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.