Spring 1999

Marist College

Dr. Greg Moses

Course Description:

In this course we will explore ethical dimensions of our personal and public lives. What might motivate our commitments to morality? How might we approach pertinent issues of social control? And how might we assess the contours and limitations of our own moral worldviews? These are some of the main questions that will concern us in this course as we seek to develop an approach to the likely moral issues that will confront us in the future.

Required Texts:

  • Thomas, Laurence. Living Morally. Temple, 1990. (0-87722-778-0)

  • Dewey, John. Ethics (Later Works 7: 1932). Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1989. (0-8093-1575-0)

  • Bowden, Peta. Caring. Routledge, 1997. (0-415-13384-X)

Requirements and Grades:

The final grade will be based upon the following assignments, each equally weighted:
  • Participation and Preparation: Students are encouraged to undertake regular preparations for class and to participate in the shaping of our class conversations.
  • Paper on Interpersonal Morality (see 5 b., below)
  • Paper on Social Control (see 10 b., below)
  • Final Exam on Moral Framework (see 15 b., below)


By the end of the course, students should be able to assess their own moral issues from various points of view, identify and develop important issues of social control, and reflect upon their own moral framework from a critical perspective. Papers will assess student progress in these areas.

Attendance Policy:

Students are expected to attend all classes. Given the wide range of personal needs that may arise, the instructor is willing to make allowance for two absences. Any absences beyond this limit must be excused and documented, or they will count against the student's final grade. Documentation will be accepted within two weeks of any given absence. More than two unexcused absences will result in a letter grade reduction from the final average. For more than four unexcused absences, the instructor reserves the right to enter a failing grade.

Weekly Schedule:

(Each week is divided into two sessions, a. & b. Preparations are due, typed, at the beginning of class at the designated session.)

1. (Jan. 25)

a. Introduction:

Welcome; syllabus; overview.

2. (Feb. 1)

b. Introducing Thomas

Read: Thomas, Chapter 2.
Prepare: One paragraph commentary on a passage from the reading.
Workshops: Personal introductions; share commentaries; nominate one representative to report to class.
Forum: On the evolution of morality. A choice of Darwinisms.
Preparing for next time: On the division of readings.

b. Living Morally

Read: Thomas, Chapter 3, "Parental Love: A Social Basis for Morality."
Prepare: One paragraph commentary on a passage from the reading.
Workshops: Share commentaries; nominate a representative.
Forum: On the viability of parental love. How does the possibility of parental love disclose human morality? How do the many difficulties of parental love challenge this basis of social morality?

3. (Feb. 8)

a. Living Morally

Read: Thomas, Chapter 4, "An Account of Friendship."
Prepare: One paragraph commentary on a passage.
Workshops: Share commentaries and nominate one rep for each of the three sections of the chapter. Note: Please ensure fair rotation of all group members.
Forum: Friendship; Aristotle; Romance.

b. Living Morally

Read: Thomas, Chapter 5, "Friendship: A Social Basis for Morality."
Prepare: One paragraph commentary.
Workshops: Share commentaries. Nominate one rep per section. What video would you recommend for ethical viewing?
Forum: Autonomy; self-examination; sensibility.
Preparation for Week 5: Selecting a video.

4. (Feb. 15)

a. Living Morally

Read: Thomas, Chapter 6, "Character and Society."
Prepare: One paragraph of commentary on a passage.
Workshops: Share commentaries. Nominate one rep per section.
Forum: Rejecting Platonism.

b. Living Morally

Read: Thomas, Chapter 7, "Living Well" and Chapter 8, "The Damned"
Prepare: One paragraph commentary on a passage.
Workshops: Share essays. Nominate one.
Forum: Self-love; natural sentiments; psychic harmony. Self-Esteem; Kant. Has Thomas succeeded? If so, was it an effort worth making? Is it interesting, helpful, edifying?

5. (Feb. 22)

a. Video Selection to be Announced:

Can we develop a Thomasian reading of the video? Can we see how Thomas' approach to moral life may be used to discuss moral conditions and predicaments as found in the video?

b. Discussing Video Selection

Assignment Due Next Week:Four page paper (1,000 words): select an issue of interpersonal moral life, discuss how Thomas might approach the issue, draw your own conclusion about the issue, discuss your similarities and differences with a Thomastic point of view. Making use of artistic renderings (such as videos) of the moral issue is highly recommended. (Note: Begin with a moral issue that interests you, then test the Thomastic connections.)

6. (Mar. 1)

a. Thomas workshop

Workshops: Sharing Thomas papers. Select one for sharing with class.
Forum: Two Thomas papers.

b. Introduction to Dewey and Tufts

Read: Dewey's Ethics, pp. 9-17 & Chs. 2-5.
Lecture: Introducing Dewey and Tufts. The historical method of moral philosophy. Situating moral conceptions within problematic environments. Here we ask, how do we account for a general transition from group-based morality to individualism?
Prepare: Two paragraphs (1) summarizing an important lesson of your selected chapter and (2) providing your opinion of the lesson.
Workshops: Sharing and comparing notes.
Forum: How do we think about the "first days" of human experience and how does such thinking affect our model of morality? How might Thomas respond to this material?
Preparation for next time: Dividing the four chapters on history (Dewey Chapters 6-9).

