introduction to philosophy ethics and morality

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Introduction To Philosophy – Ethics and Morality

Everyone you know has some kind of ethical and moral underpinning… Perhaps theirs is a little more corrupt than yours (like those of criminal), or perhaps their principles are a more pious than yours (a religious figure in your life perhaps). In any case, we must know where we personally stand to understand the world around us.

Consider what the world would be like if there were no traffic rules at all. Would people be able to travel by car, bus, or other vehicles on the roads if there were no traffic regulations? Not safety, no. Without a basic framework for all agree upon (stay on your side of the road, for example), folks would be running amuck, crossing paths, and causing all kinds of problems. To avoid violent collisions, we need agreeable traffic rules for everyone to, sort of, get along.

Ethics can be thought of as the traffic rules for humans and society. Look around the media today and there are constant examples of two or more sets of ethical value systems colliding with other violently. Your ethical “right” is not always the same “right” as others. Sometimes they are opposite. Sometimes the ethics you have for yourself, you don’t hold for others… Ever heard the saying “That’s the pot calling the kettle black” before? I’m sure in your culture there is a similar phrase for someone saying something is bad for others, but not for themselves.

We are going to take a different approach to ethics than you may expect this week. We are going to consider ethics and morality, not as abstract terms spoken by men in robes in ancient Greece, but rather a living, breathing discussion that we all have every day as we move through life’s traffic and navigate our way to a meaningful life. Whether you have or haven’t read Huckleberry Finn by American writer and philosopher Samuel Langhorne Clemens (who you may know as Mark Twain) or not, you will leave this unit with a greater understanding of it, and yourself.

Reading

Twain, M. (1994). Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Dover Thrift Editions.). New York: Dover Publications. Available at http://contentserver.adobe.com/store/books/HuckFinn.pdf

Read Chapter 8 in Huckleberry Finn. You may have read this book years ago, but this time read it from the philosopher’s perspective you have matured within yourself in this class.

Try to pick up on the ethical dilemma Twain writes into the story for Huck while he struggles with what is “right” to society and what is “right” to himself. In the .pdf provided for class, this is most clear on page 45 (it may be on a different page if you are using another format of the book).

There are a couple passages in this book worth discussion, be-prepared in the Discussion Forum this week to discuss what your perspective allows you to you see.

Now that you are done with Chapter 8 from Mark Twain, check out the Khan Academy Video about The Divine Command Theory. Watch this video from Khan Academy:

Darwall, S. Ethics” God and Morality, Part 1. Khan Academy. Available at https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/wi-phi/wiphi-value-theory/wiphi-ethics/v/god-morality-part-1

  • Is this what you found in the Huckleberry Finn pages? Were you able to see Huck’s reaction to not telling on Jim for being a run-away as an odd argument given that he, himself, was a runway? See how society, in Huck’s mind, would label him a “low-down Abolitionist” if he didn’t tell the truth (and therefore lie and break his promise to his friend Jim). Note how Huck felt society was wrong so behaved unethically (breaking the law) to be more ethical (by breaking it).

Now read Chapter 12 of Huckleberry Finn, available at http://contentserver.adobe.com/store/books/HuckFinn.pdf

On page 68, Huck describes Moral Relativism when he justifies his stealing food:

“Pap always said it warn’t no harm to borrow things, if you was meaning to pay them back, sometime; but the widow said it warn’t anything but a soft name for stealing, and no decent body would do it. Jim said he reckoned the widow was partly right and pap was partly right; so the best way would be for us to pick out two or three things from the list and say we wouldn’t borrow them any more–then he reckoned it wouldn’t be no harm to borrow the others…. [T]owards daylight we got it all settled satisfactory, and concluded to drop crabapples and p’simmons. We warn’t feeling just right, before that, but it was all comfortable now.” (p. 68)

While their rationalization for stealing appears entirely self-serving, the discussion is not moot for us. Huck is struggling between two moralities just as we all do every day. For him, it is the conventional family and society ethical and moral code versus the one he needed at the time (his own) for survival.

Hopefully, you noticed how this feeling of moral “rightness” for Huck and Jim is punctuated by his feeling good about himself for using a code of ethics (his own — and even if it allows him to feel right about stealing).

Read about Kantian Ethics: http://www.csus.edu/indiv/g/gaskilld/ethics/kantian%20ethics.htm

  • Kant (1724-1804) argues that doing something because it feels right, doesn’t make it right. There is no moral imperative of something “feeling right”; Kant is emphatic that even otherwise praiseworthy activity cannot be considered truly moral if undertaken strictly because the individual takes pleasure in it. Think about Kant’s description of a Categorical Imperative in your life and Huck’s life.
      • Can you think of examples that fit into this definition in your culture?

