courses

Introduction to Philosophy: Ethics and Politics
10105 01 (27964)
Jech
12:30-1:45 TR
First Year Students Only

This course will introduce students to ethics and philosophy more generally through a critical investigation of some important approaches to philosophical ethics. This investigation will center on the idea of the good life and the question of whether there is a rational principle, what the Greeks called a logos, that we can discover by means of reason, conformity to which would allow us to fulfill our natures and be, in the highest sense, ourselves.


We will first read two authors who claim that there is—Plato and Augustine. According to Plato, we must leave our conventional understanding of what constitutes a good life and ascend “back” to this logos by means of reason and rational discussion in order to be fully ourselves and to live well; according to Augustine, on the other hand, we can rationally apprehend this logos, but we can only properly grasp and adhere to it through an act of divine grace, if the logos comes down to us—and in fact, the Logos did do so. We can classify both of these as “classical” views. We will then read two “modern” views, articulated by authors who claim that there is no rational principle of this kind, no logos we can find by means of reason and live in accordance with. In Moby Dick, Herman Melville illustrates and articulates the “death of God,” the view that there is no such principle of order at all, no absolute that names a place for us, and yet we must still find a way to live in light of this terrible lack. Kierkegaard, although agreeing that reason cannot find such a rational principle, argues that we can only live well and become the selves we are meant to be by living on the basis of faith in the power that is calling us into being, relating ourselves to the absolute by means of passion, not reason.


Introduction to Philosophy: Ethics and Politics
10105 02 (25754)
Jech
2:00-3:15 TR
First Year Students Only

This course will introduce students to ethics and philosophy more generally through a critical investigation of some important approaches to philosophical ethics. This investigation will center on the idea of the good life and the question of whether there is a rational principle, what the Greeks called a logos, that we can discover by means of reason, conformity to which would allow us to fulfill our natures and be, in the highest sense, ourselves.


We will first read two authors who claim that there is—Plato and Augustine. According to Plato, we must leave our conventional understanding of what constitutes a good life and ascend “back” to this logos by means of reason and rational discussion in order to be fully ourselves and to live well; according to Augustine, on the other hand, we can rationally apprehend this logos, but we can only properly grasp and adhere to it through an act of divine grace, if the logos comes down to us—and in fact, the Logos did do so. We can classify both of these as “classical” views. We will then read two “modern” views, articulated by authors who claim that there is no rational principle of this kind, no logos we can find by means of reason and live in accordance with. In Moby Dick, Herman Melville illustrates and articulates the “death of God,” the view that there is no such principle of order at all, no absolute that names a place for us, and yet we must still find a way to live in light of this terrible lack. Kierkegaard, although agreeing that reason cannot find such a rational principle, argues that we can only live well and become the selves we are meant to be by living on the basis of faith in the power that is calling us into being, relating ourselves to the absolute by means of passion, not reason.


Introduction to Philosophy: Ethics and Politics
10105 03 (30117)
Sterba
11:00-11:50 MWF
First Year Students Only

This course will begin by considering three challenges to a reason-based morality: 1) It’s all relative, 2) It’s better to be an egoist, 3) Morality is determined by religion not reason. Assuming we can overcome these challenges - if we can’t, we will stop the course right here - but if we can, we will then evaluate three traditional moral perspectives: 1) Kantian morality (It is all about doing your duty), 2) Utilitarian morality (It is all about maximizing utility) and 3) Aristotelian morality (It is all about being virtuous) to see if one of them is better than the others. That accomplished, we will then take up three challenges to a traditional conception of morality: 1) the Feminist challenge (Traditional morality is biased against women), 2) the Environmental challenge (Traditional morality is biased against nonhuman living beings), and 3) the Multicultural challenge (Traditional morality is biased against non-Western cultures). Assuming we think some defensible form of morality survives these challenges (We will take a vote), we will then go on to apply that morality to the solution of a number of following problems: the Distribution of Income and Wealth, Distant Peoples and Future Generations, Abortion and Euthanasia, Human Enhancement, Work and Family Responsibilities, Women’s and Men’s Roles, Affirmative Action, Pornography, Sexual Harassment, Gay and Lesbian Rights, Animal Liberation and Environmental Justice, Punishment and Responsibility, and War, Torture and Terrorism. Requirements: Three papers 5-7 pages (1500-2100 words) e-mail comments on all readings, and participation in class discussions.


ntroduction to Philosophy: Ethics and Politics
10105 04 (30118)
Sterba
12:50-1:40 MWF
First Year Students Only

This course will begin by considering three challenges to a reason-based morality: 1) It’s all relative, 2) It’s better to be an egoist, 3) Morality is determined by religion not reason. Assuming we can overcome these challenges - if we can’t, we will stop the course right here - but if we can, we will then evaluate three traditional moral perspectives: 1) Kantian morality (It is all about doing your duty), 2) Utilitarian morality (It is all about maximizing utility) and 3) Aristotelian morality (It is all about being virtuous) to see if one of them is better than the others. That accomplished, we will then take up three challenges to a traditional conception of morality: 1) the Feminist challenge (Traditional morality is biased against women), 2) the Environmental challenge (Traditional morality is biased against nonhuman living beings), and 3) the Multicultural challenge (Traditional morality is biased against non-Western cultures). Assuming we think some defensible form of morality survives these challenges (We will take a vote), we will then go on to apply that morality to the solution of a number of following problems: the Distribution of Income and Wealth, Distant Peoples and Future Generations, Abortion and Euthanasia, Human Enhancement, Work and Family Responsibilities, Women’s and Men’s Roles, Affirmative Action, Pornography, Sexual Harassment, Gay and Lesbian Rights, Animal Liberation and Environmental Justice, Punishment and Responsibility, and War, Torture and Terrorism. Requirements: Three papers 5-7 pages (1500-2100 words) e-mail comments on all readings, and participation in class discussions.