This was a course I designed and taught at Benedictine University for four semesters. For the reasons why my course was discontinued, click here.
Interdisciplinary Seminar 301: Morality & Justice (2016 - 2017)
3 Credit Hours: Tuesday, Thursday (9:30-10:45am) Birck 002
3 Credit Hours: Tuesday, Thursday (9:30-10:45am) Birck 002
Instructor: Glen Brown
Office: Kindlon 270 Hours: Tuesday, Thursday 8-9am by apt.
Shermer, Michael. The Science of Good and Evil. New York: Holt, 2004. ISBN: 978-0-8050-7769-8.
Most of the materials/assignments will be available in the Content folder of D2L
Course Description: When we talk about morality, we are also talking about justice. We are talking about rights, duties, and mutually-agreed principles based on trust. We will explore how and why we should live moral and just lives through an interdisciplinary study of philosophical ethics, social and political psychology, evolutionary biology, and theology to create a framework for an understanding of morality and justice. We will examine and discuss such essential questions as “Why does morality serve an important function in our lives as individuals and in our community? What is the path that maximizes both our own well-being and the well-being of others? What do we claim are moral rights? Is it possible we could arrive at a set of ethical principles that would reconcile self-interest with the common good, promote personal integrity and respect for legitimate rights, and apply to all of us at all times?...” In this class, we will also discuss problems in ethics through an understanding of several ethical theories: Normative Ethics (Ethical Hedonism, Ethical Pluralism), Meta-ethical Relativism and Subjectivism, Utilitarianism, and Meta-ethical Theories (Naturalism, Intuitionism, and Non-cognitivism), to name just a few. We will also examine historical theories from Greek, medieval, early Modern, 19th century deontological and teleological ethics and their relevance to contemporary ethical thought.
Essential Student Learning Goals for IDS 301-304, Human Dignity/Common Good:
Attainment of the following goals will be measured by students’ participation in discussions and by performance on written analyses.
a. Navigate different information formats and media technologies to find pertinent information.
“Information formats” include traditional print media as well as visual, audio, and digital. This is not a “technology requirement” per se. Media will be chosen as appropriate by programs and faculty.
b. Evaluate sources of information critically to conduct responsible research.
a. Engage ethical problems thoughtfully and actively and contribute to the work of peace and social justice.
b. Understand conflict resolution processes.
a. Develop intellectual curiosity and a desire for lifelong learning.
Breadth of Knowledge and Integrative Learning:
b. Recognize relationships among different disciplinary approaches to the study of morality and justice.
c. Integrate learning from different disciplines to illuminate intersecting topics of investigation.
d. Explore connections between classroom knowledge and real world experiences.
1) Understand theoretical knowledge of moral phenomena as a foundation for “practical knowledge about how we ought to live”
2) Acquire the ability to communicate some general and specific crucial knowledge about good and evil and their relationship to justice
3) Determine the objective grounds of ethics and show the ability to justify moral beliefs
4) Make informed ethical decisions that promote personal integrity, the respect for legitimate rights, and the aspirations of individuals and groups, and the common good
5) Analyze, synthesize, and argue effectively through use of deductive and inductive reasoning
6) Distinguish between facts and opinions and between relevant and irrelevant claims; determine the factual accuracy of statements and beliefs; detect bias and fallacious reasoning often found in argumentation
7) Develop a vocabulary used in the philosophy of ethics and morality
8) Apply rhetorical strategies to appeal to a specific audience: ethos—an appeal to credibility; logos—an appeal to reason; and pathos—an appeal to one’s beliefs, values, and assumptions
9) Demonstrate an understanding of the writing process by proofreading each essay for errors and omissions of both form and substance; by revising and restructuring where ideas are poorly organized or where evidence is lacking; and by correcting for errors in syntax, usage, punctuation, spelling, and style
10) Synthesize ideas skillfully through effective organization and emphasis of ideas
11) Connect ideas logically and clearly through a variety of sentence structures
12) Develop a complex thesis with thoughtfulness and clarity, using Chicago, MLA, or APA documentation
13) Demonstrate grammatical, syntactical, and stylistic mastery
Classroom Etiquette: As we work together to create a classroom environment that is both conducive to learning and welcoming of all members of the class, students are expected to adhere to appropriate standards of behavior for an academic environment.
