Is there an ethics that we can all agree on without stifling pluralism and freedom? What would such an ethics look like? Most important, how should you, as a thoughtful person, find your way among the moral puzzles of the modern world and its cacophony of voices and opinions? These are just some of the engaging and perplexing questions you'll tackle as you join Professor Kane for this thought-provoking, 24-lecture examination of the problems surrounding ethics in the modern world.
The contemporary issues you'll consider include conflicts between public and private morality, the degree to which the law should enforce morality, the teaching of values in the schools, the role of religion in public life, the limits of liberty and privacy, individualism versus community, and the loss of shared values and the resulting discontent about politics and public discourse. Professor Kane's approach is as searching and comprehensive as any you could ask for. His lectures range over a rich array of literary, religious, and philosophical sources representing thousands of years of civilization. Most intriguingly, they spur you to ponder the possibility of recovering the ancient quest for wisdom and virtue in a way that respects the insights of modern thought and the achievements of modern pluralism. Whatever your thinking on such questions, whatever your own personal question for true meaning, you can rest assured that it will be immeasurably enriched by the harvest of reflection you glean from these compelling lectures.
Disclaimer: Please note that this recording may include references to supplemental texts or print references that are not essential to the program and not supplied with your purchase.
©1999 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)1999 The Great Courses
The title of this course could have been "The Quest for Objective Values". The professor does an excellent job in the first part of the course of surveying the great philosophers and their positions on relative vs objective values and morals. To each great thinker's position, he offers the opposing view of another great thinker, effectively presenting relativism vs objectivism as an engaging debate that spans all of history.
He then spends the rest of the course defining his own position, which is that yes, there is an objective truth, and that humanity is on the cusp of discovering it. Or at least of discovering how to perceive it, which, in his view, seems to have something to do with recognizing that "aspirational" goals are just as real as achievable goals.
This latter part of the course seems outdated; it is set in a time when we (Americans) had more faith in government, less faith in torture, and more openness to working across party lines and religious divides than we do now. Some of the examples and thought experiments fall flat, given the changes in our culture that have come about since then. I would love to hear an updated version of the same material from the same professor. (His lecturing style, by the way, was excellent.)
The most memorable topic in the lectures, to me, was Plato's view of democracy. If Plato could see us now he would be entirely vindicated.
We live in a time where cultures clash. It is no longer suitable to adopt a universal value system and suggest that everyone should follow this. If we try, which system do we choose? This dilemma has led to relativism, which suggests that every ethical/value system is as good as the next. However, this undermines what we know about the world. This course tackles relativism and provides a lot of insight and wisdom.
Lectures in Part 1 (the first 12 lectures) were a little slow for me because they tended to review different philosophical theories from history. I found this section remote and sometimes boring. Lectures in Part 2, however, were much more lively. They focused on what do we do once we know why were are in this situation, i.e., what is our modern approach to pluralism and relativism. I found Part 2 much more practical, thought provoking, and interesting.
The teacher is great and adds a lot of color to the lectures. My only gripe is that he goes from very loud to very soft. On headphones it was a pain to find the right volume setting.
Engaging, fascinating, fun
Loved the chapter on social contracts - a pretty juicy subject in the hands of Dr. Kane!
This is a must-listen for anyone interested in ethics and morality, or in philosophy in general. Never a dull moment - provides genuine pleasure from start to finish. And it appeals to our values impulses at every level - the sentimental (it feels so good), rational (it makes perfect sense), utilitarian (such useful ideas!), and the contractual (you show up to listen, and Dr. Kane shows up with the goods!). I just wish I'd had Dr. Kane for Philo 101 -- way, way back when I was an undergrad.
The first half of the course contains a thorough review of the history of moral philosophy. The arguments put forth by famous philosophers over the centuries are simple, logical, and powerful, yet often outdone by even stronger counterarguments by other philosophers. Kane summarizes, categorizes, and clarifies this history in a very understandable way.
The 2nd half of the course shifts to being more about Kane's personal ideas on morality, which IMO stand out by their relative weakness, complexity, and lack of critique as compared to the earlier arguments. Kane's ideas are not without their critics, though unlike the arguments in the first half, the most powerful counterarguments do not get their time. Furthermore, the winding and unfocused nature of lectures 13-24, which include thoughts on public vs private morality, problems and solutions to democratic governments, and Kane's personal suggestions on how we should view religion nowadays, left me underwhelmed by the latter portion of the course.
The selection of historical philosophers and quotes is good, but what passes for explication amounts to redundant rephrasing with lots of interspersed "you see" and "if you will" along with an occasional example and/or discussion of extra dimensions.
What a fantastic course. I don't agree with everything Kane says, but I prefer his over enthusiasm to over skepticism. splendid
"Quest for Meaning"
I absolutely enjoyed listening to the philosophical sessions: they are informative, fascinating, provocative and funny.
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