Moral Absolutism tells us that there are some standards that have no need for interpretation. These, like traffic laws, are the ones that everyone has agreed are right and necessary for the good order and disciple of a healthy society. The shape and color of a Stop Sign, or that you have to drive on one side of the road not the other, are absolutes in that sense.

Read about Moral Absolutism at http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_moral_absolutism.html and note the philosophers you have heard about who discuss it (Plato, Aristotle, Kant, to name a few). Do not skip over the criticism part of this reading. As with everything, there are always other points of views which must be respected.

Watch this video: https://fod.infobase.com/p_ViewPlaylist.aspx?AssignmentID=XCJTTC

  • This video approaches Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as a strictly ancestral issue in Ethiopia. FGM is also forced upon infant and young girls throughout the world today as part of Sharia Law, as part of devote Islamic doctrine.
  • There are current and salient ethical and moral implications of this practice, one of your writing topics may address this.

Warning: This video deals with content that may be upsetting to some. If you are not comfortable watching it, you can skip it.

ASSIGNMENTS:

For this PART 1:

  • Your FIRST of TWO topics this week:
    • Huckleberry Finn.
      • Either from Chapter 8 or 12 or anywhere in the book if you’ve read more, please post a short observation about how you directly can relate to the ethical or moral dilemma the characters were going through.
      • Identify which of the terms from the Kantian Ethics reading you are referencing, please.
    • You must comment on your peers’ thoughts as well.
  • Your SECOND topic posts in the Discussion Forum this week:
    • Provide a modern example of a Categorical Imperative in your life or culture.
    • You must comment on your peers’ thoughts as well.

Guidelines

  • Do not write more than 1-2 paragraphs per topic (try to be succinct; it is the sign of a sharp mind to be able to collate and present an argument succinctly)

For this PART 2:

Present a 3-page research paper on Ethics and Morality in the world around you. Remember, your personal philosophy is right for you, you do not have to agree with these scholars or anyone in the class. Please respect yourself enough to state your case, and others enough to allow them to state theirs.

You must pick one of these three topics:

1. If you are a religious person, write about an ethical conflict you have with your own religion’s tenants which you feel morally obligated to not follow.

    • This can be as brave as talking about gender and sexuality issues or as light as if you always follow the dietary practices your religion requires, (alcohol, smoking, kosher diet, or halal food for example). You must use at least two examples in your writing.
    • Use the correct terms you learned this unit.

2. Write about the immigration in Europe. Should anyone be allowed into a sovereign country?

    • Pick a side and discuss the ethical and moral dilemma the arriving and receiving societies face. You must use at least two examples in your writing.
    • Use the correct terms you learned this unit.

3. Write about enforcing an adult belief structure onto children who haven’t chosen it yet (FGM, for example). What are the moral and ethical challenges of this?

    • You must give at least two examples.

Assignment Guidelines

Write a fully APA-compliant 3- page paper for this Unit

  • You should include a reference page, with APA citations, at the end of your paper. This page is not part of the 3-pages of written work
  • Standard margins, 12-point font, New Times Roman or similar
  • Do not write less, do not write more
  • Be sure to read the assessment criteria before you begin writing

For more information on APA formatting: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/

Assessment Criteria

  • Does the paper have a clearly formed question/statement using a philosopher/philosophical lens studied in this unit?
  • Does the paper discuss the author’s worldview on family, society, and politics as related to their chosen philosophical lens?
  • Does the writer give meaningful examples that illustrate his/her beliefs? Do those examples make clearer the ideas proposed in the paper?
  • Presentation of reasonable argument for why the chosen topic is important to the student’s view of society.
  • APA and overall look and feel of the paper is college-level work

For this PART 3:

Hopefully, this week has increased your worldview about the importance of ethics and morality. We presented the topic here as a way for your re-visit your past experiences and view future experiences through the lens of understanding that we are all conflicted in some way. The important part is knowing a conflicting viewpoint may be present, that it is may be valid, and that either way, all viewpoints deserve the respect to be discussed honestly and openly.

For this part, please share what the most interesting part (lesson/discussion) this week was to you. How did that reading, or experience of thinking about it, change your worldview? Please explain how you thought before, and how the new viewpoint changed that old thinking into something new.

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