Guidelines for respectful, constructive, and inclusive philosophical discussion by David Chalmers: The guidelines below are intended primarily for oral philosophical discussion in formal settings: colloquia, conferences, seminars, classes, and so on… The specific norms are intended as means of facilitating more general norms of being respectful, constructive, and inclusive…
Norms of respect: 1. Be courteous; 2. Don't interrupt; 3. Don't present objections as flat dismissals (leave open the possibility that there's a response); 4. Don't be incredulous; 5. Don't roll your eyes, make faces, laugh at a participant; 6. Don't start side conversations parallel to the main discussion; 7. Acknowledge your interlocutor's insights; 8. Object to theses, don't object to people…
Norms of inclusiveness: 1. Please don't dominate the discussion; 2. Raise one question per question (follow-ups are OK, but questions on different topics go to the back of the queue); 3. Try not to let your question (or your answer) run on forever; 4. Acknowledge points made by previous questioners; 5. It's OK to ask a question that you think may be unsophisticated or uninformed; 6. Don't use unnecessarily offensive examples…7. Don’t try to impress others… (http://consc.net/norms.html
Attendance and Participation: Because I believe everyone has something to contribute to our class, I believe that we are all responsible for attending college seminar classes, which are public forums for the exchange of varying beliefs, values, and assumptions. A student’s education is not an isolated and anti-social event. It is a reciprocation of mutual interests and goals. Please take responsibility for your education and learning. It is a profound opportunity and privilege that many people do not have, and it should never be squandered. Attend our class! Although I believe that not everything valuable in a class can be assessed through tests, quizzes and essays, or should be; nevertheless, I am not stressing attendance over learning and education. On the contrary, I am emphasizing the values of commitment and the responsibility to that obligation as part of a classroom community of teachers and learners.
Our discussions are dependent upon the contributions of each individual. In any seminar such as our class, a participating audience is indispensable for its success. In this way, we are all participants in one another’s education and opportunity for learning. Thus, partake fully in our seminar discussions. Take notes during discussions and lectures too. They will be valuable for the essays you will write. Note: your ability to articulate your opinions in each class will also determine the difference between borderline grades. Participation in class is an essential requirement for earning an “A” or “B.” Please understand that if you come to class without your materials and/or reveal that you did not read our assignment, you will be recorded absent. If you are working on an assignment for another class or surfing the internet on your iPhone or laptop, you will be recorded absent.
Please note that more than four absences (two weeks of classes) will affect your final grade. Each subsequent absence will lower your final grade one full grade. If you are seriously ill and a contagion (e.g. you have the flu) or have an emergency, please notify me by e-mail that you will be absent. It is imperative that you use your absences legitimately and wisely. Finally, note that three late arrivals (more than five minutes) will also equal one absence.
Technology Requirement: While a laptop can be a useful aide for your education, it can also be a hindrance to discussion. If you bring a laptop or smart phone to class, please keep them closed unless looking up something specifically related to our discussion. I prefer that you bring paper copies of the essays we are discussing to class.
Grading Guidelines/Rubric: The following descriptions are the basis for evaluation of all student writing and in-class discussions:
The “A” Compositions & Class Discussions are simply outstanding. They are eloquent, sophisticated, insightful, and emphatic in providing a convincing, arresting argument or reflection that makes your point. Written and oral discussions juxtapose unlike ideas. Your analyses are well supported by quotations and paraphrases from the text and from other relevant authors and their claims. The writing and discussions are significant, interesting, supported, informative, penetrating, lucid, original, and surprising. Compositions contain only minor mechanical errors, if any, and no significant lapses in diction or organization.
The “B” Compositions & Class Discussions do more than fulfill the assignment, though they are not exceptional. Written and oral discussions of material go beyond a routine response and show evidence of careful thought and planning. Like the “A” papers, these reflections are also focused, effective, consistently written, and tightly organized. Moreover, the writing contains no major distracting errors in usage or mechanics and is well developed with good supporting material and transitions. The writing and discussions are also clear, free of jargon, and appealing.
