Assist. Prof. Xuetai Qi
My Teaching Strategy
1. Knowledge-discovery by learners themselves
Intensive reading and active participating in class discussions
2. Independent and Critical Thinking Encouragement
• Course Description
This course is a comprehensive
introduction to ethics, covering theories on morality and arguments on many important moral issues.
Part 1. Metaethics: meaning of moral terms
Part 2. Normative ethics: what makes an act good (golden rule)
Part 3. Applied ethics: controversial moral and social issues (are they morally right?)-
pre-marriage sex; adultery; prostitution; homosexuality; abortion; suicide; euthanasia;
capital punishment; war
2. Goals of the course
you will be familiar with the main ethical theories and arguments of moral issues
think critically about moral theories and issues
3. What you should do:
1. lectures (take notes and be sure to understand; dictionary)
2. in-class discussions (do the pre-class readings-classic philosophical texts)
3. Turn in the papers in timely manner
4. A list of readings
• The Allegory of the cave by Plato
• Euthyphro by Plato
• The nature of philosophy
• Nichomochean Ethics by Aristotle
• ―Of the Principle of Utility”, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation by
• The good will by Immanuel Kant
Introduction to philosophy and ethics
The Philosophical Enterprise
What is philosophy?
How does philosophy arise?
Why study philosophy?
“What”---Nature of Philosophy
• Love of Wisdom
The term was said to have been coined by Pythagoras (582?-500? B.C.E.), an Ancient
Greek philosopher and mathematician. Call him ―sophist‖
have a yearning(philos) for wisdom (sophia)
Etymologically it is derived from two Greek
words: philos, which means ―to yearn or love,‖ and
sophia, which means ―wisdom.‖
• What is “wisdom”?
It is different from knowledge—propositional knowledge.
Many people are knowledgeable about certain subjects, still we cannot call them wise persons.
What makes a wise person wise?
• In ancient times the word ―wisdom‖ conveyed the sense of ―understanding‖ or ―making sense‖.
Thus, philosophy means the yearning for understanding or the yearning to make sense. Two questions: (1) Understand or make sense of what? I am trying to understand or ―yean‖ for the workings of the computer as a computer science major, why am I not a philosopher?
• What makes philosophy different from other academic disciplines is that it attempts to understand the most fundamental issues concerning the world and human life. But what are fundamental issues? They are the deepest assumptions or concepts underlying human knowledge.
Physicists-the laws of the physical objects
Chemists-properties of physical substances
One of the basic concepts behind the natural sciences are ―physical‖- a physical object
means, roughly, it is ―out there‖. But what is ―physical‖? (occupies a space? Shape?) Non-physical? Mind is physical?
The nature of physical is a fundamental issue which is not investigated by natural scientists.
Economics studies human economic behavior; sociologists social behavior; psychologists human psychology. The basic idea is the concept of ―human‖. (Everyone of us also has an implicit idea what is a human.) But philosophers will explore the nature of human. What makes a human human? –fundamental
(2) How to understand or make sense?
When we try to understand something, we employ different means. Tradition; authorities (either religious such as the Bible, Pop, church or individual-some great person like Jefferson or Albert Einstein). This means is called ―faith‖.
Why should I be moral? Why should I not kill the person whom I hate? You shall not kill in the Ten Commandant. I have a faith in God, and I ―understand‖ the issue by it.
An alternative means of understanding is via our rational mind or reasoning. We don’t accept
an opinion till it is well justified by convincing reasons.
Again why should I be moral if I am not a Christian? I am not afraid of being punished by God because I do not believe there is God at all. I do not have a faith. If you want to convince me I should be moral, you have to present convincing reasons.
You may tell you that if I can kill anyone who I dislike (it is not morally wrong for me to do so), then it would not be morally wrong for others to kill me if they dislike me, a rule I am not willing to accept.
Philosophers use exclusively reasoning as the tool of understanding fundamental issues. Exactly the same as the science.
For example, abortion.
(1) abortion is killing the innocent fetus.
(2) killing the innocent fetus is wrong.
(3) abortion is wrong.
We will discuss this in detail in Chapter 2, arguments
2. How did philosophy arise? Birth of philosophical tradition
and A Short History of Philosophy
Yearning for understanding fundamental issues with reasons captures the nature of philosophical enterprise.
