5197 Helen C. White Hall
cell phone 354-6120
Philosophy 549 Syllabus
Although called, "Great Moral Philosophers," this course will only be concerned with great moral philosophers working in the Westeren Tradition founded by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the Judeo-Christian Bible. This is unfortunate, because Western philosophers obviously have no monopoly on moral philosophy. However, unfortunately, my own knowledge of moral philosophy is limited to this tradition. The Western tradition in moral philosophy is extremely rich and intricate, and there is no way to do it justice in only a semester. So many compromises had to be made in designing this syllabus. Thus, with respect to Plato, we will read only a short dialogue, a severe abridgment of a second, and some chapters from a recent book summarizing his views and the views of Socrates. Aristotle's Nicomachaen Ethics will be our first main text, but we will not be able to read all of it. We will then spend just one day discussing some passages from St. Augustine's Confessions, to get some sense of the enormous contrasts between the Greek and Christian sources of modern Western moral philosophy. From Augustine we will jump to Scotland in the 18th Century to the work of David Hume and his younger friend, Adam Smith. Although Smith is better known for his economics than his moral philosophy, he presents a very intriguing theory that Immanuel Kant studied and reacted against. Kant is our next stop. His challenging ideas (at least on my reading) restore moral views that are implicit in Augustine and the Judeo-Christian tradition to centrality in Western Moral Philosophy. That centrality is not unchallenged by our last authors, John Stuart Mill and Friedrich Nietzsche.
1. The main goal is introduce students to the central problems in ethics, as they have been addressed by several of the greatest Western philosophers, the principal solutions that have been offered, and the main arguments bearing on these solutions. Although the notion of progress in ethics is problematic, nevertheless the terminology and context in which philosophers nowadays address ethical questions have moved on. That makes the application of historical work to today's debates difficult, but also rewarding.
2. By reading classic texts in ethics, we shall see some of the ways in which ethics is connected to (a) other areas of philosophy (especially epistemology), (b) empirical knowledge (particularly concerning human psychology and social relations), and (c) historical contingencies.
3. In addition, this course aims to help students to develop their abilities to present and to criticize arguments both in discussion and, in particular, in writing: Every good essay, regardless of the subject matter, is an extended argument for some thesis or conclusion. The only thing special about philosophy essays is the extent to which one focuses upon the logic of the argument. This course aims to help students to write more sharply organized, focused and effective essays. I suspect that for many of you, your writing is not worthy of your thinking, and this course will help you to change that or at least to limit the disparity.
The extent to which these course goals can be achieved is, of course, largely up to you, but it is important that you appreciate what I am trying to accomplish. If you cannot see how any particular lecture or reading assignment relates to the goals of the course, please be sure to ask about it. In abstract matters it is especially important and especially difficult to be clear on what the point is. Keep asking "So what?" Since this course is more concerned with mastering skills than with merely acquiring information, it demands your active participation, and I think that the interest and importance of the questions we will be addressing will reward that participation, too.
Note: Students are encouraged to discuss problems concerning the teaching of this course with the instructor. If students wish to pursue a complaint with someone else, they should contact Jesse Steinberg, Assistant to the Chairperson, Philosophy Department, 5185 H.C. White Hall, 263-5162.
Please try to get hold of these editions so that we can easily discuss the texts together.
Students with disabilities:
I hope to make this course as accessible as is feasible to anyone with a disability. Please let me know as early in the course as possible if you need accommodations in the curriculum, instruction, or assessments in this course to enable you to participate fully. I will attempt to maintain confidentiality of any information you share with me.
See me if you have a special need to use a computer in class. Since they interfere with attention and discussion they are not otherwise to be used.
Course Web Site:
Additional readings and resources (such as student access to grades and discussion forums) will be available via the Learn@UW web site, https://learnuw.wisc.edu/
There will be two substantial essays, three quizzes, a final examination, and homework. Your semester grade will depend on the essays (40%), the quizzes (30%), the final (20%) and homework (10%). In addition there will be an attendance bonus or penalty.
LECTURES Attendance is technically optional, but if you miss class, you need to write a precís of the lecture and discussion that you missed. Instructions can be found below.
QUIZZES: These will be given at the end of each of the "units" in the material, except for the last. The subjects and dates of the quizzes are as follows:
The quiz on Mill and Nietzsche will be folded into the final examination. The quizzes will typically take 35-40 minutes and will consist mainly of short-answer questions.
FINAL EXAM The final will consist of a mix of short-answer and essay questions. It will be cumulative but it will emphasize Mill and Nietzsche.