The “C” Compositions & Class Discussions are acceptable, but they are average responses that complete the assignment in a “routine” way. In other words, they show evidence of engagement with the topic but make a minimum response to it. The writing contains few distracting errors and few glaring platitude or egregious mistakes in diction. The reader/listener can follow and understand without difficulty, but the writing and discussions are not vigorous, nor the ideas original and inspiring. [Procrastination is evident].
The “D” Compositions relate to the assignment but show no evidence of any engagement with the topic. The writing is marred by enough errors in syntax and mechanics to seriously distract the reader and by vague, ambiguous diction and syntax that make it difficult to understand the content or the direction of the argument. This reflection may also be a weak because it does not complete the required length or fulfill the requirements of the assignment. [Procrastination is evident].
The “F” Compositions show little relation to or engagement with the topic. They show very little thought and are so poorly constructed and carelessly written that the reader/listener cannot follow the sequence of ideas. Moreover, the paper is marred by so many errors in mechanics and usage that the message is extremely difficult to decipher. It is evident that these reflections do not complete the required length or fulfill the requirements of the assigned topic. A plagiarized paper, in part or whole, receives an “F” and “0” points. (See Academic Honesty).
All response essays (and discussions) are also evaluated accordingly:
1. Content or ideas: their significance, soundness, clarity, development, and relevance to purpose;
2. Organization (papers only): structure or rhetorical methods used;
3. Personal style: voice and tone, originality and interest;
4. Vocabulary and diction: the choice and arrangement of words to convey meaning;
5. Mechanics (papers only): usage, syntax, punctuation, and spelling.
A 90-100%, B 80-89%, C 70-79%, D 60-69%, F -59%
Course Requirements & Distribution of Earned Points:
Responses to six selected texts: 600 (100 pts. each)
Formal Exam Essay 120
PLEASE NOTE: LATE ASSIGNMENTS WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED
Except for “anomalous circumstances!”
Academic Honesty: The search for truth and the dissemination of knowledge are the central missions of a university. Benedictine University pursues these missions in an environment guided by the Roman Catholic tradition and Benedictine heritage. Integrity and honesty are, therefore, expected of all members of the University community, including students, faculty members, administration, and staff. Actions such as cheating, plagiarism, collusion, fabrication, forgery, falsification, destruction, multiple submission, solicitation, and misrepresentation are violations of these expectations and constitute unacceptable behavior in the University community. The penalties for such actions can range from a private verbal warning to expulsion from the University. Violations will be reported to the Provost, and a permanent record of this infraction will be noted. The University’s Academic Honesty Policy is available at http:/www.ben.edu/AHP, and all students are expected to read and understand it.
Plagiarism is defined as the act of stealing ideas and/or the expressions from another person or source and representing them as your own work. This includes quotations, paraphrasing, and the summarizing of another person’s ideas without proper MLA documentation. Furthermore, unless you have the explicit permission of the instructor, reusing your own work from other courses is considered self-plagiarism. Plagiarism is a form of cheating and academic misconduct that can jeopardize your course grade and college career. Remember to clearly distinguish between your own ideas and those you have read or heard elsewhere. Be sure to include a works cited page with any paper in which you consult outside sources. All typed assignments submitted for evaluation will be graded with the assumption that the student has read and understands the plagiarism statements and guidelines. Committing any form of plagiarism will result in a grade of “0” on the assignment in question and is grounds for failure of the course or further action by the University. If there are any questions or concerns regarding plagiarism and the documentation of sources, it is your responsibility to consult the instructor. It is required that your formal essay be submitted to D2L plagiarism software (Dropbox in D2L).
Conferences: You are strongly encouraged to meet with me during my office hours and to discuss your compositions in progress, to receive help with the course material, to address questions and discussions raised in class, or to talk about any other concerns.
