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 on the earth unless you 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 political?’
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:
1. !! Be able to identify key figures, traditions, themes, and problems in philosophy generally and ethics in specific
2. !! Understand the importance of philosophy in one’s daily life, whatever one’s career profession
3. !! 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
4. !! 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:
5. !! An italicized overview of the topics !!
My background lecture (not to be skipped, these are hyperlinked in each week’s Blackboard’s unit)
6. !! 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 understanding 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