Instructor: Alexander R. Pruss
Course webpage: www.AlexanderPruss.com/1308
Email correspondence: Alexander_Pruss@baylor.edu
Class times: Mon., Wed. and Fri. 9:00-9:50 am in MH 107
Office hours: Mon., Wed., Fri. 10:00 am - 11:00 am., or by appointment
Ethics is a reasoned examination of the kind of life that a human being should lead. This is not just a question of dos and don’ts, but a question of what is truly valuable in a human life and what is pointless, of what kind of a life is worth living.
For centuries, the Ten Commandments have been a source of ethical insight. Interestingly, neither the Jewish nor the Christian traditions took the Ten Commandments to be just a list of ten simple commands. Rather, the Ten Commandments, in addition to being commands, were seen as providing a way of dividing up ethical reflection. We are going to look at ethics as organized in this way.
This is a philosophy and not a theology course. The Commandments are going to act as headings for various abstract and specific issues. For instance, “Thou shalt not murder” will be an occasion to consider two specific controversial issues, capital punishment and abortion, which both test the limits, if any, of the commandment. On the other hand, the first commandment will lead us to look at the relationship, if any, between God and ethics, and at whether there are objective moral truths. For another example, “Thou shalt not steal”, will lead us to examine on a rather abstract level the nature of private property.
In the course of the semester we will look at a number of different general ethical theories as a way of addressing the particular issues raised. For instance, consideration of capital punishment will lead us to think about Aristotelian virtue ethics. When we take up lying, we will consider both utilitarianism and Kantianism.
The original texts of the Bible do not number the ten commandments, and so Jews, Catholics and Protestants traditionally divide them up somewhat differently. The Protestant numbering is:
In Catholic numbering, 1 and 2 are merged into a single commandment, but 10 is split into two separate commandments, one about lust and one about greed.
All grades are up to the instructor’s final discretion. TA-graded materials can always be re-submitted to the instructor to grade. The instructor will attempt to re-grade the material without looking at the TA's grade, and the resulting grade may be higher or lower.
Starting the second day of class until the end of term, except for the day of the midterm, during each class there is a 1/3 chance of a three-minute multiple-choice quiz, based on the material from the last lecture and/or the reading for that day.
Each student will make a 10 minute presentation at some point in the course of their choosing concerning some moral or ethical issue in the news or in contemporary popular culture (film, literature, music, etc.) that relates to one of the Ten Commandments. The presentation will present the issue, show how it relates to the Commandment, and say a little bit about the kinds of ethical arguments that can be brought to bear on both sides of that issue. You need to email the instructor the topic you are choosing by August 31, as well as the date that you present (it has to be a date that fits with the relevant commandment).
Don’t try to predict when the quizzes will happen. This will be basically random. Count on the quiz happening precisely when you’re not prepared!
All credible suspicions of lack of academic integrity will be automatically reported to the Honor Council for further investigation.
Plagiarism is one of the most serious of the violations of academic integrity and consists in presenting the work or thought of another as one’s own. If you are using someone else’s literal words, even if only a short phrase of two or three words, you need to put them in quotation marks (or in the case of a longer quote, in block-quote format which is single-spaced and with every line indented on the left as in the sample quiz question above) and give the source. If you are paraphrasing or merely using someone else’s ideas, you still need to give the source explicitly. The only exception to the last rule is that you do not need to specifically give the source for ideas that you got in my lecture when writing papers for this course.
Plagiarism is not only immoral but foolish. The Honor Council may fail you in the class, or may suspend you or even expel you. If you just hand in a mediocre but honest paper you will very likely (though I do not make guarantees) get at least a D on the paper, and anyway there are other papers in the course to pull up your average.
If you confess to plagiarism before I give you any sign of my suspicions (before I email you asking you for sources, before I ask you to meet with me, etc.), I will let you rewrite the paper and not proceed any further.
I expect all students to hand in their work on time, barring circumstances beyond their reasonable control. Written assignments are due at the beginning of class. I accept unexcused late assignments until the last class day, but of course the grade goes down. The exact formula is probably going to be something like this: g=g0(100-n3/4)/100, where g is the grade you actually get on the assignment, g0 is the grade you would have got on it if it were not late, and n is the number of days the assignment is late, rounded up to the nearest whole day. This formula means that it is worth handing in a paper even three months late—your grade will be multiplied by 0.72 then, but this is much better than getting a zero. I reserve the right to automatically fail a student who misses a paper or an exam with no excuse.