Writing Zone: Besides your Peers who help students in the Writing Zone, the Student Success Center offers tutorial services in writing. For further information, please visit the Student Success Center in Krasa Center, Room 012.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): If you have a documented learning, psychological or physical disability, you may be eligible for reasonable academic accommodations or services. To request accommodations or services, please contact Michelle Schaefer in the Academic and Career Enrichment Center, Goodwin Hall 214 at 630-829-6041. All students are expected to fulfill essential course requirements. The University will not waive any essential skill or requirement of a course or degree program.
Academic Accommodations for Religious Obligations (AAFRO): A student whose religious obligation conflicts with a course requirement may request an academic accommodation from the instructor. Students must make such requests in writing by the end of the first week of the class.
The student is responsible for the information in this syllabus and should ask for clarification for anything in this syllabus of which he or she is unsure. Students are expected to be partners in their educational experience and to periodically monitor their progress in the course. Students may check grade status through D2L course site Gradebook. Student grades will be posted in D2L in a reasonable amount of time, usually within one week of turning them in. The Add/Drop Deadline is September 3rd; the Withdrawal Deadline is November 19th.
Directions for your Response Essays:
ü They are two-four full pages in length, 12-pt., typed, and double-spaced.
ü Each essay should show a thoughtful response to at least two salient issues raised in the article.
ü Provide quotations and paraphrasing from the text and substantiate them through your insightful commentary.
ü Use 3rd person point of view.
ü Use proper documentation of sources throughout your essay.
ü Include a works cited page.
ü The best essays will use additional, relevant resources besides the assigned article.
ü Carefully revise and proofread the essay before submitting it for an evaluation.
ü To enhance your weekly commentaries, look at the Ancillary Questions List in the syllabus, find one or two questions that you believe are also relevant to the essay you are reading and develop an insightful response to them within the body of the essay as well.
ü Remember: one of the objectives for our class is Information Fluency or the navigation of different information formats and media technologies to find pertinent information.
ü Read “Grading Guidelines/Rubric” in this syllabus. As with any assignment, avoid plagiarism! The purpose of these assignments is to begin thinking about the reading for class in order to contribute to our in-class discussions.
Among other objectives (as you develop them in our class) that are also relevant for writing your essays:
ü Show understanding of theoretical knowledge of moral phenomena as a foundation for “practical knowledge about how we ought to live.”
ü Show the ability to communicate some general and specific crucial knowledge about good and evil and their relationship to morality and justice.
ü Determine the objective grounds of ethics and show the ability to justify moral beliefs.
ü Show the ability to analyze, synthesize, and argue effectively through use of deductive or inductive reasoning.
ü Show the ability to distinguish between facts and opinions and between relevant and irrelevant claims of the authors we read; detect bias and fallacious reasoning often found in argumentation; determine empirically the factual accuracy of your own statements and beliefs.
ü Develop and reveal a vocabulary used in the philosophy of ethics and morality based upon class discussions and lectures.
Prompts for Your Six Response Essays:
1. Evil by Lance Morrow: Our attempt to define evil is our attempt to understand evil. 1. How does essayist Lance Morrow define evil? 2. Do you believe evil exists as a force in the universe? In other words, would evil exist without mankind’s existence? Explain. Your evidence or support should include quotations and allusions to the primary text. Include and use at least two secondary sources in your essay. Use either MLA, APA or Chicago style documentation. Include Works Cited.
2. The Perils of Indifference by Elie Wiesel: 1. Do you agree with Nobel Laureate and political activist Elie Wiesel’s extended metaphor definition regarding indifference. Discuss. 2. Do we have a moral responsibility to prevent violence towards another human being? Explain. Consider the relevance of history and your newly acquired understanding of morality thus far when responding to this question. Your evidence or support should include quotations and allusions to the primary text. Include and use at least two secondary sources in your essay. Use either MLA, APA or Chicago style documentation. Include Works Cited.
3. Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr.: Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) once said: “Jurists, when speaking of rights and claims, distinguish in a legal action the question of right (quid juris) from the question of fact (quid facti); they demand that both be proved. Proof of the former, which has to state the right or the legal claim, they entitle deduction” (Critique of Pure Reason). Analyze civil rights leader and Baptist minister Martin Luther King’s argumentative effectiveness according to the following questions: 1.What is the difference between moral and legal rights? 2. Can both legal and moral rights be rooted in the same claim? Explain. 3. Furthermore, how do we justify moral principles that are used to validate claims? In other words, how does King hold that people have any sort of “rights,” especially since others would be obligated to guarantee them? Include and use at least two secondary sources in your essay in addition to the primary source. Use either MLA, APA or Chicago style documentation. Include Works Cited.
4. Michael Shermer’s The Science of Good and Evil: Chapters 1 – 2: There are two questions to consider in your essay: 1. According to science writer and historian Michael Shermer, how have we obtained our moral sensibilities? In other words, how does evolution ennoble ethics? 2. Why does morality serve an important function in people’s lives and in their communities? In other words, why are we moral? Provide your own insightful commentary for each question. Use quotations from The Science of Good and Evil to substantiate your proof of argument. Include at least two secondary sources in your essay. You might consider using Steven Pinker’s “The Moral Instinct” and Edward Wilson’s “The Biological Basis of Morality.”
5. Michael Shermer’s The Science of Good and Evil: Chapters 3 – 4: There are two questions to consider in your essay: 1. Why are we “immoral”? In other words, in light of the evidence Shermer provides, that “violence, aggression, and warfare are part of the behavioral repertoire of most primate species,” is it truly “in the heart of every human” to commit “evil deeds”? Discuss. 2. Is it critical for us to believe in free will in order to sustain moral behavior and our sense of responsibility for our actions? Provide your own insightful commentary for each question. Use quotations from The Science of Good and Evil to substantiate your proof of argument. Include at least two secondary sources in your essay. You might consider using Steven Pinker’s “The Moral Instinct” and Edward Wilson’s “The Biological Basis of Morality” and/or Lance Morrow’s “Evil” in your commentary.
6. Michael Shermer’s The Science of Good and Evil: Chapters 5 – 7: There are three questions to consider in your essay: 1. “Is a belief in God necessary to right the wrongs of immoral behavior?” In other words, “can we be good without God?” 2. What does Shermer mean by provisional morality and justice? 3. Examine and discuss the following notions by Shermer: “Ask,” “Happiness,” and “Liberty” principles and whether they are effective ways to address the dilemma of knowing “right from wrong.” Provide your own insightful commentary for each question. Use quotations from The Science of Good and Evil to substantiate your proof of argument. Include at least two secondary sources in your essay.
Directions for your Formal Exam Essay:
Research and develop an insightful response to one of the five following questions:
1. Is there any such method of ethical reasoning that can be expected in principle to show, when there is a conflict of values or ethical principles, that one and only one solution is correct in some important and relevant sense of the word ‘correct’?
2. Is it possible we could arrive at a set of ethical principles that would reconcile self-interest with the common good, promote personal integrity and respect for legitimate rights, and apply to all of us at all times?
3. Is it unreasonable to require the wealthy to sacrifice the freedom to meet some of their luxury desires so that the poor can have the liberty to meet their basic needs?
4. Can we meaningfully speak of future generations as having rights against us or of our having corresponding obligations to them?
5. Your Choice (with Approval).
Your essay should be typed, double-spaced, 12 point, and 4-5 pages in length. There should be at least five scholarly sources, each cited more than once in the essay and properly documented (using MLA, APA, or Chicago documentation styles). It is required that your essay be submitted to D2L plagiarism software (Dropbox) to obtain credit. Please remember: Late papers are not accepted!
It is expected that you will also allude to any of the following theories and/or concepts that you may find relevant in the development of your essay: Ethical naturalism, ethical objectivism, ethical relativism, ethical subjectivism, teleological ethics, deontological ethics, egoism and altruism, utilitarianism, intuitionism, existentialism, linguistic non-cognitivism, emotive ethics, normative ethics, meta-ethics…
IDS 301-G (1804) MORALITY & JUSTICE: DUE DATES FOR ASSIGNMENTS:
Aug. 29 Welcome to Our Class on Morality & Justice
Assignment for next class: please read Plato’s “Crito” (access dialogue in Content on D2L); be prepared to discuss the dialogue.