Two essential characteristics of philosophy
• Pre-philosophy Era
• This philosophical tradition was born in Ancient Greece in about 600 B.C. Before this time, which could be called the pre-philosophy era, mythology served as the predominant way of understanding about the world and human life.
The ancient Greek people fabulated tales to explain and thus achieved an understanding of what was going on around them.
Why is it raining?
Where are humans from?
What is the meaning of life?
Most often, supernatual beings were proposed to help them understand all kinds of phenomena.
Drawbacks of such an explanation system:
Everything is dependent on Gods’ whims
Humans have no trust in their own abilities and therefore the power of humans are depressed fundamentally.
The first great breakthrough came with the advent of a group of intellectuals, who pioneered
the revolutionary ideas about the physical world.
• They investigated the fundamental questions about the universe with rational thinking, and for this reason, they were regarded as the first philosophers in the West. Because they lived before the time of Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.), whose advent transformed philosophical landscape and marked a new era in philosophy, they came known as pre-Socratic philosophers, or cosmologists since their philosophical interests were
exclusively on the fundamental questions on the universe or cosmology.
Pre-Socratics: from myth to reason
• Presocratic philosophy begins at the time of Thales about the year 600 B.C.E. and lasts until the second half of the fifth century B.C. It comprises about 150 years. The review of the pre-Socratic philosophical ideas will furnish us with a wonderful example of philosophical and scientific activity and will provide us with a clear conception of the meaning of philosophy.
Thales: the Father of Philosophy and Science
Who is Thales? (c. 600 B.C.E.):
His Philosophical Contributions
1. Thales was the earliest known philosopher who attempted, for the first time in human civilization, to come to grips with a series of fundamental questions about the meaning and structure of existence- Make sense of the Real rationally
2. The One and the Many Problem (Unity in Plurality)
• (1) Search for the basic principle or element of the real
• (2) Rational explanation of reality
• Thales went beyond individual objects and phenomena and moved to the fundamental level by wondering in what way the whole system of the universe (the world) exists and operates. In other words, he attempted to make sense of all these things by figuring out the fundamental principles underlying the reality of the world, i.e., a systematic and coherent view toward the world.
• what is the fundamental structure of reality or the universe?
• What makes up the world?
• How does the world operate fundamentally? Is there single principle characterizing the operation of the whole system?
Fundamental questions about the universe
3. A new way of understanding
He pondered these questions and managed to give answers with a new way of understanding-rational thinking: he thought with his mind rather than by appeal to religious doctrine.
His Philosophical Ideas
Specifically, Thales’ contributions to philosophy and science can be understood in terms of
two principles and four concepts :
They are basic convictions underlying modern science- the father of science
1. Two principles by Thales
(1) The Secular Principle
(2) The Eternal Principle
(1)The secular principle:
Nature can be explainable in terms of nature. Origin of the universe Newton vs. big bang theory
Origin of human species
That is, the world is rational and not based on God’s whims. set aside.
today’s all sciences
(2) The eternal principle:
• the world is a reality which is eternal and does not exist in time. The significance of this principle is that it denies the idea that gods or God created the world.
• More importantly, if we take ―world‖ used by Thales to mean not simply the universe but
physical existence in general, matter and energy, then Thales formulated in a simple
and crude way what in modern physics came to be known as the first principle of
thermodynamics, that is, the idea that matter and/or energy cannot be created or
2. Four Concepts
(1)The concept of kosmos, which conveys the idea of ―beautiful‖ and ―well-organized‖.
Thales and subsequent cosmologists used it to refer to the ―universe‖, reflecting the conviction that the universe has a rational order and thus understandable.
(2)The concept of physis- ―physics‖ ―process‖ ―repetitious cycle‖.
For Thales, the kosmos, as an organized and beautiful structure, is then composed of cycles and processes, which follow certain predictable patterns and sequences. These patterns and sequences, in their turn, are governed by natural laws and physical regularities, which can be designated by using the third of concept, namely, logos.
• (3)The concept of logos------―logic‖ stands for ―mind‖, ―intelligence‖, and ―reason‖.
It is the condition for understanding the kosmos and physis (cycles and processes). The world can be understood as logically structured occurrences by using our mind (logos).
