Contemporary Moral Problems


Nita de Oliveira, Ph.D.
Phone: 419-530-4517 Office Hours: Wed-Sun by email

Email: [email protected]


PHIL 2400-005 (download syllabus doc) Fall Semester

Distance Learning K Course

Course Website:

Epsilen Portal:

Personal Website:


Course Description:

PHIL 2400-005 CONTEMPORARY MORAL PROBLEMS (Distance Learning K Course)

[3 hours] A study of topics such as abortion, capital punishment, environmental responsibility and animal rights, famine relief, affirmative action, and sexuality. Attention is paid to moral arguments and the bases of moral decisions. Humanities core course. UT K course.
In the UT Academic Journey, the elements of your UT education — from the first year beginnings to the capstone experience — link together as related stages of learning. UT Core and major courses, opportunities for research, community engagement, and ongoing assessment mark the unique path you are taking and are touchstones along the way. Through guided reflection and engagement, you will see these varied learning experiences in their connections to your own life and to broader social challenges. This K course is an intersection and connecting point for themes and paths in your UT Academic Journey, and will incorporate the following learning objectives:
1. As a K course, we will be relating Contemporary Moral Problems to key concepts, questions, and problems in the general field of Sustainability, broadly conceived.
2. We will work on guiding questions, such as: What is Sustainability? What is environmental ethics? How can we develop innovative, sustainable technologies and ways of life, so as to make our world a better place?
3. We will develop and use critical thinking, by introducing problem-solving skills used to address those and other urgent community problems, such as abortion, capital punishment, environmental responsibility, animal rights, famine relief, and affirmative action.
4. As we will discuss moral arguments and the bases of moral decisions, we will be engaging in interdisciplinary and integrative learning, relating practical questions of legislation and political policies to ethical theories and philosophical problems.
5. We will be thus promoting civic engagement through community projects, service learning, and social awareness, as students will be encouraged to reflect on the moral grounds of democratic citizenship and human solidarity.
Students will be encouraged to contribute one or more class assignments to the online student portfolio (Epsilen platform).


Required Text:

Louis P. Pojman, Editor. Philosophy: The quest for truth. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
ISBN13: 9780195311327 - ISBN10: 0195311329
There are other earlier editions available (e.g. 2006), which can also be adopted or purchased as a used book.


Further Reading / Reserved Materials (Library):

John Arthur, editor. Morality and Moral Controversies. Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004.

Richard N. Burnor and Yvonne Raley. Applied Ethical Reasoning: A Case Study Approach to Ethics. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Lawrence M. Hinman, Contemporary Moral Issues. Prentice-Hall, 1996.


Grading Policy:

Grades are based on point accumulation throughout the sixteen weeks, divided into seven units. There are 6 Homeworks/Quizzes worth 10 points each and 1 final, multiple-choice exam worth 30 points. Participation is worth 10 points (by sharing your views, insights, comments, and criticisms with classmates on the Discussion tab on-line). Students can earn up to 100 points in this course.


Final grades for the course are based on the following scale:


93-100 pts. = A 77-79 pts. = C+

90-92 pts. = A- 73-76 pts. = C

87-89 pts. = B+ 70-72 pts. = C-

83-86 pts. = B 60-69 pts. = D

80-82 pts. = B- 59 and below = F


Academic Honesty:

Neither plagiarism (i.e., presenting the written work of another as one's own) nor cheating (i.e., providing answers to exam questions or receiving exam answers from another) will be tolerated. Any academic dishonesty will be disciplined according to the guidelines in the University of Toledo student handbook.



If you need special accommodations to attend my class, please notify me immediately. Your need for special accommodations, including special testing requests, will need to be documented by the Office of Accessibility, located at 1400 Snyder Memorial.


Reading Assignments & Class Structure:

Chapters on the schedule refer to the 2008 edition of Pojman's book [Chapters in brackets refer to previous editions]. The reading assignments are usually short and hopefully pleasant. Every week you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and do self-assessment by taking the quiz or writing a couple of paragraphs to address some of the suggested study questions.