Aug. 31 Plato: “Crito,” Greek Ethics (Lecture/Discussion): Socrates, Plato, Aristotle (Virtue Ethics, Normative Ethics, and Deontological Ethics)
Sept. 5 Plato: “Crito,” continued
Steven Pinker. “The Moral Instinct” (access article in Content on D2L)
Sept. 7 Steven Pinker. “The Moral Instinct” continued
Sept. 12 Roger Shattuck. “When Evil Is Cool” (access article in Content D2L)
Sept. 14 Medieval Ethics (Lecture/Discussion): Aquinas, Augustine
First writing assignment for next class: Read and write a response to “Evil” (read prompt); be prepared to discuss the essay.
Sept. 19 Lance Morrow. “Evil” (access article in Content on D2L) 1st Essay Response Due
Sept. 21 Early Modern Ethics (Lecture/Discussion): Thomas Hobbes (Ethical Egoism, Ethical Naturalism, and Subjectivism); Problems in Ethics: Normative Ethics (Ethical Hedonism, Ethical Pluralism)
“Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem” (handout)
Sept. 26 Erich Fromm. “Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem”
Sept. 28 Early Modern Ethics (Lecture/Discussion): David Hume (Relativism & Subjectivism), Immanuel Kant (Deontology); Second writing assignment for next class: Read and write a response to “The Perils of Indifference” (read prompt); be prepared to discuss the speech.
Oct. 3 Moral Reasoning and Indifference/ Elie Wiesel. “The Perils of Indifference” (access speech in Content on D2L) 2nd Essay Response Due “The Perils of Obedience” (handout)
Oct. 5 Stanley Milgram. “The Perils of Obedience” and Philip Zimbardo. “The Stanford Prison Experiment”
Oct. 10 (TBA)
Oct. 12 19th Century Ethics (Lecture/Discussion): Jeremy Bentham, J.S. Mill (Utilitarianism); Problems in Ethics: Meta-ethical Theories (Naturalism, Intuitionism, Non-cognitivism) Third writing assignment for next class: Read and write a response to “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (read prompt); be prepared to discuss the letter.
Oct. 17 Moral Reasoning and Racism/ Martin Luther King’s Argumentative technique: “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (access letter in Content on D2L) 3rd Essay Response Due
Oct. 19 Moral Reasoning and Racism/ Martin Luther King. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” cont.
Oct. 24 Address by Cesar Chavez, President of the United Farm Workers of America, March 1989 (access address in News Item Link on D2L)
Oct. 26 Edward Wilson. “The Biological Basis of Morality” (access article in Content on D2L)
Oct. 31 Edward Wilson. “The Biological Basis of Morality” Fourth writing assignment for next class: Read and write a response for the first two chapters of the Shermer’s book (read prompt).
Nov. 2 Shermer, Michael. The Science of Good and Evil: Prologue, Chaps. 1 – 2 4th Essay Response Due
Nov. 7 The Science of Good and Evil: Chap. 3
Nov. 9 The Science of Good and Evil: Chap. 4 Fifth writing assignment for next class: Read and write a response for chapters 3-4 of Shermer’s book (read prompt).
Nov. 14 The Science of Good and Evil: Chaps. 5/ 5th Essay Response Due
Nov. 16 The Science of Good and Evil: Chaps. 6
Nov. 21 The Science of Good and Evil: Chap. 7 Sixth writing assignment for next class: Read and write a response for chapters 5-7 of Shermer’s book (read prompt).
Nov. 28 The Science of Good and Evil: Chap. 8/ 6th Essay Response Due “On the Morality of War: A Preliminary Inquiry” (handout)
Nov. 30 Morality of War/ Nationalism/ “Just War Theory”
Dec. 5 Illinois Politics v. Ethics
Dec. 7 Formal Essay Due/ Discussion of Your Essays
Final Exams: Dec. 11-15