HOMEWORK (AND STUDY QUESTIONS): Before most of the class meetings, I will distribute study questions on the material to be covered. These should help focus your reading and help to structure class discussion. Some of the study questions will be designated as a homework assignment. Half of the class will submit homework assignments to me via email by Monday noon (for discussion during Tuesday's class) and half will submit their homework assignments to me via email by 5:00 Wednesday afternoon for discussion during Thursday's class. To the extent possible I will accommodate your preferences for which day you submit your homework, but if that is not possible I will work out a schedule that will permit you to submit your homework on the day you prefer most of the weeks. Homework should be sent to me either within the text of an email message or, preferably, as a single-spaced email attachment in Microsoft Word. Homework submissions are limited to 80 words. Each homework will be graded on a pass-fail basis. The standards for passing are both substantive -- the answer or question should show a grasp of the assigned readings -- and formal. Since the responses are short, they should be vigorously and lucidly written, free of grammatical mistakes, awkward circumlocutions and so forth. (For more on my high expectations for your writing, see the material near the end of the syllabus.) Your overall homework grade will depend on how many you pass. You can fail to hand in or simply fail two of the homework assignments without any grade penalty. After that, each missed or failed homework assignment lowers your homework grade by 10% (or, in other words, your semester grade by 1 point).
WARNING!! Philosophy challenges complacency. Its hard to know what the truth is concerning hard questions like the ones we will be addressing this semester.
Course Outline: The following outline is both tentative and ambitious. I will not be surprised if we fall behind and have to make changes.
Tuesday, January 19: Introduction: discussion of the goals, structure and requirements of the course; What is ethics?
Thursday, January 21: Where it all begins for Western moral philosophy: Socrates and Plato
Richard Kraut, How to Read Plato, chapters 1 and 2 -- pages 11-29 (xerox)
Tuesday, January 26: Plato, Goodness, Justice, and the Forms
Richard Kraut, How to Read Plato, chapters 6 and 7 -- pages 58-75 (xerox)
Plato, Gorgias (abridged)
Thursday, January 28: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics Teleology, Intrinsic vs. instrumental goods, and Happiness
Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1
Tuesday, February 2: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics: Virtue
Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2, Book 3, chapters 1-5, 10-12, Book IV, ch. 3
Thursday, February 4: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics: Justice, practical reason, and the intellectual virtues
Nicomachean Ethics, Book 5, and sections 1-5 of Book VI
Tuesday, February 9: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Vices, pleasure, and weakness of will
Nicomachean Ethics, Book 7, pp. 99-119
First, ungraded draft of introductory paper due.
Compare the argument in Book I of the Republic between Socrates and Thrasymachus with the argument between Socrates and Callicles in the abridgment of the Gorgias. (Note that you can skip the first few pages, which are in a smaller font and which are not immediately relevant to the topic.) This topic is too large for a short paper, and so you will need to narrow it down to write a well-argued paper. You might, for example, contrast the views that Thrasymachus and Callicles defend or compare a specific argument Socrates addresses to one to an argument he addresses to another. There are lots of different directions that you can go in.
The introductory papers should be about 1200 words (roughly 4 double-spaced pages with a 12-point font). They should be correct in their spelling, punctuation, and grammar. There is no need for references or footnotes.
Be sure that your paper is well-organized as an argument for a some substantive thesis concerning some aspect of the two exchanges. There is no recipe for writing a well-organized, cogent, and intelligent paper. The crucial step, which is also the most difficult step, is determining the central claim that you want to argue for. Ask yourself not what your paper is about, but instead what your paper establishes or demonstrates.
There is a good deal of information and advice on writing papers near the end of the syllabus as well as references to resources on paper-writing that are available on the web. Please consult that information and try to profit from that advice.
I will read just one paragraph of your papers and let you know whether the writing in that paragraph is acceptable or not. The version that you hand in on February16th can be identical to the version you hand in today, or you can take advantage of the additional week to go through your essay and improve its writing and its argument.
Thursday, February 11:Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Friendship, benevolence and self-interest
Nicomachean Ethics, Book 8, Sections 1-6 and section 12; Book 9, Section 8; and Book X
Tuesday, February 16: Catch-up and review on Plato and Aristotle
Final version of introductory paper due
Thursday, February 18: Quiz on Plato and Aristotle; Begin St. Augustine, Christianity, morality, sin, and evil
Tuesday, February 23: Augustine and start Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals
Augustine, Confessions, excerpts from Books VII, VIII, and X.
Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, sec. 1
Thursday, February 25: Hume: Benevolence and Justice
Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, sec. 2-3, pp. 16-34, and Appendix III, pp. 93-98.