Unit 1: Aug 24, 2009 – Sept. 6 : Moral Problems
Wiki on Sustainability
Green Gossip with UT Professor Ashley Pryor
Learning for Sustainability
You Tube: Environmental Sustainability
Climate Crisis: An Inconvenient Truth
ABC News: An Inconvenient Verdict for Al Gore
CBS 60 Minutes: The Wasteland

You Tube: Bob Dylan & Joan Baez: Blowing in the Wind
You Tube: Monty Python: The Meaning of Life - Intro
You Tube: Monty Python: The Meaning of Life - Death
You Tube: Ali G - Abortion
You Tube: Ali G - Medical Ethics
Introduction: What are Moral Problems? What is (Applied) Ethics?
L. Pojman, Chap. 54 [46]: Morality is relative / Ruth Benedict
The challenge of Cultural Relativism.

Chap. 55 [47]: Morality is not relative / James Rachels
Chap. 56 [48]: Why should I be moral? Gyges' ring and Socrates' dilemma

In order to understand what is at stake in contemporary debates about abortion, euthanasia, death penalty, and other so-called "Moral Problems" belonging to the vast field of Applied Ethics, one must inevitably refer to Ethical Theories and how they co-relate to both Law and Politics (for instance, in legislation, public policy making and many legal, procedural decisions relating to the Constitution and to the public opinion). Ethical Theories seek to justify our arguments and moral reasoning when dealing with contemporary moral problems. Applied ethics is, therefore, a discipline of philosophy that attempts to apply Ethical Theories to real decision-making processes (e.g. in legal procedures and political decisions), especially those involving moral dilemmas and world dilemmas, such as the ones found in bioethics (abortion, euthanasia, health care, stem cell research, cloning, and other problems in medical ethics), biotechnology (eugenics, genetic research, food processing), legal ethics and human rights (global ethics, global justice, public policy making, international law), environmental ethics, computer ethics, corporate social responsibility, and business ethics. See the Wiki entry on Applied ethics. For more thoughts to address the broader question: What is philosophy ? follow the link down. Keep in mind that Ethics is a branch of Philosophy which deals with moral problems both in abstract, theoretical terms (such as in Meta-Ethics and Normative Ethics, for instance, to define "what is good") and in practical, concrete terms (Applied Ethics).
According to Benedict, Cultural Relativism inevitably leads to Moral Relativism. According to Rachels, however, it is possible to subscribe to Cultural Relativism without necessarily endorsing Moral Relativism.
Why, after all, should we be moral? The main lesson we learn from the story of Gyges' ring: no one is so virtuous that one could resist the temptation of being able to steal at will by the ring's power of invisibility.
For a broader presentation of Ethics, Applied Ethics and Ethical Theories, see the Power Point Presentations below.
What is ETHICS ? (Power Point)

Unit 2: Sept. 6 - Sept. 20 : Ethical Theories:
You Tube: Kant's Ethics
You Tube: Sartre's Existentialist Ethics

Chap. 59 [51]: The ethics of virtue / Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Chap. 60 [52]: The moral law / Kant, The Groundwork
Chap. 61 [53]: Utilitarianism / Consequentialism, J.S. Mill
Chap. 62 [54]: Existentialist ethics, J.-P. Sartre / Ethics Without Religion / Outline

Scent of a Woman: Al Pacino's speech on character
Scent of a Woman: Al Pacino's speech (full version)
Scent of a Woman (Wiki)

What is Virtue Ethics ? (Power Point)

COGNITIVIST: Ethical principles can be known and established in objective terms

NONCOGNITIVIST: Ethical principles cannot be known and are rather chosen for different subjective reasons (by the very affirmation of subjective choices, individual freedom, emotions or by personal preferences or subjective expressions)

See the Power Point Presentations below:

Utilitarianism Power Point

John Rawls Power Point Presentation

Existentialism Power Point (advanced)

Sartre's Existentialism in a Nutshell (PDF)

Aristotle's teleological view of ethics: the highest end of human life is eudaimonia (the flourishing of one's moral character and development of moral, intellectual capabilities)
Moral virtue is the mean between two vices of excess and deficiency
Ethical life is to be cultivated within social, political institutions
Rationality (rational animal) ↔ Sociability (political animal)

Kant's categorical imperative: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." As a formal procedure (to decide how to proceed morally) it must pass the triple test of:
Universalizability: the maxim must be universalizable (moral law is universal)
Humanity as an end: each person must be treated as an end in itself
Self-legislation: we must act as legislators in a realm of ends (a moral community)
Human Persons: free, moral agents who rationally act from duty
Good will: to will what ought to be willed (universal, equal freedom shared by all)
Ethics - Law - Politics

Utilitarianism: an action is morally good insofar as its consequences are the best; the moral worth of an action is solely determined by its outcome (utility principle).