(4) The concept of arche -----‖element‖
• Thales identified the common element as ―water‖. Thales said, ―The world is made up of water‖.
• The water philosophy’s significance
• According to Thales, what we see, hear, touch, smell, and generally sense, is only a superficial aspect of reality.
Similar ideas to Plato, senses are not reliable, but only reasons help us achieve the true reality– rationalism
• The philosophy of Thales turns out to be a combination of rationalism, monism, and
• Rationalism can be defined as the idea that the universe at large is guided by universal rational laws, and that human reason is the only tool with which the universe can be known.
• Example: stick bent
• Monism is a view of the world in which we insist in reducing all things to one principle, one element, one universal thing.
• Classic example: Newton’s the law of the universal gravitation
• Materialism is the conviction that for anything to exist or to be real, it must be material or physical.
This is the basic idea underlying the modern science, which has never tried to investigate the non-physical realm as their subjects of study.
Pythagoras: Philosopher and Mathematician
Who is Pythagoras?
• c. 570-c. 495
• Following the ideas illustrated in Thale’s four concepts and two principles, Pythagoras went a step further.
• As a mathematician,
The underlying laws or regularities can be formulated in the language of maths. Value: This Pythagorean conception has consistently remained the underlying conviction of science since his time to our very own.
Heraclitus the Philosopher
• Born. 535
• The Problem of Change or
• The Problem of Being and Becoming
• (permanence in change)
• Reality as becoming
• (Chinese thinking: I Ching易经)
Parmenides (c. 539 B.C.)
• The Problem of Permanence
• It is, it has existence, it has being.
• not-being is not real.
• nothing comes from nothing; Existence is necessarily eternal.
• That which truly is [x], has always been [x], and was never becoming [x] •
Not-being is not real
• Movement was impossible because it requires moving into "the void", and Parmenides identified "the void" with nothing, and therefore (by definition) it does not exist. • Change is illusionary, not real.
• Existence is timeless, uniform, and unchanging- The Way of Truth
• The world of appearances in movement, which is false and deceitful – The Way of Opinion
• Seek the truth, seek the eternal reality 实在
• These thoughts strongly influenced Plato, and through him, the whole of Western philosophy.
• Western Philosophy Vs. Chinese Philosophy: Truth-seeking vs. Self-cultivation; outward-looking vs. inward-looking
A new era of philosophy: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle
• Socrates explored fundamental questions concerning human life.
What kind of life should we live?
Should we be moral?
What is justice?
Socratic contributions to philosophy
(1) Transformed the landscape of philosophy: objective orientation vs. subjective
orientation (preoccupation with human issues, including ethical, social, and political issues.)
seek the essence of virtue, justice, wisdom, good
seek the basic principle of human life
• (2) Distinct way of philosophizing:
A. Cleansing our mind
Socrates showed that we are not clear about at all or at most understand vaguely the most fundamental concepts and assumptions underlying our beliefs. Philosophy works on notions; conceptual analysis
Fundamental notions about the real, good, and beautiful.
• His mission: awaken people from their intellectual slumber and rescue them from their comfortable thoughtlessness.
―The unexamined life is not worth living‖.
• An example, justice or fairness is the basic conviction of humans. Even a child does.
But we have never thought of the concept seriously. What is the nature of justice? What makes a just law, society, man?
affirmative action/positive discrimination
In ethics, the term of ―right/wrong‖ or ―good/bad‖
Therefore, in the Euthyphro, Socrates identified this term (piety) and pressed a religious man named Euthyphro with the exact meaning.
• (B) The Socratic Method.
• An intellectual process
• The aim is to make the thoughts definite, clear, and precise. It demands a high level mental organization and critical detachment.
Euthyphro by Plato
• Reading study questions:
• Why did Socrates appear in the Porch of the King Archon?
• What did Euthyphro intend to do when he met Socrates?
• Why did Socrates want to discuss with Euthyphro about ―piety‖?
• What was the first definition of piety Euthyphro provided and how did Socrates’ respond to
• What was the second definition of piety Euthyphro offered and what were Socrates’ responses?
• What was the third definition of piety by Euthyphro and how did Socrates argue against it? • What was the fourth definition of piety proposed by Euthphro and what problems did it have according to Socrates?
• What would you say about the way of doing philosophy by Socrates?
