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 greg@reasonio.com

Oct 5, 2013

Are the Virtues Already In Us?

In my Ethics classes, one type of assessment and exercise I routinely require my students to engage in is what I call an Application Assignment.  I provide them with a complex, morally ambiguous, problematic scenario, which they then have to analyze along various lines.  I'll write more about those parameters in a follow-up post, and discuss just how the assignments work to foster student learning at several different levels.  For now, what I'd like to focus on is one very interesting, common, and revealing mistake I see some students make semester after semester.

A key component of the assignment is competently applying three of the moral theories we've been studying to the case in question.  This requires that the students do a bit of explaining about the key concepts of the theory, and then go on to particularize these to the characters of the narrative.  Students do all right with Egoism, with the authoritarian Might-Makes-Right theory, and often enough with Utilitarianism.  Many of them run into problems with Virtue Ethics, and there are a variety of distinct misunderstandings and misapplications.  I'm particularly interested in one recurring way students get matters wrong.  Some students interpret Virtue Ethics as asserting that the virtues lie within each and every person, ready to be used when situations call for them.

Mar 31, 2013

More on Virtues In Augustine's Free Choice of the Will

A few weeks back, I started discussing Augustine's conception of the (cardinal) virtues in his work On Free Choice of the Will, promising this follow-up post where I would explore and explain certain of the themes set aside for the time being in the earlier post.  Now also having shot a video delving into the topic in the meantime, and now having some spare time on my hands over Easter Break, it's about time to make good on that pledge to tell the fuller story about virtue -- and vice -- in this classic Augustinian work.

In the first post, I stuck to book 1 -- and admittedly, there's already quite a bit going on in Augustine's examination of the virtues in that early portion of the larger work.  But really, his identification and definition of the four cardinal virtues, the connection between the virtues, the will, and eternal law, even the impediments impose upon a person by the vices opposed to virtue -- these are just starting points, or better, outlines, which will be filled in and expanded in his fuller discussions about virtue and vice in books 2 and 3


Mar 12, 2013

Virtues in Augustine's On Free Choice of the Will

We've been studying St. Augustine's On Free Choice of the Will in my Introduction to Philosophy class these last two weeks (here's video 1, 2 and 3 of the sessions).  This book has long been one of my favorite Augustinian works -- ranking up there with his Confessions, the City of God, On Christian Doctrine, and (what might come as a surprise, since they are considered minor works), the treatises On Lying and Against LyingOn Free Choice of the Will is really quite masterful as a dialogue -- real discussion and exploration is going on in that text -- problems are raised, resolved, just to give rise to new deeper problems -- and gradually, a through what initially appear digressions, a complex picture gets systematically sketched out.

Time is always an issue in teaching Introduction classes -- there's never enough, even if everything goes exactly as it ought to, to devote adequate attention to everything in the monumental texts I am privileged to teach -- and one of the casualties this time around, specifically with respect to this text, is Augustine's discussions about the virtues, mainly carried out in books 1 and 2.  There's nothing like a full-blown and systematic Augustinian treatment of the virtues and vices in On Free Choice of the Will -- we learn much more, and much that is important, from other writings of his, not just from major works and specific treatises, but even from remarks made in his various Letters.  In fact, only the four cardinal virtues are examined in this work.  But, what he does say is interesting in its own right -- if all we had of Augustine was this one work, it would still represent an advance -- or, perhaps a departure -- in the tradition of virtue ethics.