Existential Ethics: Since there is no presupposed belief in God, one must start from nothingness, so as to create her/his own values and make life meaningful: existence precedes essence, the freedom of the individual has primacy over the State and the Establishment.

Sept. 20-27: HOMEWORK/QUIZ # 1

Unit 3: Sept. 27 - Oct. 4 : Freedom of Choice and Moral Responsibility
Chap. 47 [41]: The dilemma of determinism / Ethical dilemmas
Chap. 48 [42]: Freedom of the will and human responsibility / A critique
Chap. 51 [44]: Freedom of the will and the concept of a person
Discussion: Freedom of Choice and Moral Responsibility

Dilemma: two propositions seem to be plausible leading to a paradox or undecidable situation.
See the Wiki entry on Ethical Dilemmas

Determinism: all events are determined by natural laws (for instance, physical laws, such as the laws of gravity) or by some form of conditioning (such as psychological, sociological or cultural conditioning).
Free Will: Human beings have the individual capacity for free choice

Nature-Nurture: what is innate (DNA, genetic features) vs. what is acquired (socialization, cultural and psychological features acquired in human behavior)
Behaviorism: stimulus → organism → response (Pavlov's dog)
Libertarianism: Individuals are free, regardless of natural, social or other constraints.

Soft Determinism (William James) as an alternative to Hard Determinism.
Compatibilism: one can make compatible both Free Will and Determinism either by resorting to a Soft Determinism (e.g. James) or by resorting to a dualism (e.g. Kant's reconciliation of Nature and Freedom).
Insofar as they are free, humans are said to be responsible for their actions. First-order desires: To will something.
Second-order desires: To will to will something.
Only human persons (as opposed to nonhuman animals) can have volitions of the second order.

Oct. 4-11 : HOMEWORK/QUIZ # 2

Unit 4: Oct. 11-18 : Applied Ethics: Abortion
You Tube: Abortion - The Silent Scream
Wiki entry on abortion
Wiki entry on the abortion debate
Abortion Shineups
Chap. 75: Why Abortion is Immoral (Don Marquis) [OR Chap. 67: Abortion is not morally permissible (J. Noonan)]
Chap. 77 [68]: Abortion is morally permissible
Chap. 78 [69]: The moderate position
Discussion: Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice

You Tube: The Abortion Debate
You Tube: Roe v. Wade Summit Recap Video

An abortion is the removal or expulsion of an embryo or fetus from the uterus, resulting in or caused by its death. Induced abortion is the removal or expulsion of an embryo or fetus by medical, surgical, or other means at any point during human pregnancy for therapeutic or elective reasons.
Once a sperm fertilizes an egg cell, the result is a cell called the zygote that has all the DNA of two parents. In humans, it is called an embryo from the moment of fertilization until the end of the 8th week, whereafter it is instead called a fetus.
Conception (human fertilization) - zygote - embryo - fetus
Prior to 1973, almost all states in the United States had laws prohibiting abortion except when it was necessary to save the mother's life. However, in 1973 the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that such laws are unconstitutional.
Noonan: A being with a human genetic code is a human being. Therefore, abortion is not morally permissible.
Warren: Human in the genetic sense (a member of the biological species homo sapiens) must be, however, differentiated from the moral sense (a full-fledged member of the moral community). Abortion is, therefore, morally permissible.
For Jane English, the central question is not whether the fetus is a person. She maintains that even if the fetus is a person, it doesn't simply follow that abortion is wrong. But she goes on to argue that even if the fetus is not a person, it doesn't follow that abortion is simply acceptable in all circumstances. Hence, the moderate position: "In the early months of pregnancy when the fetus hardly resembles a baby at all, then, abortion is permissible whenever it is in the interests of the pregnant woman or her family. The reasons would only need to outweigh the pain and inconvenience of the abortion itself. In the middle months, when the fetus comes to resemble a person, abortion would be justifiable only when the continuation of the pregnancy or the birth of the child would cause harm -- physical, psychological, economic or social -- to the woman. In the late months of pregnancy, even on our current assumption that a fetus is not a person, abortion seems to be wrong except to save a woman from significant injury or death."