Tuesday, March 1: Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals: Utility and Sympathy
Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, sec. 4-5, pp. 34-51, and Appendix I, pp. 82-88.
Thursday, March 3: Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals: Excellences and Virtues
Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, sec. 6-7, pp. 51-68
Tuesday, March 8: Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals: Virtue and self-interest
Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, sec. 8-9, pp. 68-82 and Appendix II, pp. 88-93..
Thursday, March 10: Sympathy, benevolence and the foundations of ethics
Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Appendix II, pp. 88-93
Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part I, excerpts (xerox), pp. 1-5
Tuesday, March 15: Smith on conscience and duty
Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part III, excerpts (xerox), pp. 5-15.
Thursday, March 17: Quiz #2 Augustine, Hume, and Smith and start Kant
Tuesday, March 29: Kant: Everyday ethics and the nature of duty
Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Preface and beginning of section 1; pp. 1-12
Thursday, March 31: Kant, Derivation of the first version of the categorical imperative
Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, remainder of section I and beginning of section II, pp. 13-30.
Term Paper Due
Tuesday, April 5: Kant, other versions of the categorical imperative
Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, section II, pp. 30-37
Thursday, April 7: Kant, Morality as self-government
Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, remainder of section II, pp. 38-48 and "On a Supposed Right to Lie because of Philanthropic Concerns" (pp. 63-67)
Tuesday, April 12: Quiz #3 Kant; Start Mill's Utilitarianism
Thursday, April 14: Mill's utilitarianism: happiness and its maximization
Mill, Utilitarianism, chapters 1 and 2.
Tuesday, April 19: Mill's utilitarianism: explanation and justification
Mill, Utilitarianism, chapters 3 and 4
Thursday, April 21: Mill, Utilitarianism and Justice
Mill, Utilitarianism, chapter 5
Tuesday, April 26: Mill on liberty: introduction and freedom of speech
Mill, On Liberty, chapters 1 and 2
Thursday, April 28: Mill, Individuality and clarification of the principle
Mill, On Liberty, chapters 3 and 4
Optional Term Paper Revision due
Tuesday, May 3: Mill, Application of the principle of liberty
Mill, On Liberty, chapter 5
Thursday, May 5: Nietzsche, Challenging morality
MISSING LECTURE MAKE-UP FORM:
Name of student whose notes were used:
Date of the lecture:
Topic of the lecture:
Precis of the lecture and discussion, including careful presentation of any explicitly formulated arguments.
I prefer a format where I lecture, and discussion then develops from your questions. That means that you need to ask questions! And since the material is not easy and I am not always right or clear, you should have lots of questions. Please feel free to ask them! I will regularly distribute discussion questions, which will also be posted on the public web page. Studying these will help you to get more out of the readings and will contribute to better class discussion.
If my office hours, (2:30-3:30 Tuesday and Wednesday) are not convenient, see me after class to arrange another time to meet. My job is to help you to master the skills and material with which this course is concerned, so feel free to come see me.
Use of Email:
Email can be a great convenience, but it can get out of hand. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any specific questions you have about assignments or requirements. If the question and answer are relevant to others, I will post them on the course discussion page. If you do not want your question posted, you should let me know. Otherwise I will assume that in emailing me, you’ve given me permission to post your question. That way I can serve as many students as possible. Some questions are not appropriate. For example, "Could you please restate the last three lectures?" And some questions are better discussed in person than over email. I’ll do the best I can to be helpful.
A Note on Plagiarism:
Plagiarism is a serious offense, for which there is no excuse. All sources and assistance used in preparing your papers must be precisely and explicitly acknowledged. If you have any questions about what constitutes plagiarism, please come talk with me or with your TA. Ignorance of what constitutes plagiarism is not a defense. It is your responsibility to be sure. The web creates special risks. Cutting and pasting even a few words from a web page or paraphrasing material without a reference constitutes plagiarism. If you are not sure how to refer to something you find on the internet, you can always give the URL. It is generally better to quote than to paraphrase from material on the web, because in the absence of page numbers it can be hard to find passages that are paraphrased rather than quoted. The minimum penalty for plagiarism -- even of just a phrase -- is a zero on the assignment.
In my experience, plagiarism usually happens because it is 3 a.m. on the morning when a paper is due. Your rough draft is going nowhere. You're exhausted and increasingly desperate. And you've come across an obscure web page that says pretty much what you've been trying to say. And ... well you can fill in the rest, perhaps even what happens when you get caught. This is the time to stop and go to bed. Much better to talk with me and get some help, take the mild penalty for not handing the paper in on time, and write a paper that gives you some satisfaction and that doesn't risk expulsion from the University.
