PHIL 31A, Summer 2019 – 20386 – Wed 6-9:50 pm, BCC Room 014

Instructor: Eric Gerlach –

Office Hours: 5 – 6 pm W @ K’s Coffee, next-door to BCC

Lectures & Schedule

This course introduces ethical philosophies of Egypt, India, Greece, China, Europe & the modern world.  Readings for each lecture are posted at the top of each set of lecture notes.  We will cover several sets of lecture notes each class session.

June 19th we will cover what ethics is, ethics in Egypt & Babylon, and the Hindus & Jains of India.

June 26th we cover Buddha of India and Heraclitus of Greece.

Work on the first 4-page essay, due next class.

July 3rd we cover Aristotle, as well as Epicurus & the Stoics of Greece.

July 10th we cover Confucianism and Moism of China.

Work on the second 4-page essay, due next class.

July 17th we cover Daoism of China and Kant versus Mill in Europe.

July 24th we cover Nietzsche and Wittgenstein, and Fanon, hooks and Said on the modern world.

Work on the final 8-page essay, due by the end of the semester.

3 Essay Assignments

To pass the class you must write three pieces, two 4 page essays and an 8 page essay (25% + 25% + 50% of your final grade) typed and emailed to to me ( by the end of the semester.  Focus on a single idea or issue we cover, clearly state your position and use evidence and reasoning to support your position while thinking about what others would say in response.  You can use examples from your life, culture, history, or fiction.  Write about whatever means the most to you, but you can also follow the prompts for each assignment if you have trouble thinking of something you want to say.

First Essay Assignment:

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 Assignment:

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 Assignment:

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.

3 thoughts on “Ethics

  1. Hi, Mr. Gerlach I wanted to leave you a message because I asked you a question about the caste systems in Europe derived from India because of the Indo-Aryan’s that came from ancient Persia that lead an invasion into the Indian subcontinent. The Indo-Aryans and Indo-Europeans carried their culture to India and that’s where the caste system which led to enlightenment period to their culture which all of the religions and most of the philosophers in that region in that part of the world. I have a link that shows you that.

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