Oct. 18-24 : HOMEWORK/QUIZ # 3 / Bonus Midterm (optional)

Unit 5: Oct. 25-31 : Applied Ethics: Capital Punishment
You Tube: Jeremy Irons on death penalty
The Case Against The Death Penalty
Wiki on Capital Punishment
You Tube: Amnesty International on Death Penalty
CNN: Republicans on Death Penalty
Death Penalty Issues
Al Jazeera on Death Penalty

Chap. 79 [71]: The death penalty is permissible
Chap. 80 [72]: No, the death penalty is not morally permissible
Discussion: Death Penalty

Death Penalty or Capital Punishment is the execution of a person by the state as punishment for a crime.
Justice Marshall resorts to the Eighth Amendment's ban against "cruel and unusual punishments" to argue that the US Constitution does not make the death penalty morally permissible. Thus, the death penalty is excessive or unnecessary, it is abhorrent to currently existing moral values, as it violates the fundamental right to life and human dignity. Furthermore, punishment as retribution has been condemned by scholars for centuries, and the Eighth Amendment itself was adopted to prevent punishment from becoming synonymous with vengeance. Finally, statistics and empirical findings show that capital punishment is not a better deterrent than life imprisonment. Therefore, neither deterrence nor retribution can morally justify the death penalty. Capital punishment is thus morally unacceptable to the people of the United States at this time in their history.
Those who argue for the death penalty, like Leiser, maintain that it is not "cruel and unusual," pointing out that the threat of executions deters capital crimes more effectively than imprisonment and that the death penalty is the only suitable retribution for heinous crimes.
According to Bedau, there has been substantial evidence to show that courts have been arbitrary, racially biased, and unfair in the way in which they have sentenced some persons to prison but others to death. To use more violence than is necessary to adequately punish criminals is unfair and unjust. Hence, the analogy between self-defense and capital punishment (that is, that capital punishment is to the body politic what self-defense is to the individual) is flawed because the victim of a felony has no right to respond in whatever way he or she pleases in retaliation (for instance, by shooting to kill an unarmed burglar).

Nov. 1-7 : HOMEWORK/QUIZ # 4

Unit 6: Nov. 8-14 : Applied Ethics: Animal Rights and Environment
Chap. 81 [73]: The case for animal liberation, Book Review / P. Singer
Chap. 82 [74]: The case against animal rights / Carl Cohen
Wiki on Environmental Ethics
Peter Singer's Global Ethics / You Tube video
Weltethos / Toward a Global Ethic (Catholic theologian Hans Küng)
Ali G on Animal Rights
Discussion: Animal Rights and Environment

According to Peter Singer, we must extend the argument for equal rights to nonhuman animals just as we did to other humans who were systematically excluded, following the women's rights movement, the civil rights movement, and gay rights movement. Otherwise we would be inconsistent in our own conception of egalitarianism, as many other animals have also the capacity for feeling pain and suffering (i.e. they are also sentient beings). We should thus denounce speciesism as a prejudice in favor of one's own species (namely, the human species, as opposed to nonhuman species). According to Carl Cohen, animals don't have moral rights because they are not rational, self-legislative beings and cannot be morally autonomous or morally accountable for their actions. Cohen makes thus a case for speciesism, refuting the utilitarian assumption that all sentient animals have equal moral standing. Because humans owe to other humans a degree of moral regard that cannot be owed to nonhuman animals, Cohen goes on to argue for the use of live animals in biomedical research.

