Syllabus & Schedule

PHIL 31A, Summer 2020 – 30035 – Online, BCC

Instructor: Eric Gerlach –

Course Description: This course introduces the ethical thought and philosophies of Egypt, Babylon, India, Greece, China, Germany, Britain, the Americas & their place in the history of human thought and our world.

This class is entirely online, with each lecture posted in the links below, with links to texts to read at the beginning of each lecture and links to videos at key points.  Read the lectures and texts, watch the videos, and complete the three essay assignments at your own pace.

ALL 3 ESSAYS Due by the end of SUNDAY, July 26th.

We won’t have mandatory meetings on Zoom, but I will be producing and linking additional lecture videos each Wednesday as we work through the course, and I will be on Zoom each Wednesday if you want to meet with the discussion group, or make an appointment for one to one chat.  Please email me with any questions, or if you want to discuss the class or ideas we study.

Office Hours: I will be available on Zoom Wednesdays between 9 and 11 am for individual chats with students who email me and make an appointments, and I will be in a group Zoom Wednesdays from 11 to noon for students who want to join in discussion and who email me before or during the online meeting.  If we need to, we can take additional time as a group, or set up chat groups with interested students.

Lecture 1Ethics? WHERE?!? & Why Should We Care?

Lecture 2 – Egypt & Babylon: Would You Do That To Your Mummy, Gods, or City State?

Lecture 3 – Hindus & Jains of India Sit Down & With Heads Aimed High

Lecture 4 – Buddha of India Shut Ups & Changes His Act

Lecture 5 – Heraclitus of Greece Continues To Try To Talk To Apes

Lecture 6 – Aristotle of Greece Balances Material Goods

Lecture 7 – Epicurus Heeds Happy & The Stoics Grasp The Logical Captain

Lecture 8 – Confucius of China Says Things He Means

Lecture 9 – Mozi of China Loves His Neighbor In Another Town

Lecture 10 – Daoists of China Don’t Care & Why Would They?

Lecture 11 – Kant of Germany Moralizes & Keeps His Mouth Closed

Lecture 12 – Mill of Britain Makes Eggs Into Less Painful Omelettes

Lecture 13 – Nietzsche of Germany & His Stash Walk A Tight Rope

Lecture 14 – Wittgenstein Weaves His Web, But Not In The Basement

Lecture 15 – Fanon, hooks and Said: Postcolonialism Goes To War! With Itself

3 Essay Assignments 

Two 4 page essays (2 x 25%) & a final 8 page paper (50%), typed, 1.5 -spaced, standard font, emailed to  Focus on an issue we cover, clearly state and argue for your position with evidence, empathy, and examples from your life, history or fiction.

ALL 3 ESSAYS Due by the end of SUNDAY, July 26th.

First Essay: Human cultures argue back and forth about whether or not there are objective, permanent standards of morality and ethics, much as the Egyptians believed that the harmony of the cosmos is permanent and the Buddha argued that all things are impermanent.  Are there things that are objectively good or bad, and why?  Make sure to use several examples from real life or hypothetical thought experiments, and anticipate objections and counterexamples of any possible opponents.  (4 pages)

Second Essay: Pick one idea found in the Indian, Greek and Chinese thinkers we have studied, explain the idea using examples and apply it to an ethical problem we face in the world today to show that the idea is or is not useful for helping with the problem.  Ideas we have covered include the Jain principles of skepticism, the Jain leaky boat, the Buddha’s middle way, Buddha’s codependent arising, Buddha’s monkey mind, Heraclitus’ wisdom in common, Heraclitus’ river twice, Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean, Aristotle’s natural purposes, Epicurus’ happiness as the goal of life, Stoic acceptance of fate, Confucian compassion and balance, Mencius’ humanity as good, Xunzi’s humanity as evil, and Zhuangzi’s complementary opposites, as well as many more you can choose from.  Ethical problems include poverty, war, theft, hunger, racism, ecological destruction and many other things we are all too familiar with.  (4 pages)

Third Essay: Pick one idea found in the European and modern thinkers we have studied, explain the idea using examples and apply it to an ethical problem we face in the world today to show that the idea is or is not useful for helping with the problem.  You can, if you wish, compare the contemporary ideas to earlier ideas found in the ancient thinkers we covered.  Ideas include: Kant’s universal morals, Bentham’s maximizing happiness, Mill’s minimizing pain, Nietzsche’s individual interpretation, Wittgenstein, Fanon, hooks, Said. (8 pages)

Student Learning Outcomes – Upon completion of this class, students will be able to:

  1. Define the main ethical theories covered in the course.
  2. Analyze an ethical theory.
  3. Explain some prominent and on-going moral disagreements in our society.

General Student Requirements:  Students are expected to come to class prepared to ask questions and participate in discussions. It is your responsibility to ask if you missed something; it is not the instructor’s responsibility to remind you. Please read through the syllabus and plan ahead.

Plagiarism, “to use another person’s ideas or expressions in your writing without acknowledging the source” (MLA Handbook,  5th ed., §1.8)—will not be tolerated. Plagiarists, intentional or inadvertent, will receive a zero on the assignment in question; repeat offenders will get an F for the course and will be subject to college disciplinary action.

Disabled Student Program & Services (DSP&S) are provided for any enrolled student who has a verified disability that creates an educational limitation that prevents the student from fully benefiting from classes without additional support services or instruction. Please let the instructor know if you require any support services or would like more information about DSP&S.

The syllabus is subject to change at the discretion of the instructor. Any changes will be announced in class.