The role of the readings in the course:
I usually do not usually devote my lectures to the exposition and discussion of the readings, but in this course I will probably pay close attention to passages in the classic texts. So please try to bring the readings with you. The midterm and final examinations will ask not only that you have mastered the material in the lectures but that you be able to relate the arguments in the lectures to the arguments in the readings and to respond intelligently to questions concerning the important arguments in the readings.
Some Hints on Reading Philosophy:
Although you may not be able fully to understand every reading assignment completely, that is the goal. Here are some detailed hints about how to achieve it:
1. Use your highlighter sparingly. It is much more useful to pencil in marginal notes summarizing or querying specific points than to highlight passages. Actively engaging the author is much more valuable than merely trying to assimilate the prose. And if you do highlight, only highlight a small percentage of the text. (There is not much point to highlighting everything, apart from adding color to the page!)
2. The assignments are reasonably short, and you should plan on reading the assignments at least twice. During the first reading you should ask yourself:
a. What is the author's position?
b. What is the general structure of the paper? Is it a collection of separate arguments, or does it aim to make one main argument?
c. What are the author's main assumptions? (Where is the author coming from?)
d. Against whom does the author take him/herself to be arguing? What is the context in which the piece was written?
e. What is the main line of argument (or what are the main lines of argument)?
f. What objections does the author address and how successful is the author in answering them?
g. How does the author's position relate to your views? To what extent does the author reinforce or challenge your views?
h. How do the author's arguments relate to the arguments developed in lecture and in other reading assignments? What criticisms would the author make of arguments developed in lecture or in other readings? To what extent is the position of the author open to criticisms made in lecture or in other readings?
During the second reading of the assignment, you should proceed more slowly and critically. Rather than merely asking questions about what the author's purposes, organization, and argument are, you should try to assess all of these and particularly the author's arguments
General Directions on Writing the Papers:
Style and references:
1. You are expected to give references when you cite detailed claims or arguments made in the readings, and your papers should, where appropriate, show familiarity with relevant materials from the lectures or reading for the course. But you are expected to write essays, not examination answers. So don't introduce irrelevant matters to demonstrate that you have done the course readings. (But you must not ignore relevant supporting arguments and, particularly, objections in the readings.) Cite the readings only when they are relevant. Be sure that your paper is a well organized argument for some clearly articulated thesis.
2. When you quote, paraphrase, or make use of a point made by others, be sure to document the source. I am not particular about what style you use. All that matters is that your references be precise and usable. If you say that Mill says that democracy is for pigs, it should be clear on what page Mill supposedly says that. The easiest way to give a reference is simply to put the source and page number in parenthesis. Papers without clear references (where needed) will be marked down.
3. Papers must be typed or printed double-spaced with wide margins (at least one inch) on all sides, so that there is plenty of room for marginal comments. Be sure to keep copies of your papers. Please do not use binders.
4. Papers for the course must be essentially correct in their "mechanical" aspects-- spelling, punctuation, grammar, typing, and so forth. Papers with more than 3 or 4 errors per page will be marked down by one full letter grade, and if they are very messy, they will not only be penalized, but they will also be returned for correction before they are graded. Obviously spelling and typing are of no intrinsic importance, but messy papers are hard to assess; and it is not unfair to expect you to take responsibility for making sure that your papers are correct in these regards. If you have difficulty with the mechanical features of paper writing, please get someone to proofread your paper before you hand it in.
Hints on Essay Writing:
1. The paper topics are not recipes for writing your essays. You have to decide what it is that you want to maintain in your essays. Do not regard the paper topic as an essay examination question. Although your papers must be on the assigned topic, the point is to write a well-organized and unified argument for some clearly enunciated conclusion.
2. The task of writing a good essay is virtually identical with the task of thinking out a clear thesis or conclusion that you want to defend and then elaborating and defending it. You should be able to say clearly and precisely not only what your paper is about, but also what your paper maintains. Be sure each of your papers has both a thesis--that it asserts something definite--and a logical organization. Once it is clear what you what to show, you will have a criterion to decide what is relevant and the basis for organizing your paper. Can you put your main point clearly in a sentence? Can you say clearly in a sentence what your paper shows or proves? Are all the parts of your paper relevant to your main point? Is the structure of your argument clear? No good essay merely summarizes things you have read and then offers your remarks or points of comparison or differences you noticed. Every acceptable essay integrates its remarks into an argument of its own. Exposition of the views of others should always be part of your argument for your thesis.