Nov. 15-21 : HOMEWORK/QUIZ # 5

Unit 7: Nov. 22-Dec.5 : Applied Ethics: Affirmative Action
Chap. 83 [75]: The case for affirmative action / Race & Gender
Wiki on Affirmative Action
YouTube: Sen. Edwards in favor of AA
Chap. 84 [76]: The case against affirmative action
YouTube: Against AA
Discussion: Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action: an institutional effort to rectify past injustice and to obtain a situation closer to the ideal of equal opportunity by policies aimed at a historically socio-politically non-dominant group (typically, minority men or women of all races) intended to promote access to education or employment. Some of the most known AA policies are: preferential hiring, nontraditional casting, quotas, minority scholarships, equal opportunities for underrepresented groups, and even reverse discrimination.
Discrimination is the act of discriminating, to differentiate, to discern, to judge how one thing differs from another on the basis of some rational criterion. Prejudice is a discrimination based on irrelevant grounds (social, racial or sexual).
Mosley's basic backward-looking justification of Affirmative Action: the attempt to correct and compensate for past injustice, by resorting to deontological, compensatory arguments for corrective justice.
Mosley's forward-looking justification of Affirmative Action: the attempt to promote an ideal of a society free from prejudice, so as to render race or gender irrelevant to basic opportunities. Such arguments tend to be utilitarian, as they refer to distributive justice, minimizing subordination and maximizing social utility.
According to Pojman, we must attend to the difference between Weak Affirmative Action and Strong Affirmative Action: the latter is defined as preferential treatment, discriminating in favor of members of underrepresented groups (often treated unjustly or marginalized in the past), while the former simply seeks to promote equal opportunity to the goods and offices of a society. According to Pojman, since two wrongs don't make a right, he concludes that Strong Affirmative Action is both racist and sexist, and defends Weak Affirmative Action to encourage minorities to strive for excellence in all areas of life (esp. education, public offices, employment), so as to avoid reverse discrimination.

Dec. 6-12 : HOMEWORK/QUIZ # 6

Review / Make-Ups

Dec. 13-19 : PHIL 2400-005 FINAL EXAM (multiple-choice exam)

N.B.: The Final covers material from Quizzes 1-6.

Tip for writing essays:
Besides Pojman's Appendix, you might want to take a look at Jeff McLaughlin, How to Write a Philosophy Paper or P. Bokulich, Paper Writing Hints.

Suggested study questions (Pojman textbook) for Homework # 1:

Ch. 46 p. 400 (Benedict):
1. What does Benedict see as the purpose of modern social anthropology?
5. How does Benedict characterize morality? With what phrase is the sentence "It is morally good" synonymous?

Ch. 47 p. 406 (Rachels)
2. How do Eskimo practices seem to lend support to the thesis of cultural relativism? Note what Rachels says later about the reasons for these practices.
9. What does the author think are the two lessons of cultural relativism?

Ch. 48 p. 415 (Plato)
2. What is the popular view of justice, according to Glaucon?
3. What is the lesson to be drawn from from the story of Gyges' ring? Do you agree with Glaucon's conclusion about human nature?

Ch. 51 p. 440 (Aristotle)
1. How does Aristotle define politics and ethics? What is the relationship between them?
3. What are the characteristics of the good?

Ch. 52 p. 450-1 (Kant)
6. What is the categorical imperative?
9. What is Kant's second formulation of the moral law? Is is equivalent, as Kant thought, to the first formulation?

Ch. 53 p. 463 (Mill)
1. How does Mill define utilitarianism?
6. How can utilitarianism attain its end?

Ch. 54 p. 470 (Sartre)
1. What are the two meanings of "subjectivism" in this essay?
6. What does Sartre mean by saying that "we are condemned to be free"?

Suggested study questions (Pojman textbook) for Homework # 2:

Ch. 47 [41] (James):
2. What are the two suppositions set forth at the outset?
11. What is James' conclusion to the problem of free will versus determinism?

Ch. 48 [42] (Lamont):
1. What is Lamont's thesis?
4. How does Lamont qualify his thesis that we have free will and are not determined?

Ch. 51 [44] (Frankfurt):
2. What do humans have that no animal appear to have?
7. What according to Frankfurt is freedom of the will?

Suggested study questions (Pojman textbook) for Homework # 3:

Ch. 67 p. 569 (Noonan):
1. What is the most fundamental question in the history of thought on abortion?
2. How did theologians answer that question?

Ch. 68 p. 574 (Warren):
2. How is the term "human being" ambiguous?
6. According to Warren, when does a woman have a right to an abortion?

Ch. 69 p. 581 (English):
1. Why does English think that both the conservative and liberal positions on abortion are "clearly mistaken"?
2. What does English think is the key issue in the abortion debate?

Suggested study questions (Pojman textbook) for Homework # 4:

Ch. 70 p. 590 (Marshall)
1. Does Justice Marshall believe the US Constitution permits the death penalty?
4. What are the two purposes that sustain the death penalty?

Ch. 71 p. 593 (Leiser)
4. Why, according to Leiser, isn't the death penalty "cruel and unusual"?
5. What does Leiser mean by mens rea?

Ch. 72 p. 598 (Bedau)
1. What is the analogy between self-defense and capital punishment?
9. In what way does Bedau think that the application of the death penalty is biased? Why does this unfairness occur?