• What is the story about?-Qs1&2
• Why did Socrates appear in the Porch of the King Archon?
• What did Euthyphro intend to do when he met Socrates?
• Euthyphro is one of the early writings of dialogues written by Plato. It features Socrates and Euthyphro, a man known for being a religious expert. Socrates is waiting at the King Archon for hearings before possible trials. He was charged with impiety by a young Athenian for his corrupting the Athenian youth. Euthyphro went to the King Archon too for he accused of his father with murder. One of the family’s workers killed one of their slaves and his father bound the killer hand and foot without proper care and attention and left
dead in a ditch while he waited to hear from the authorities what to do next with the killer. Euthyphro has decided to bring charges against his father by claiming that his father’s deed was impious.
Answers to Q2
• Why did Socrates want to discuss with Euthyphro about ―piety‖?
• Practically, since Socrates himself is facing a charge of impiety, he wants to learn from Euthyphro about the meaning of piety and impiety.
• More importantly, Socrates is a philosopher–the unexamined life is not worth living.
• Then they have a dialog between them
• critical test
• It should be noted that the term ―pious‖ does not have only religious reference, it is a catch-all for today’s ―right, good, just, etc.‖
• Piety is doing as I am doing; that is to say, prosecuting any one who is guilty of murder, sacrilege, or of any similar crime-whether he be your father or mother, or whoever he may be-that makes no difference; and not to prosecute them is impiety.
Socrates’ response to D1
• it is not a definition at all; it is merely an example or instance of piety. A definition should be general enough to capture the fundamental characteristic which makes pious things pious.
• Piety, then, is that which is dear to the gods, and impiety is that which is not dear to them.
Socrates’ critique to D2
• The gods disagree on many issues. For example, a particular thing, which is agreed to by some gods, may be disagreed to by other gods. That means the thing is both pious and impious, a logical contradiction which is unacceptable.
• What all the gods love is pious and holy, and the opposite which they all hate, impious.
Socrates’ response to D3
• the famous ―Euthyphro Dilemma‖: Is the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods?
• The next reasoning by Socrates is complicated.
• He used the analogy technique to try to get Euthyphro to be committed to the first horn of the dilemma. Socrates shows Euthyphro that we call something being carried not because it possesses some inherent properties or characteristics we could call ―carried‖. Rather, we carry it simply because it is already ―out there‖.
Our carrying does not bring it into existence.
• The same is true for ―seen‖. By the same token, the gods love piety not because it is loved,
or that it is loved by the gods does not bring the holy itself into existence. In other words, gods’ loving does not make something holy. Instead, it is loved by the gods because it is something already out there, i.e., it is holy in itself. At this point, Euthyphro agrees that the
gods love holy or pious because it is holy in itself.
• Socrates then points out that this does not capture the essence of piety or holiness, but merely offers an attribute of it. The gods love piety because it is pious in itself, but nothing is said about what is piety.
• Piety or holiness is that part of justice which attends to the gods, as there is the other part of justice which attends to men.
• When we attend to something, our attention always makes it benefited or improved. So, if piety is that part of justice which attends to the gods, it would make the gods benefited or improved, a conclusion that Euthyphro himself does not want to accept. Finally, Euthyphro offers the same definition as the second definition, and the discussion has come full circle. Without any further idea, Euthyphro rushes off.
• The story shows us that how our beliefs are based on vaguely understood fundamental concepts, as Socrates reveals so by his critical examination.
Plato (427-347 B.C.)
Works by Plato
• Founded the Academy, the first institution of education in the West
• Early Works: Apology; Gorgias, Meno;
• Middle-life Works: Phaedo, Symposium,
• Late Works: Parmenides, Timaeus, Laws
Reality as Being
Influenced by Parmenides
seek the essence of things
the material world is full of illusions
the essence of things exists in a permanent, perfect world of ideas
World of Ideas
Tree perishes, but not the idea of it
There must be some real thing ―out there‖ that answers to our idea of it: extra-mental reality
(ontological status of what we know)
Ideas for him are universal, essential, formal, and detached from matter.
The world of ideas is a real world, world of universals, essences, forms, and immaterial things- Plato Realism
universals do exist in a broad, abstract sense
Forms of idea
The Allegory of the Cave