Nov 13, 2015

Should Stoics Be Concerned About Others?

Over the course of Stoic Week, I created a sequence of seven videos, four of which focused on discussions of key Stoic doctrines in the works of the Roman orator, statesman, and philosopher, Cicero (who was not himself a Stoic, but who did admit himself attracted to a number of their doctrines, particularly in the field of Ethics.  On one of those videos, one of my interlocutors - a very bright, young South African student and blogger, Marc Smit asked me a very important question.

I feel that Stoicism does offer relevant ideas for me as individual, in the sense that I can apply it to my own thoughts, feelings or actions bearing on things that happen to me, but how do I respond to these things when then happen to others, notably friends or loved ones?

Sep 17, 2015

How Does Anger Seduce Practical Rationality?

Back in the Spring, I gave a talk down at Columbia University, "Sweeter Than Honey" - An Aristotelian Account of Anger's Seduction of Practical Rationality during which I ranged over a number of related topics in Aristotle's moral theory, all of them connected with anger as an emotional response.

Anger is a matter about which Aristotle does have a lot of useful and insightful things to tell us, and I've been researching and writing on Aristotle's theory of anger for about eight years, working on a book-length study of his views and their present applicability.

One of my YouTube subscribers emailed me, raising an interesting question about the talk, to which I've decided to respond here in this blog:  What did you mean by “anger seducing practical reason”?  That anger, through its sweetness, seduces practical reason into giving assent to our doing things that it wouldn’t otherwise assent to?   When you think about it that way, anger can be a terribly destructive force, because it’s a drug – literally; it’s partly chemical --- that clouds our reason.

May 16, 2015

Recognizing A Fuller Range of Moral Distinctions (part 1 of 2)

In the course of discussions bearing on -- or even just straying into -- moral matters, you'll often hear people involved in them invoking and using a rather limited range of moral terms and concepts.  It can be ordinary everyday conversations between friends, family or co-workers.  At the other end of the scale, it might be talking heads corralled into boxes to debate each other with sound-bites on the television screen.  It can even be an Ethics class, or some other class straying into that territory

The most commonly used terms and concepts are the permissible, the obligatory, or the prohibited.  There's a host of synonyms available for these.  You can even describe them through terms like: what's allowed, what's required, and what's not allowed.  These are indeed important for moral life, decision-making, and development -- but where, I'd like to argue, a lot of people go wrong in in thinking that these three classifications provide an adequate range for the moral distinctions we need to make.

Apr 11, 2015

What Does Gratitude Require?

There's a marked tendency to talk a lot about "gratitude" these days.  In fact, usually springboarding off an oft-quoted passage by Cicero, namely that "gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues, but the parent of them" -- and then never engaging with Cicero's thought again after that -- there's even quite a lot of buzz about gratitude in terms of virtue ethics, or at least what we might call "virtue-lite morality."  There's also a rising and somewhat paradoxical tendency to focus on the positive effects of gratitude on the life, the attitude, even the physical health of the grateful person.

I wonder myself at times whether we really ought to include "gratitude" among the virtues, or whether --  as I've argued elsewhere about forgiveness -- we ought instead better regard it as something connected with and flowing from virtues, but not actually a virtue in its own right.  That's a topic on which I admittedly need to do more thinking.  But, one thing I have been reflecting upon quite a bit lately, is what gratitude ought to look like.  Or, you might say, how far it ought to extend in attitude and action, if it is really to be gratitude.

Mar 16, 2015

Bullying, Basketball, and Courage

What I consider to be some good news came out of my home state recently -- actually occurring a year ago, but back in public view again just this last week.  By now likely many readers have already glimpsed  in their news feeds the inspirational (but all too brief) story coming out of Kenosha, Wisconsin.

It is about three middle-school basketball players coming to the aid of one of their classmates -- a cheerleader with Downs syndrome who was being made fun of by some fans attending a game.  The players walked off the court in the middle of a game, and up to the stands, where they confronted those fans, and told them to "knock it off."  That would seem to both require and exemplify a certain kind, or at least measure, of courage.  It also raises a number of interesting questions, particularly when we add in some additional background information -- at least from a virtue ethics perspective.

Jan 29, 2015

A Short Review: "What Is Character? Virtue Ethics In Education"

For the last week and a half, I've been participating in a MOOC focused on Character Education and Virtue Ethics -- What Is Character? Virtue Ethics In Education, developed by the University of Birmingham (specifically, by the Jubilee Center for Character and Virtues), and hosted on the FutureLearn Platform.  I'd been looking forward to this relatively short course (only 2 weeks) for some time -- it's enjoyable from time to time to slip back into the role of student rather than professor, and let someone else do the course design and teaching.

I've been idly kicking around the idea of reviewing virtue-, character-, and more general ethics-focused books, courses, and other resources on this blog, and the invitation to reflect upon the course built in near the end of it presented me with an occasion to to precisely that.  So, here it goes.  Overall, I'd award it a solid B- , but that grade is partly due to the fact that it's free of charge.  I'd recommend taking it to most people interested in the subject-matters covered.