Suggested study questions (Pojman textbook) for Homework # 5:

Ch. 73 p. 609 (Singer)
1. What is the relationship between the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, and the animal rights movement?
2. How does Singer define "speciesism"?

Ch. 74 p. 613 (Cohen)
1. Why don't animals have rights?What does one need to have in order to have moral rights?
4. Why does Cohen defend speciesism?

Suggested study questions (Pojman textbook) for Homework # 6:

Ch. 75 p. 620 (Mosley)
1. What is Mosley's basic backward-looking justification of Affirmative Action?
7. What is Mosley's forward-looking justification of Affirmative Action?

Ch. 76 p. 632 (Pojman)
1. What is the difference between Weak Affirmative Action and Strong Affirmative Action?
10. What is Pojman's conclusion about Affirmative Action?

Other Suggested & Related Links:
You Tube: Martin Luther King's "American Dream"
You Tube: Ethical Egoism
You Tube: Judith Butler on Feminism
You Tube: Just War (Howard Zinn 1/3)

You Tube: Francis Schaeffer - A Judeo-Christian Worldview
You Tube: Richard Dawkins on Atheism



Philosophy Dept - UT

Wikipedia entry on Ethics

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Ethics

Stanford Encyclopedia entry on Morality

Ethics Updates

Religious Studies at UT

Program in Law and Social Thought - UT

Reformed, Catholic, Jew: An Experiment in Self-Identity

Philosophy of Religion Course

Buddhism Course

Phenomenology Seminar

Existentialism Course

Nietzsche, Foucault, and the Death of God

Nietzsche's Genealogy of Modernity

Jean-Paul Sartre's Existential Phenomenology of Liberation

Paul Ricoeur's Revelatory Hermeneutics of Suspicion

Dialectic and existence in Kant and Kierkegaard

Heidegger and Heraclitus

Rawls's Normative Conception of the Person

Barry F. Vaughan's Notes on L. Pojman's Book

Wikipedia entry on "Philosophy"

What is philosophy ?

When one asks this question, one may think of either an historical approach or a rather thematic approach to the question.

In historical terms, the word "philosophy" refers us back to the 6th century before the Christian Era, when Pre-Socratic thinkers started questioning the ultimate principle of the cosmos, by breaking away from traditional, mythological accounts (theogonies and cosmogonies) and resorting to rational inquiries into the origins and meaning of things in the world, human nature and activities. Thus Thales of Miletus thought that water was the first principle, while Anaximenes held that everything in the world was composed of air and Heraclitus taught that fire was the natural principle that accounted for all phenomena. Pythagoras --who taught that numbers were the fundamental principle of the cosmos (as opposed to the four elements --water, air, earth and fire)-- was among these radical thinkers and was in effect the first one to call himself a philosopher, or lover of wisdom. The Greeks were amazed at the plays of opposites (for instance, between rest and motion, day vs. night, warm vs. cold, wet vs. dry), the changes of seasons (summer, fall, winter, spring), the repetition and the becoming of natural phenomena, such as the growth of plants and animals, the observation of planets, stars, eclipses, comets, and celestial bodies, and their wonder led them to develop geometry, mathematics, astronomy, and especially philosophy. These sciences already existed (of course, in a pre-modern understanding of "science") but it was thanks to the development of philosophy that they were developed and became more and more sophisticated.

Hence, etymologically speaking, the word "philosophy" simply means "love of wisdom" (from the Greek words philia = love, friendship, and sophia = wisdom).

So the first philosophers set out to know themselves and to know reality and the world around them. Philosophy can be thus regarded as a permanent quest for truth, for the meaning of being and first causes (especially God), and the end of our actions (especially the moral good). As we speak of Truth, God, and the Good we are not only following a textbook division (say, in Pojman's book!) but are attempting to make sense of this philosophical question in both historical and thematic terms. To be sure, we are talking about Western philosophy --itself very rich and complex, and always on the move!

Historically speaking, one might say that Western philosophy began in Greece and has since then, just like civilization, been always on the move, involving different peoples at different times and different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. We usually divide the History of Western Philosophy into 4 main periods, namely,

Ancient, Medieval, Modern, and Contemporary.