7. (Mar. 8)

a. Ethics by Dewey and Tufts

Read: Selected Chapter from 6-9.
Prepare: One paragraph description of and one paragraph commentary on a moral principle and how it may be understood as answering to the problematic situation of an era.
Workshops: Share commentaries and prepare group report.
Forum: Presentations of historical periods: Hebrew, Greek, Roman, Modern.

b. History of Ethical Life Continued

Lecture: On the Neglect of Egypt. Karenga's treatment of "Maat."
Discussion: What does Tufts mean by "growth" in moral life? In what sense have we outgrown another time's moral life? How do we use this model of "growth" to assess ourselves and others today? Is it possible to talk of moral life or history without growth?
Preparation for next time: Dividing Chapters 10-14 (each group should divide readings for Chapter 10 to ensure coverage of all sections; Chapters 11-14 will be assigned for group presentation.) In other words, everyone reads Chapter 10 plus one additional chapter.
Spring Break

8. (Mar. 22)

a. Dewey's Ethical Theory

Read: Dewey, Chapter 10
Prepare: Two paragraphs: (1) what is the role of moral theory? (2) what are the three types of moral theory?
Workshops: Share comments on Chapter 10.
Forum, Part One: On the nature of moral theory, and the need for multiple criteria.

b. On Three Independent Factors:

Prepare: Depending upon the chapter selected, how does Dewey characterize and evaluate (a) good, (b) duty, and (c) virtue.
Workshops: Share chapter reports.
Forum: On the "three independent factors" in morality.
Preparing for next time: Chapter 15 in common; dividing Chapters 16-19.
Preparing for Week 10: A video on a challenge of social control. Where is an issue deserving of more intelligent social control? Can we locate a relevant video?

9. (Mar. 29)

a. Self and Society

Read: Dewey & Tufts, Chapter 15.
Prepare: Two paragraphs: one on your section of Chapter 15.
Workshops: Share commentaries on Chapter 15.
Forum, Part One: The Moral Self and its Circle.

b. Selected Social Issues:

Read: Dewey & Tufts, Chs. 16-19.
Prepare: Two paragraphs on your selected chapter from 16-19: (1) locating a passage where the authors develop an ethical issue of interest, (2) assessing relevance for today.
Workshops: Sharing preps.
Forum: Selected issues.

10. (Apr. 5)

a. Concluding Dewey & Tufts with a Video

Read: Dewey & Tufts, Chapters 20-23.
Prepare: One paragraph of commentary.
Video: To be announced. Can we see how Dewey and Tufts would approach the social issues presented in this video?

b. Discussing the video from a Deweyan perspective

Assignment Due Next Week: Select an issue of social control; [1] what do Dewey & Tufts say about the importance of situating moral issues within problematic situations; [2] what is the problematic situation that you have selected; [3] what moral principles seem most helpful for establishing social control over the situation? Give two pages to each of the above sections for a total of six pages (1,500 words). Research beyond popular sources of newspapers and magazines is strongly encouraged.

11. (Apr. 12)

a. Concluding Dewey

Prepare: Paper on Dewey and social control.
Workshops: Sharing papaers. Nominating one.
Forum: Doing Dewey.

b. Introducing Feminism

In-class exercise: When you hear the word "feminist" what do you think? What images and connotations are suggested to you? What do we expect from a feminist?
Discussion: Questions on the feminist challenge.
Preparation for next time: Dividing the chapters on Friendship and Mothering. Guiding question: how does Bowden's approach compare with Thomas?

12. (Apr. 19)

a. Thomas and Bowden on Mothering and Friendship:

Prepare: Two paragraphs on your chapter: (1) summarizing a key thesis for Bowden (2) comparing her treatment to Thomas.
Workshops: Reviewing material.
Discussion: Mothering. What happens when we take parenting seriously as an activity that is in fact delegated to women?

b. Thomas and Bowden on Friendship:

Discussion: Friendship. What happens when we consider gender roles in friendship?

13. (Apr. 26)

a. Bowden on Nursing

Read: Bowden's Chapter on Nursing.
Prepare: Two paragraphs: (1) summarizing a key thesis, (2) assessing validity.
Workshop: Sharing preps.
Forum: Working morally. Looking at one area where caring and institutional interests collide.

b. Working Morally (Continued)

Forum: Working morally continued. On the relation between interpersonal courtesies and structural power relations.

14. (May 3)

a. Bowden's Citizenship

Read: Bowden's Chapter on "Citizenship"
Prepare: Two paragraphs: (1) summarizing a key thesis and (2) assessing validity.
Workshops: Sharing preps.
Forum: Citizenship and caring.

b. Caring and Justice continued

Forum: On Bowden's aspirations for public terms of care.

15. (May 10)

a. Video Presentation

Applying Bowden: How can we apply Bowden's approach to the material presented in the video?

b. Applying Bowden to the Video

Final Exam due next week: Frameworks of moral approach. In this assignment you are asked to [1] assess the actual framework of moral reasoning that you rely upon at this point in your life. What criteria do you value, what goods do you seek to secure, etc. [2] Present Bowden's general warnings about contemporary frames of moral reasoning. [3] Assess your own framework from Bowden's point of view. [4] Do you think Bowden presents useful considerations? Why or why not? Please dedicate two pages of discussion to each section (total of eight pages or 2,000 words).
Final Exam Due by May 14, 5 p.m.

Contact Information

  • Telephone extension: 2217.
  • Email: JZ7R@maristb.marist.edu
  • Office: cubicle in Humanities temporary offices, ground floor of Student Center (SC 149)
  • Office hours: TBA.