Further information on Winter 2019 courses


Ed Langerak: Pivotal Figures in Western Ethics


Expanded description

This course will try to understand the main distinctive contribution that each of twelve thinkers have made to the conversation about ethical theory in Western intellectual history as well as to understand something of how these contributions relate to each other. Thus we will not discuss all of the interesting details of their moral views, just what makes them pivotal contributors. So the course is for those who are interested in seeing connections in a broad overview of the history of western ethics.


Course text

For the first and last class I will provide materials (usually by email) from my own writing and that of others. For weeks two through seven I will suggest readings from The Great Conversation by Norman Melchert, usually a modest length of 10-15 pages, though week two has 21 pages and week seven has 31 suggested pages. I have used this text in my introductory courses with great success, as it is clear and interesting and provides extensive direct quotations from primary sources (and I will often provide links to more primary sources for those who want to go into more depth). You will find the text an excellent introduction to Western intellectual history (with some comparisons to non-Western thought) and not only to ethics.

With history of philosophy texts, new editions are motivated less by new information or new ideas from the author and more by commercial efforts to make the older editions look obsolete. For our purposes, older editions will serve just as well as the latest ones; the text is now in its 7th edition and is scheduled to come out in its eighth edition by the time our course begins. The cost of the latest editions is around $100, but earlier editions can be purchased on line for less than $5, including postage. There is no reason to go later than the 5th edition, and I will ask the local Content bookstore to have some of those available (and below I give page numbers from the 5th edition, but the headings tend to be the same and the pagination of all editions is close to that of the 5th). I suspect the book will cost around fifteen or twenty dollars at the bookstore. But earlier editions work just as well for our purposes; some of the earliest editions will not have the chapter on Simone de Beauvoir, but I can provide printouts of that chapter. The later editions can be purchased in single volume or two-volume formats; we will read selections from the entire span of the text, so I recommend the single volume. Here are three direct links (Abe Books, Alibris Books, and Amazon Books) for purchasing inexpensive editions from reliable sources:

https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?sts=t&cm_sp=SearchF-_-home-_- Results&an=melchert&tn=the+great+conversation%2C+&kn=&isbn=

https://www.alibris.com/The-Great-Conversation-A-Historical-Introduction-to-Philosophy- Norman-Melchert/book/2694167?qsort=p&matches=132

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_28?url=search-alias%3Daps&fieldkeywords=great+conversation+by+melchert&sprefix=great+conversation%2C+melchert%2Caps %2C192&crid=3U9D8WDPYAARJ&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Agreat+conversation+by+melchert


Schedule of classes (subject to modification)

Week One:
Dimensions of ethics as a normative discipline (in relation to other normative dimensions such as religion, law, etiquette, economics, etc.):
xx•  Descriptive ethics (social science, such as Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind).
xx•  Normative ethics: basic principles or virtues; the main focus for this course.
xx•  Meta-ethics: the nature and status of moral claims.
xx•  Applied ethics: such as professional ethics, legal ethics, business ethics, environmental ethics, medical ethics (including clinical ethics).
Relation of religion (theology) to morality (ethics).
Shared morality? Thick and thin values.
Use of cases and examples in ethics.
What are the basic moral principles or virtues that you were raised with? That you tried to instill in your or others’ children? Any second thoughts?

Week Two:
Plato: The Love of Wisdom, 133-141; Morality, 145-150.

Aristotle: The Good Life (Happiness, Virtue, and Reason), 185-193.

Week Three:
Epicurus (Hedonism): 199-204.

Epictetus (Stoicism): 204-209.

Week Four:
Augustine: Wisdom, Happiness, and God, 232-236; Human Nature and Its Corruption, 246-251.

Aquinas: Humans: Their Good, 287-292.

Week Five:
David Hume: Understanding Morality, 419-423.

Immanuel Kant: Reason and Morality (Good Will and Autonomy), 450-457.

Week Six:
John Stuart Mill: Utilitarianism, 515-525.
Mary Wollstonecraft: Rights of Women, 525-531.

Week Seven:
Friedrich Nietzsche: Reevaluation of Values and Ubermensch, 546-560.

Simone de Beauvoir: Existentialist and Feminist, 684-701.

Week Eight:
Summary of connections, comparisons, and contrasts.

How to forcefully but civilly disagree on moral and political principles and issues. Pluralism versus relativism.