3. Note that a well-organized paper is not merely orderly. For example, a paper that argues that Hume argues for claims 1, 2, and 3 and that one can defend claim 1 as follows, claim 2 as follows, but not claim 3 is certainly orderly, and it certainly has a thesis. But it would only be well-organized--truly one paper rather than three--if the discussions of the three claims bore some relations to one another and if the paper added up to some unified and substantive statement.
4. Avoid first paragraphs that say things such as, "First I will discuss the views of Kant and Mill. Then I will discuss their strengths and weaknesses. Then I will compare their conclusions and formulate my opinion." Passages such as these make it sound as if your argument will begin only on the last page. Exposition of the views of others has to find its place within your argument, not as a preface to your argument. If you think in terms of what you want to establish, and outline your paper in terms of stages in your argument, your essay will be much stronger.
5. Try to say exactly what you mean. Pay careful attention to your language. Sentences such as "Smith is a mistaken principle" are unacceptably careless. (Smith, like other human beings, could not possibly be a principle.) Value your words and use them accurately.
6. To help in organizing your thinking, you should attempt to answer the following three questions:
1. What is your thesis--that is, what is it that you are trying to maintain or show or prove? What is your main argument for your thesis?
2. What is the most important objection to or criticism of your thesis that you need to consider? Formulate that objection or criticism as an argument.
3. What is your argument in response to the objection or criticism mentioned in answer to question 2?
If you cannot answer these questions clearly and easily, then there are serious problems with your paper. Do not regard your papers as finished or acceptable until each clearly implies answers to the above questions. (But an essay is not, of course, a list of answers to any set of questions.) Taking the task of answering these questions seriously can make a big difference in the quality of your paper.
Special Considerations in Writing Philosophy Papers:
1. In a political debate, the point is to win, and one consequently tries to make the arguments of one's opponents sound as ridiculous and worthless as possible. In a philosophical debate (or in writing a philosophy essay), in contrast, the objective is to learn the truth. So you should try to make the arguments conflicting with your views as compelling as possible, before you answer them. If there are any objections to what you are maintaining that you cannot answer, then you cannot be sure that you are right. Work hard at trying to see "the other side".
2. Although many sociological and historical facts are relevant to the issues you are addressing in your essays, be careful to keep your focus philosophical. If you aren't sure whether your papers are philosophical or not, check with me.
Some recommendations on how to write badly: (adapted from Martin Hassel http://lacasahassel.net/cv/martin/howto.htm)
1. Begin with a sentence that is clear and direct:
Aristotle argues that happiness is the sole intrinsic good.
2. Change its verbs, adjectives, and adverbs into abstract nouns:
Aristotle takes happiness to encompass intrinsic goodness.
3. Make the sentence passive:
An argument for the sole intrinsic goodness of happiness is made by Aristotle.
4. Use two words where one would do:
A presentation and defense of the philosophical thesis that among all good things intrinsic goodness is found solely in happiness is found in Aristotle's writing.
5. Use plenty of 'in regard to,' 'as to' and similar terms:
As to the philosophical thesis that in regard to intrinsic goodness Aristotle's thesis that it consists solely in happiness is to be found in his writing.
6. Sprinkle with words that do not add anything:
As to the interesting philosophical thesis that in regard to intrinsic goodness Aristotle's well-known thesis that it consists solely in unmixed happiness is to be found in his well-known writing.
7. Use negatives:
As to the not-uninteresting philosophical thesis that in regard to non-instrumental goodness Aristotle's not unknown thesis that it consists solely in unmixed happiness is to be found in his not-unfamiliar writing.
8. Repeat the preceding steps:
How awful can you make the sentence?
When working on the final versions of your essays, feel free to come to your teaching assistant or me for help. You do not need to do further research, but you can consult with us if you want references for further reading.
There are some excellent resources on the web for writing philosophy papers. After consulting the brief writing suggestions in on the learn@uw site, I particularly recommend:
UW-Madison Writer's Handbook This excellent handbook is produced by The Writing Center here. Highly recommended!
www.sfu.ca/philosophy/writing.htm This is brief, clear, and helpful.
http://www.jimpryor.net/teaching/guidelines/writing.html Excellent, but much lengthier.
http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/philosophy/ For those who are serious about philosophy.
https://www.american.edu/cas/philrel/pdf/upload/tips.pdf Contains lots of references for further study.
A terrific general source on writing is Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. The first edition is available on the web at http://www.bartleby.com/141/
Paper Grading Criteria:
An "A" paper typically has all of the following virtues, although in exceptional cases papers with only five of the six virtues might merit an "A"
A "B" paper has the following virtues:
A "C" paper has at least the following virtues:
A "D" paper