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.

Jan 15, 2015

New Years Resolutions for the Blog

I typically forget to make New Years resolutions these days -- and its now long past the 1st of January -- but perhaps I'll make one now for this blog, as well as pertaining to my writing projects more generally.  Having taken on far more teaching over the Christmas break than I'd have liked -- 3 online classes, two of them of the intensive 4-week variety! -- which resulted in there really being no vacation or down-time to speak of, coupled with the usual holiday travel and festivities, I'm now just getting my head above water, able to indulge myself in some non-class-related reading and writing (between online lessons and handouts for my student, I've probably been writing a good 10,000 words per week!)

Nov 13, 2014

Does Virtue Help Make Us Aware of Our Vices?

Some time back -- while I was grading some student essays from the Spring 2014 semester -- I posted an insight one of my students had expressed, but not entirely developed, on my Facebook page.  It then spurred a short but very pregnant discussion with one interlocutor, one which I decided I ought to keep, file away, and then return to think out more later on.

It's now later on -- time to revisit this interesting original remark, "virtue works in ways that makes non-virtuous people aware of their viciousness," as well as the comments and questions by my interlocutor, and my own off the cuff remarks.  But first, let's take a look -- and give a read to -- the conversation under discussion:

Nov 3, 2014

Aristotle on Anger, Virtue and Vice.

I was recently invited up to Green Mountain College, just across the border in Vermont, to provide a faculty development workshop and also to give a talk about Aristotle, anger, and virtue ethics.  The latter talk was intended primarily for undergraduate students taking an Ethics course in the Environmental Liberal Arts core program at Green Mountain, and it provided me with a useful occasion to do a bit more thinking about some of the topics corralled together in a book I'm writing, focused specifically on Aristotle and his theory of anger.

As I remarked early on in the talk -- which you can hear here, or watch here -- one of the most distinctive features of Aristotle's approach to anger is that, unlike so many other ancient, medieval, and modern thinkers, he doesn't consider anger uniformly or even generally bad.  In fact, he comes right out in saying that there are times when we ought to get angry -- to feel the emotion and to act upon it.  It's not just a question of whether it's psychologically good for us to express our anger sometimes, nor is it simply an issue of prudently maintaining boundaries or responding to bullying -- for Aristotle, anger is at its very core a moral issue, a matter of character.

Oct 22, 2014

Philosophical Courage and Temperance in Plato's Phaedo

The Phaedo, a recounting of Socrates's last conversations with his friends on his deathbed, ostensibly provided by the young man for whom the dialogue is named, includes early on in the discourse a short and startling discussion of the nature of several virtues -- courage and temperance first, and then wisdom and justice.  Plato has Socrates advance a doctrine that is entirely uncompromising, and in some respects paradoxical -- only philosophers actually possess these virtues.

As Socrates explains, everyone else is not only mistaken about the nature of these two virtues, i.e. temperance and courage -- that would not be surprising after all, given that even Socrates concedes a lack of knowledge about these in aporetic dialogues like the Laches and Charmides (or even virtue itself in the Meno!).  The "virtues" they possess, what they call and consider to be "courage" or "temperance" aren't really so.  In fact, the courage of the many (or even the non-philosopher one) is actually a kind of cowardice.  The temperance of the many really amounts to a sort of intemperance (or if you prefer more contemporary language, self-indulgence, lack of self-control).

Sep 18, 2014

Honor and Ethics: Some Initial Reflections

A friend and colleague of mine, Bruce Weinstein, raised a provocative question, tapping the expertise and sounding the sentiments of his many Facebook friends:  "What do you think of "Live Honorably" as my proposed slogan? I'd use it as a way to let people know how they would benefit from my talks, training, books, and consultations."  It sparked a conversation revealing -- and reflective of -- quite a few different viewpoints on the relationship between honor and ethics.  He also proposed that I weigh in on the matter, so that's precisely what I intend to do here.

As a side-note, I have to thank Bruce for providing me this occasion to do something I've been intending for some time, but just hadn't cleared the time to do -- to start writing again in Virtue Ethics Digest.  Last month, I managed to reformat and write new posts for my three other blogs -- Orexis Dianoētikē, Sadler's Existentialism Updates, and Heavy Metal Philosopher -- but despite having some topics in mind, I simply didn't find the time and the energy needed to effectively restart this one.  So, Bruce's question, which dovetails very nicely with some other ethics-related matters I've been mulling over, provides a very convenient (and needed) "get-on-the-stick-and-get-it-done" opportunity!

Nov 20, 2013

Updates on New Projects

I've been finding myself with progressively less and less time available for blogging this last year -- which is actually a good thing, since the time has been going into:
  • producing a number of Philosophy-focused YouTube videos
  • regular activity on platforms like Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter
  • producing educational materials and uploading them in Academia, Learnist, and Curious
  • responding to comments and carrying on correspondence
  • teaching my current classes at Marist College, and exploring web-platforms to begin designing and delivering new online classes
  • educational consulting work, providing workshops, and delivering talks through ReasonIO
  • and. . . working on several book projects
For the time being, I'm going to be putting this blog (and my other blogs) on hold.  I'm hoping to be able to return to blogging here sometime next year.  I remain open to discussing projects, and you can reach me at