May 2, 2008

Writing Assignment 3

Here's the third assignment: Download file

April 19, 2008

Thoreau for Tuesday, April 22

Please read the chapters "Economy" and "Where I Lived and What I Lived for" in Thoreau's Walden. Read my notes first, and use them as a guide to the chapter. Expect a quiz on Tuesday. Notes: Download file

April 8, 2008

Mill Handout for Thursday, April 10

For Thursday, please study these notes on Mill's On Liberty: Download file

March 12, 2008

Marcus Aurelius -- The Meditations

For Tuesday, March 18, read some selections from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Note the next reading assignment will be from a book on reserve in the library: the Epicurus chapter of DeBotton's The Consolations of Philosophy. You might want to read this over the weekend also, if you have time.
Here is the Marcus assignment:

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
Some notes to help with the reading

Your assignment for next week is to become acquainted with The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. The problem with reading these is that they are little separate chunks, unrelated to each other. One needs to read around in the book and get a sense of Marcus project. Here are some selections that will help to orient you:

1. Read the introduction first, to get oriented. If you need more background, check out the relevant articles or parts of articles (use the “search� function) in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

2. Skip the first book, noting just what he is doing in this book – thanking people and explaining his debts to them – and think a little about what it means that he starts out this way. (Confucius would appreciate this approach.)

3. Read some of the helpful passages first. Notice the beginning of the first remark in book 2: “Say to yourself…� This is one of a family of remarks I will call “thought experiments� or “exercises in re-framing.� They are, quite specifically, devices to help one get over negative feelings or attitudes that will interfere with one’s ability to be a good emperor. Don’t take them as profound, true-for-all-time, metaphysical pronouncements. Take them as “ways of looking at the world to help Marcus get through his day.� Marcus is using his reason to get over attitudes or impulses that might otherwise paralyze him or mislead him: fear of death (4:50) regret for the shortness of life (2:14); disgust at ugly or unpleasant people (3:2; 5:28); the quest for fame(4:19); being over-impressed with his own importance or grandeur; attraction to particular goods (6:13; 11:2); annoyance at injury by others (6:20); sluggishness (3:1; 5,1); being over-impressed with important people (10:19); taking life too seriously (4:48); being overwhelmed with all the things you have to do (8:36). You might find these passages particularly interesting if any of these have ever bothered you.

4. Marcus’ view of the universe, of human psychology, of the possibilities of philosophic reflection, are scattered through the book, and you can go slightly nuts trying to put the picture together. Here are some passages to read first, to give you a general orientation:

a. For Marcus picture of the ordered universe (cosmos) in which he plays a part: 9:9, 4:40, 7:13 and 10:6. Remember that Marcus sees the universe as orderly and beautiful. The Roman Empire is one of the orderly and harmonious things in the universe (a kind of super-beehive) and he is the emperor. It’s in that way that one can understand his idea that universe itself has placed him at his “post,� has given him this commission. The ethical ideal of cooperation with the natural order is well expressed at 2:16, 5:8 and 7:55. What that means for Marcus specifically, in his job as emperor, is expressed at 6:30.
b. The opposite of Marcus’ ideal: cutting oneself off from the order and beauty of the universe: 8:34, 8:52, 9:23.
c. Philosophical and scientific understanding can help one to fulfill one’s role in the universal scheme. Here are some general statements of what such understanding can accomplish: 3:11, 4:3, and 6:38.
d. Marcus’ psychology makes a stark distinction between the directing mind, which surveys all that one perceives and feels, and the mass of impressions that come to us through our bodies. Our problems begin when we make inappropriate judgments or evaluations of our impressions: 5:26, 8:47, 11:16 and 12:3. As long as our “directing mind� is intact, nothing can seriously harm us. The ultimate thing to fear is the decay of this capacity to maintain distance from our impressions and feelings: 3:1.
e. Most of the time, Marcus maintains his view of the beautiful, orderly universe that invites him to participate in its harmonious existence. Occasionally, he considers the possibility that the universe may be quite different from this, but concludes that, even on the worst imaginable assumptions (lawless chaos), his ethical stance would remain unchanged: 12:14-15.

Beyond this, read around in the book, marking passages that appeal to you. You don’t need to read every word, and it is helpful, with this as with most philosophy reading, to split your study over several sessions and to make notes of the points you remember and of your thought as you read. Also, think of Marcus in the sequence with Confucius and Socrates. How is he like them? What are the important differences in his project or in his approach?

March 8, 2008

Aritstotle's Virtues -- for Tuesday, March 11

We have some challenging but also quite fun reading ahead, dealing with Aristotle's specific accounts of those beautiful, excellent projects and ways of acting which allow human beings to give full expression to their rational nature and become fully human.

There are two things to read as general introduction. First, look for sure at the section in the Virtue Ethics article of the Stanford Encyclopedia that addresses Aristotle. I'll put the link below. This isn't easy reading, but it is easier than Aristotle, and it provides a kind of map. Next, look, in the Ethics, at the treatment of the mean, book 2, section 8, pages 27 to 28. This gives the general way that Aristotle thinks about achieving excellence or beautiful activity. It is almost always a matter of of avoiding excess and deficiency, of hitting a sort of bulls eye. The specific treatments of the various excellences, like wit or temperance, are just explaining how to do this in particular cases. So, read this bit carefully.

