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. We will thus read only a one short dialogue by Plato and will rely on some chapters from a recent book summarizing his views and the views of Socrates, so as to provide some context for reading Aristotle, whose Nicomachaen Ethics will be our first main text. 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, and our last author, John Stuart Mill (unless I decide to include some of Nietzsche instead), restores the connection between ethics and social philosophy that we will find in Aristotle.
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, a midterm, a final examination, and homework. Your semester grade will depend on the essays (50%), the midterm (15%), the final (25%) 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.
EXAMS Both the midterm and the final will consist of a mix of short-answer and essay questions. The final will be cumulative but will emphasize material covered after the midterm.
DISCUSSION AND HOMEWORK Before most of the class meetings, I will distribute discussion questions on the material to be covered. These should help focus your reading and help to structure class discussion. On most Thursdays, at least one of the discussion questions will be designed as a homework assignment. Your task is then to write a short answer: 80 words maximum and to email it to me by noon on the following Monday. Alternatively, if you prefer, you can submit (also by email on noon on Monday) a carefully formulated question about the reading that you would like to have the class discuss. Homework should be sent to me either within the text of an email message or, preferrably, as a single-spaced email attachment in Microsoft Word. 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 then 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%.
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, September 2: Introduction: discussion of the goals, structure and requirements of the course; What is ethics?
Thursday, September 4: 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, September 9: Plato, Goodness, Justice, and the Forms
Richard Kraut, How to Read Plato, chapters 6 and 7 -- pages 58-75 (xerox)
Thursday, September 11: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics Teleology, Intrinsic vs. instrumental goods, and Happiness
Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, chapters 1-7, pp. 1 -10
Tuesday,September 16: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics: Happiness, Excellence, and virtue
Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, chapters 8 - 13, Book 2, chapters 1-5, pp. 10 - 23
Thursday, September 18: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics: Virtues, their acquisition, voluntary rational choice, and the doctrine of the mean
Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2, chapters 6-9, Book 3, chapters 1-5, pp. 23-40; Book III, ch. 10-12, pp. 45-49, and Book IV, ch. 3, pp. 56-60..
Tuesday, September 23: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Justice
Nicomachean Ethics, Book 5, pp. 67-86
Thursday, September 25:Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, The intellectual virtues and the virtues of character
Nicomachean Ethics, Book 6, pp. 86-99.
Tuesday, September 30: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Vices, pleasure, and weakness of will
Nicomachean Ethics, Book 7, pp. 99-119
Thursday, October 2: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Friendship, benevolence and self-interest
Nicomachean Ethics, Books 8 and 9, pp. 119-153.
Tuesday, October 7: Aristsotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Pleasure, Happiness, Virtue, and Politics
Nicomachean Ethics, Book 10, pp. 153-171.
Thursday, October 9: Augustine, Christianity, morality, sin, and evil
Augustine, Confessions, excerpts from Books VII, VIII, and X.
Tuesday, October 14: Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals: Benevolence and Justice
Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, sec. 1-3, pp. 13-34, and Appendix III, pp. 93-98.
Thursday, October 16: Midterm examination
Tuesday, October 21: Hume, 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, October 23: Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals: Excellences and Virtues
Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, sec. 6-7, pp. 51-68
Tuesday, October 28: Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals: Virtue and self-interest
Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, sec. 8-9, pp. 68-82.
Thursday, October 30: 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, November 4: Smith on conscience and duty
Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part III, excerpts (xerox), pp. 5-15.
Thursday, November 6: Kant: Everyday ethics and the nature of duty
Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Preface and beginning of section 1; pp. 1-12
Tuesday, November 11: 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.
Thursday, November 13: Kant, other versions of the categorical imperative
Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, section II, pp. 30-37
Tuesday, November 18: 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)
Thursday, November 20: Mill's utilitarianism: happiness and its maximization
Mill, Utilitarianism, chapters 1 and 2.
Tuesday, November 25: Mill's utilitarianism: explanation and justification
Mill, Utilitarianism, chapters 3 and 4
Thursday, November 27: Thanksgiving
Tuesday, December 2: Mill, Utilitarianism and Justice
Mill, Utilitarianism, chapter 5
Thursday, December 4: Mill on liberty: introduction and freedom of speech
Mill, On Liberty, chapters 1 and 2
Tuesday, December 9: Mill, Individuality and clarification of the principle
Mill, On Liberty, chapters 3 and 4
Thursday, December 11: Mill, Application of the principle of liberty
Mill, On Liberty, chapter 5
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:
Unlike some professors, 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 Rousseau 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 Locke 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 "Rawls is a mistaken principle" are unacceptably careless. (Rawls, 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:
Hobbes defends absolute sovereignty.
2. Change its verbs, adjectives, and adverbs into abstract nouns:
Hobbes offers a defense of the absolutism of sovereignty..
3. Make the sentence passive:
A defense of the absolutism of sovereignty is offered by Hobbes.
4. Use two words where one would do:
A consideration and thoroughgoing defense of the total absolutism of national sovereignty is offered by Hobbes..
5. Use plenty of 'in regard to,' 'as to' and similar terms:
In regard to the total absolutism of national sovereignty in contrast to its limitation a defense is offered by Hobbes.
6. Sprinkle with words that do not add anything:
In regard to the total unqualified absolutism of national governmental sovereignty in considerable contrast to its conceivable limitation an interesting and significant defense is freely offered by Hobbes.
7. Use negatives:
In regard to the total non-limitation of national non-private sovereignty in not inconsiderable contrast to its not-inconceivable limitation a not-uninteresting nor insignificant defense is non-hesitantly offered by Hobbes.
8. Repeat the preceding steps:
How awful can you make the sentence?
Seeking Help :
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. 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.princeton.edu/~jimpryor/general/writing.html Excellent, but much lengthier.
www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/philosophy.html For those who are serious about philosophy.
www.cofc.edu/~portmord/tips.htm 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