Term: Fall 2012
The tradition of philosophical ethics has a long and rich history. The word “ethics” is derived
from the Greek ἦθος [ethos], meaning the development of one’s character, values, and conduct.
This course will examine the structure of certain “ethical” questions through a selection of
readings in the history of philosophy. These questions include, but are not limited to: What does
it mean to be an ethical subject? How are and how should one’s individual or collective values
and conducts be determined? Are ethical concerns and responses defined by social and political
contexts? Do our physical bodies in their diverse states in some way affect our ethical questions?
This course will begin with readings from both Ancient Greece and Rome where the question of
ethics was posed in regard to the constitution of the individual as a subject of “virtue.” From
Aristotle to the Roman Stoics, these inquiries focused on the different techniques and principles
that an ethical subject must necessarily adopt in relation to the human “passions” if one is to live
a “good life.” (We will give special consideration to the passions of pleasure and hunger.) We will
then move to the modern era in order to examine how this conflict became intertwined with the
concept of reason. We will then read a number of highly provocative texts that attempt to locate
the origin of our value-claims, and the form of relation to ourselves, in certain historical and
political contexts. Finally, we will conclude the course with a film viewing that takes up many of
these ethical themes within the context of the prison system. The aim of the course is both to
introduce students to important texts in the history of the philosophy that have approached the
question of ethics, as well as to examine the different ways in which ethics as a field is tied up with
other social, political, and even biological questions.