Course Structure and Purposes Courses in philosophical ethics can be taught in a number of ways. This course is a historical survey of some of the major figures and their teachings. It is unusual, if not unique, in that attention is given to nineteenth-century American philosophers. It is hoped that this approach will provide the student with a working knowledge of what the major figures have written and thought, and cause him/her to think more clearly on the moral problems that confront us all. It should be obvious that to concentrate on historical figures is not to ignore concrete problems; they certainly did not ignore them. Finally it is perhaps not out of place to note that we can avoid being chemists or physicists, but we are all moral agents. To cease to worry about moral issues is to cease to be human.
More Specific Aims (or hopes) for the Student 1. To gain a knowledge of the history of moral philosophy in the Western World.
2. To learn to read and evaluate the relevant philosophical materials.
3. As you read, to learn to ask yourself: "What is the philosopher trying to
prove?" "How does he argue for his position?" "Does he prove his case?"
4. To acquire an appreciation for the fact that past (even ancient) philosophers
grappled with many of the same moral issues that trouble us today.
Contemporary Readings and Studies by Abraham Edel, Elizabeth Flower and Finbarr O'Connor. The textbook readings are arranged chronologically, and this more or less dictates the schedule. This order will be followed with only minor departures (to be indicated in the syllabus). I shall assume that the chapters on "Biblical and Theological Writings", and the so-called "Middle Ages", deal with topics which are better covered by my colleagues in the Religion Department, so these will not be discussed in my course. It may be just the way I deal with them, but the topics and writings in the course do seem to become more subtle, perhaps more difficult, as the course progresses. So what is required of the student increases as the course moves along.
Testing and Grading It is my hope that I can have three hour exams, plus the final exam. The student is also required to write a paper (about 10-15 pages, typewritten--double-spaced) on a relevant topic of your own choosing. This is a lecture class, but as indicated above, discussion is encouraged, and while I won't try to count the number of times a students does or does not participate in class, an attempt will be made to reward active participation. The final exam will be comprehensive. There are two reasons for this:
(1) This gives us a chance to bring together material from the entire course, and
thus to take a wider view.
(2) As in Philosophy 1305 and 1306, the first test, and sometimes the second, too,
may only show that the student doesn't know how the game is played, so to speak.
Being able to read and evaluate philosophical material are acquired skills. So
the final exam is a place in which the student may show improvement.
Suggested Readings Your teacher is not so naive as to be unaware that it is a major achievement just to get students to read the assigned texts. But I live in the (perhaps vain) hope that someday, somewhere, I may find a student who wants to know more than the bare minimum.
Most general histories of philosophy include discussions of the ethical theories of the major figures. For example, in A History of Philosophy by Frederick Copleston, S.J. (London: Burns and Oates, Limited), Volume One,Greece and Rome (1951), there are lengthy discussions of the work of Plato (Part III), Aristotle (Part IV), and the Stoics and Epicureans (Part V).
The history most often used here is A History of Western Philosophy (2nd ed., Rev.) by W.T. Jones (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1975). Volume One, The Classical Mind, has good sections on Plato and Aristotle. Volume Three, Hobbes to Hume, and Volume Four, Kant and the Nineteenth Century, are also useful.
There is also a two-volume History of Ethics by Vernon J. Bourke (Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1970), with extensive notes and useful bibliographies. A Short History of Ethics by Alasdair Macintyre seems less useful, though it has a whole chapter on Aristotle's ethics. And an "oldie but goodie" is Outlines of the History of Ethics for English Readers by Henry Sidgwick (New York: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1954, first published in 1886).
Another book that covers the whole area is Western Ethics, an Historical Introduction, by Robert L. Arrington (Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 1998)-this looks very useful.