Keep on checking the course website for updates to this syllabus. Online readings will have hyperlinks in the online version of this syllabus within about a week of the date the reading is assigned.
Additional reading may be added at a number of different points.
|August 22||First commandment: Absolute rules and God||Read: Plato, The Apology|
|August 24||Morality: real, fictional or subjective?||Read: C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, chapters 1-3 (one copy of the book on two hours reserve; the library has a lot of other copies; great book, you should all own it anyway)|
|August 27||Morality: discussion||Be ready to talk!|
|August 29||God and morality||Read: C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, chapter 4|
|August 31||God and morality||
Read: Plato, The Euthyphro
Email instructor: Topic and date of presentation
|Sept 5||Second commandment: idols and symbols||
Read: Tillich (on reserve)
Email instructor: Thesis sentence for paper #1
|Sept 7||Third commandment: God's sacred name||
Read: Otto (on reserve)
|Sept 10||Fourth commandment: Work and the point of life||
Read: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book I (go to library.nlx.com, choose "Aristotle", select "Nicomachean Ethics", and page through with the right-pointing triangle icon until you reach the end of Book I)
Write: Paper #1
|Sept 12||Work and the point of life||
Read: Marx, Chapter 2 of Wage Labour and Capital
Read: John Paul II, Laborem exercens, Part II
|Sept 14||Fifth commandment: Respect for law||Read: Plato, The Crito|
|Sept 17||Respect for law||Read: Russell, "And then there were none..."|
|Sept 19||Legitimate authority||
Read: Aquinas, Summa Theologica I-II, 90 (note: the views Aquinas lists under "Objections" are views he disagrees with and which he tries to refute in the "Replies"; Aquinas' own view is listed in the "On the contrary" and "I answer that" sections)
Read: Wolff (on reserve)
|Sept 21||Legitimate authority||
Read: Raz (on reserve)
|Sept 24||Sixth commandment: Capital punishment||
Read: Plato, Phaedo, 57A-70C, 114D-end
|Sept 26||Capital punishment||
|Sept 28||Capital punishment||Read: Gertsein|
|Oct 1||Abortion: Ignoring personhood||Read: Thomson|
|Oct 3||Abortion: Ignoring personhood||Read: Pruss|
|Oct 5||Abortion: Personhood||Read: Warren (on reserve)|
|Oct 8||Abortion: Personhood|
|Oct 10||Midterm examination|
|Oct 15||Seventh commandment: Sexuality||
Read: May (on reserve)
Be ready to talk!
|Oct 19||Eighth commandment: Theft||
|Oct 22||Private property||
Write: Paper #2
|Oct 24||Private property||Read: Rousseau|
|Oct 26||Private property||Read: Singer|
|Oct 29||Ninth commandment: Lying and Kantian ethics||Read: Kant, Groundwork, Chapter 2 (online)|
|Oct 31||More on Kant||Be ready to talk!|
|Nov 2||Kant, and clever ways out||Read: Pruss|
|Nov 5||Utilitarianism||Read: Mill, Utilitarianism, Chapters 1 and 2: original or simplified version|
|Nov 7||Utilitarianism||Read: Mill, Utilitarianism, Chapter 5: original or simplified version|
|Nov 9||Discussion||Be ready to talk!|
|Nov 12||Tenth commandment: Lust|
|Nov 14||Tenth commandment: Pornography||Recommended reading: Andrea Dworkin. Note: Dworkin's piece uses sexually explicit language to describe pornography, and her verbal images are very graphic and unpleasant. She wants to shock her reader. The reading is optional--I will summarize the argumentative points in class.|
|Nov 16||Tenth commandment: Greed||In class, watch Decalogue X|
|Nov 19||The meaning of life||
Read: Camus, "Myth of Sisyphus" (Note: The questions at the end are not by Camus)
Read: Bertrand Russell, "A Free Man's Worship"
Be ready to talk!
Email instructor: Thesis sentence for paper #3
|Nov 28||Christian love||Read: New Testament on love|
|Nov 30||The meaning of life||
Write: Paper #3
|Dec 3||Review and final discussion||
Read: Aquinas on love
Be ready to talk!
|Dec 7||Final Exam|