Fall 2017 HC 221H: Ethical Beginnings: On the Origins of Ethical Philosophy around the World

Fall Term, 2017-2018

Professor: Caroline Lundquist

4 credits

CRN 17221: Wednesday & Friday, 12:00 – 13:20 @ MAC 110

As philosophers have often pointed out, sometimes the things that are most obvious to us are also the hardest to explain. This is true of some of our most important beliefs about ethics, including beliefs about personal responsibility, judgment, and even what it means to be human. Because beliefs about ethics are often merely inherited from our surrounding cultures, we may fail to consider why we (both as individuals and collectively) have come to accept them, and why we feel so strongly about them. But ideas about ethics, like all ideas, have origins, and to really understand an idea, we must understand where it came from. This course explores the origins of some of our most important ideas— the ideas that inform the beliefs that we live by, and help to give our lives meaning and purpose.

The aim of the course is to understand the origins and cross-cultural development of some of the central ideas and ideals of ethics, including such concepts as good and evil, personal and social responsibility, virtue and vice, fate, freedom and meaning. After briefly reflecting on the evolutionary and pre-historical roots of ethical practices and values, we will trace the history of ethical philosophy across geographic regions and cultures from the ancient world through the birth of modernity. Along the way, we will compare and contrast, and critically evaluate competing conceptions of the self, personal responsibility, freedom and meaning, with a mind to questioning the views we have inherited.