Ancient Philosophy : From the Pre-Socratics (Thales, Parmenides, Heraclitus) through Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, all the way till the end of the Roman period (Cicero)

Medieval Philosophy : From the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (476 of the Christian Era), during the times of Augustine all the way through the Renaissance (15th century); Avicenna, Averroes, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, Duns Scotus and Occam.

Modern Philosophy : From the times of the Reformation and the emergence of the scientific world (16th century) up to the end of the 19th century; Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche.

Contemporary Philosophy : From the beginning of the 20th century till our days; Husserl, Heidegger, Russell, Wittgenstein, Moore, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Foucault, Ricoeur, Gadamer, Levinas, Derrida, Habermas, Rawls, Quine, Davidson, Rorty.

As we think of Greek and Roman philosophy to stress the cultural context of the birth of Western philosophy, we may also recall that Medieval philosophy was dominated by theological thought (Christian, Jewish, and Arabic), and we may signal that one speaks of an Italian renaissance, French rationalism, British empiricism, German idealism, and American pragmatism. And today we celebrate multicultural and intercultural approaches to philosophy, both Eastern and Western, feminist and gay, continental and analytic.

By all accounts, from the outset, philosophy has been a perennial inquiry into the ultimate reality and a quest for the truth, the good, and the beautiful. Thus one can fairly divide philosophy into several fields of investigation, namely:

the truth: what can I know? epistemology / logic

the good: what ought I to do? ethics

the beautiful: how can I judge? what can I hope for? aesthetics / philosophy of religion

being / beings what makes beings what they are? metaphysics / ontology

Traditional metaphysics has been divided into

general metaphysics (ontology = the study of beings, "ta onta," in Greek)

and special metaphysics, itself comprising

1. theology = study of god, or the first mover, the ground of being

2. anthropology = the study of human being and/or psychology = the study of the soul as active principle of living beings, especially human beings

3. cosmology = the study of the cosmos ("kosmos" in Greek, the universe, the whole or totality of all beings)

Philosophers like Kant allowed for a rapprochemnt between religion and aesthetics, for instance, when dealing with the question of the sublime. Hegel reappropriates this view when he brings art, religion, and philosophy together in his Phenomenology of the Spirit.

Philosophy can be thus distinguished from religion, art, and science, even though there is no consensus among philosophers about this. In effect, it is very common to approach philosophy from a more or less scientific attitude (for instance, in analytic philosophy) or from a rather artistic, literary perspective (Romanticism, Continental philosophy, postmodernity). In any case, philosophy cannot be reduced to either science or art.

What is philosophy ?

Well, that will certainly remain a damn good question for philosophers and nonphilosophers alike!

"... we cannot learn philosophy... We can only learn to philosophize; in other words, we can only exercise our powers of reasoning in accordance with general principles, retaining at the same time, the right of investigating the sources of these principles, of testing, and even of rejecting them."

(Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason 1781, PART II: The Transcendental Doctrine of Method, CHAPTER III. The Architectonic of Pure Reason)


Applied Ethics and Politics (just for your personal reflection):
Because human beings are free to choose between what is morally right and what is morally wrong, they are held accountable and responsible for their actions and behavior. This holds both for individual and social ethics. Thus whether someone votes for a Democrat, a Republican or any other (independent) candidate to represent her/his interests, s/he is making an individual decision that reflects not only her/his personal choices but also contributes to a collective outcome, such as the election of a President, senators, and representatives in a democracy –just as we did this past year.
As you think of the main issues on domestic and international political agenda (such as the war on terrorism, immigration, homeland security, health care, global warming) try to think of possible ways of relating those to contemporary moral problems and how you could argue for or against some of the most evoked contentions and arguments. It is particularly important to avoid facile reductionisms such as identifying issues with conservative, liberal or radical positions, just as one argues for or against abortion, affirmative action, and same-sex marriage.

Related Links:

Wiki entry on Just War

Wiki entry on Health Care

Wiki entry on Immigration

Wiki entry on Global Warming

Wiki entry on Terrorism

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Ethics

Ethics Updates

Moral Philosophy

Applied Ethics Resources on WWW

Abortion: All Sides of the Issue

Abortion and Ethics

Punishment and the Death Penalty

The Moral Status of Animals

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: The Moral Status of Animals

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Affirmative Action

Rock Ethics Institute

Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs

PHIL 3750 Social and Political Philosophy


PHIL 2200-021 Introduction to Philosophy

In God's Name: Reformed, Catholic, Jewish

[ Yahoo! ] options