Fall 2019 HC 221H: Ethical Beginnings: On the Origins of Ethical Philosophy around the World

Fall 2019-2020

Professor: Caroline Lundquist

4.00 credits

  • CRN 12745: Monday & Wednesday, 10:00 - 11:20 @ GSH 103
  • CRN 12755: Monday & Wednesday, 12:00 - 13:20 @ CON 301

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. Through a survey of early world literature, 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, contrast, and critically evaluate competing conceptions of the self, personal responsibility, freedom, and meaning, with a mind to questioning the ethical views we have inherited.