Next, look at Ari's treatment of particular virtues, starting with his discussion of temperance on page 45, and continuing through the discussions of various other virtues to page 55. Read this stuff carefully, take notes, think about how the particular things he say connect to the general way he goes about analyzing excellent activity. He is basically just "filling in the blanks," applying some very basic questions to a variety of different activities that he takes to be excellent or beautiful. You might think about how much common ground we have with him. Which activities that he takes to be excellent would we also take to be excellent.

For Tuesday, please write one or two sentences on each of these questions:

1. Describe one important virtue (excellence in activity) widely acknowledged within the Gustavus community?

2. Describe one important virtue (excellence in activity) acknowledged within your family or home community?

Here is the link to the virtue ethics article section: .

March 5, 2008

Aristotle for Thursday, March 6

For Thursday, please read the one-page handout of quotes from Aristotle’s Politics. Also, read in the Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, chapters 5 (on pages 4 and 5 of Irwin’s edition) and 7 (on pages 7 -10 of Irwin’s edition). There is a helpful account of what is going on in these passages in the article on Aristotle’s ethics in the Stanford Encyclopedia, in the section: “Human Good and the Function Argument.� Here is the web address of that section:

There is another helpful account of this material in the article on virtue, section two, “Virtue, Practical Wisdom, and Eudaimonia.� Here is the address: ()

Be sure to read the first of these for Thursday.

Also please note: there will be a voluntary colloquium on ethics Wednesday night, and I will give extra credit for anyone from the class who attends. Here is the information:

Announcing the Green Colloquium Series
“Move Electrons, Not Mammals�

On Wednesday, March 5, at 7 pm, in Old Main 06, a group will gather to watch a talk by cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who received the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics. The title of the talk: “Explorations of the Mind: Well Being.� Kahneman has demonstrated that there are important differences between people’s reports about the quality of an experience as it is happening and their reports looking back. (He also thinks about the unreliability of people’s views about what will be satisfying or unsatisfying.)

Ethics and political philosophy take human consequences seriously, asking “How will it affect people, if I do this action, if we change this rule, if we construct this new institution?� Kahneman shows that different plausible ways of measuring human happiness give radically different answers to such questions.

There will be cookies – and a doorprize.

(To preview the talk, search Google Video: well being, psychology.)

March 3, 2008

Some material on the Crito

I did my thesis in part on Crito arguments. Here is an excerpt covering the Tuesday assignment, pages 89-96 of Crito, the The Last Days of Socrates: Download file

February 23, 2008

Socrates: Reading for Tuesday, February 26

For Tuesday, please read the introduction, and first and third sections ("strangeness" and "chronology") in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Socrates. Also, in the Encyclopedia, read, in the article on Plato' shorter ethical works, the introduction, the section on elenchus (2), on background (10) and on Laches (15). All of these articles come up on the first search page when you search the encyclopedia for "Socrates."

Also, read Plato's Apology, in The Last Days of Socrates, pages 33-78.

The first paper assignment will be a critical discussion of Confucius' attitude toward li (ritual and propriety), making use of your own experience. The target length will be 900-1300 words. The due date will be Tuesday, March 11, by email. I will send out more details later; we will discuss this paper in class this week.

February 19, 2008

Laches - An Introduction to Socrates

Read the introduction to the Laches, the first of the two dialogues in the edition we are using. Then print out and look at my notes from this website. Read the preliminary notes, then use the outline as a guide as you are reading through the dialogue. If time runs short, be sure to read my notes. They provide a summary of the points about the dialogue that are of most immediate interest

My notes: Download file

February 16, 2008

Selections from Confucius' Analects

For Tuesday, please read some selected passages from the Analects of Confucius. Here is the list of passages: Download file

Read all the passages in one topic area together and make notes about two matters: what Confucius is saying and your questions about his view. Bring these notes to class on Tuesday.

Also, in the Stanford Encyclopedia, search Confucius, and read the full article on Chinese Ethics that shows up on the first page of search results and the section on ethical commensurablity from the article Comparative Philosophy: Chinese and Western.

Note: these articles are difficult, and I don't expect you to understand them completely. From the article on ethical commensurability, try to understand in a general way what topics in Western ethics are like those discussed by Confucius -- in particular, how the interest in virtue ethics connects to his moral advice, and how the discussion of rights raises questions about his moral view. You don't need to read beyond the discussion of Confucius, in this section. In the article "Chinese Ethics," again there is more material than you can digest easily. Look for information about just this: on what points did contemporaries and later philosophers disagree with Confucius. What were the anti-Confucian schools like? For this purpose, the accounts of the schools that were close to Confucius in time, say within 500 years of him, are much more important than the accounts of later movements, and the accounts of schools arising in response to his teaching are more important than accounts of Taoist and Buddhist views.

The point in reading these is to get a general orientation on two matters: (1) in what ways are Western philosophers interested in Confucius, and (2) what alternatives to his view were current in Chinese thought?

February 13, 2008


Welcome to the course. Here is the syllabus: Download file