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.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.
©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.
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.
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.
I initially purchased the book to delve into the history and the current state of philosophy from yet another professor. My title tells you what the professor revealed - Philosophy has been the work of lower-order humans, and it apples to lower-order humans.
Progressing through the lectures I realized that i could gain some "philosopher parlance" so I can begin to communicate with academic philosophers using their own terms (not that they will give any regard to a non-academic thinker, which is why I haven't wasted my time yet.
Being outside of academia (a blessing, I deduced - since I spared subjecting myself to having to memorize the mountains of pure hogwash that constitutes philosophy to date), and being a completely original thinker, I found (according to the book's terms) that I had independently "achieved objective modernity in ethics" (meaning I found the 'objective values' or the 'universal shared values') (i.e. life, consciousness, and higher consciousness - the latter of which I define in a more useful way (in terms of proactivity) (now, if you do not, or refuse, to value those, then you are one of three classes of people (taking another perspective): a fool, a knave, or one who jumps from one to the other), and I found that this was an achievement that the professor noted was deemed impossible by relativists, whom I discovered I destroyed, along with post-modernism, subjectivism, uncertainty, and pluralism; and Marx (where economics shapes the mind - yes, I agree, but only the muddled minds of lower-order humans - those people still lacking my new philosophy). I found that I "solved structuralism" (to use the philosopher's vernacular), and in doing so I exposed philosophy to date as a collection of weak speculations, and a field that was in need of complete overhaul (in light of the vast body of new verified knowledge we now have) which I did by restructuring philosophy as a whole (I depict this new structure using a "Philosophical Totem") in the course of answering the Great Questions of Life (and the previously unknown, and most difficult of all Greatest of Great Questions, that of "Why bother?") (for, you must admit, you have to answer that before you even begin to address the lesser great questions) in my quest for personal life guidance - for I found that I could not even function in life without knowing the 'Big Answers' - and, as the book indicated, there were none as yet - so I discovered that I did not waste my time in rolling-up my sleeves and doing the heavy mental work myself (living in what I term as the American Tradesman mentality and value system - where you fix things yourself).
So the book offered a unique set of revelations to me (according to my spotty historic knowledge), me as a "non-academic"; and so, using inductive reasoning, it should offer any non-academic a set of unique revelations, too, as to the current state of "moral philosophy" (thanks to the comment below for noting 'moral' - for I see that there are a myriad of areas for philosophers to apply their weak speculations to (and I say 'weak' due to their lacking an overall life-guiding philosophy - just as the professor corroborates repeatedly, and just as the professor himself had none to offered himself - he only noted the questions, and the weak attempts to answer them to date) (and note that by 'life guiding philosophy, I mean, according to my restructuring, a groundwork of assumptions (based on verified knowledge and the current best models of realty (such as in cosmology, microbiology, biology, physics, particle physics, astronomy, anthropology, genetics, animal social behavior, and geology, among others), and upon that groundwork an Ultimate Core Value rests (which achieves that 'objective modernity") (and which is, remember, ultimately "Higher Consciousness") (that capable of proactive action in securing itself in a harsh universe, which serves as an Ultimate Core Goal (to secure higher consciousness in a harsh and deadly universe), which gives us clear definitions of Good and Evil (their being goal-driven), which gives us the basis for building worthwhile individual lives and relevant civilizations.
I enjoyed the professor's approach to the history of moral philosophy - from the perspective of trying (and still failing) to find at least one universal shared value (I gave you three), and from the perspective of four categorized approaches that were used in the failed efforts - the sentimentalist approach, the rationalist approach, the utilitarian approach, and the social contract approach (and I could see why they failed - not due to a lack of a burning desire for higher answers like I had, but for the lack of verified knowledge, where they had to largely guess, and where they were still grossly misguided by metaphysics and religions (which are all make-believe, or, as I like to put it, are 'the preposterous imaginings of primitive minds institutionalized by self-serving social manipulators and domineers, and which are used by people as venues for indulging in self-delusion, and whose only real substance is the wisdom derived from hard-won life experience). I enjoyed being exposed to new (for me) historical philosophical concepts, such as the two mental absurdities - 'lifting the veil' and the 'categorical imperative'.
I enjoyed the general history, it took me a level deeper in the details of several historic philosophers such as Marx, Hobbes, and Plato (who was spot-on concerning Democracy, but failed to have Churchill's insight, that "Democracy is the worst system of government, except for all the others") (and you can thank the book for presenting Churchill's observation, too).
Using his four-path approach above, he shed light on the major historic philosophers, or at least he gave us a useful perspective. I am not sure if the 'four-paths' notion was a commonly-held notion throughout academia or the professor's own original notion, but it was a good one for organizing - and it what I would deem as a 'Potentially Useful Perspective' (as opposed to 'playing the IS game', which is what I say people do when they say 'is' without any veracity, as opposed to admitting that they are merely offering "potentially useful perspectives") (or, toward science, "potentially worthwhile avenues of investigation"). So was his idea of a 'fourth dimension' in ethics - that of the 'absolute value' (remember, I gave you three - there were NONE to date).
The author mentions several interesting books throughout for further reading, such as "Life on Man" (concerning our body's hosts of bacteria, whose innate behavior I always find fascinating - see "The Global Brain"). On my second listen (I did not catch the entire book in one listen, as I listen at work and while commuting - both of which offer multitasking distractions), I will note the other books he mentioned in passing, even though they too are now slightly dated (but not enough to be outdated).
The book even spurred me to investigate current academic philosophical papers (remember, I am trying to determine the current state of (moral) philosophy (or 'ethics')- I found the site "philpapers.org" and I saw the vast array of areas that current blind and clueless philosophy is being applied to, and worse, I saw that academia is a closed culture that generates a continuous stream of worthless speculation that will bury my enlightened efforts and results (as do the mountains of popular mystical goo being produced by non-academics - so I do not blame academia for being an exclusive closed society - it keeps out loud and obnoxious kooks).
So though the lectures I found that I blew past and current philosophy right off its weak foundation, and I erected my Philosophical Totem (I deemed 'totem' to be a good memory association) on a more solid foundation of assumptions - as my foundation is based on current verified knowledge and the current best models of realty from various scientific fields - which themselves are not 'perfectly' solid - science not having all the answers yet, but it does value self-reexamination as new scientific advances are made, for the first thing one would do is reexamine the assumptions that such a philosophical totem is erected on (meaning the ultimate core value, and on that the ultimate core goal, and on that the determination of good and evil, and on that worthwhile lives and relevant civilizations (with all the implications across the spectrum of human endeavor - from more enlightened industry to more enlightened education to government structures to news, entertainment, social interaction, parenting, laws, government policies, government funding, international relations, art, and science, just to rattle off a few).
I found, to use the professor's philosopher parlance, that I am a One Man Philosophical Neo-Axial Era, exposing all of past and present philosophy as weak, nebulous mental vagaries, though I've held that the efforts, though falling far short, were all noble efforts to elevate the weak and twisted paradigms of their times. A notable example the book gave was the book's mention of the Dalia Lama, who convened representatives of 139 religions to identify universal shared values, and they identified several, and, incredibly, left it at that - WITHOUT ASKING 'WHY BOTHER?' to any of them - in effect leaving us with nothing more than Hallmark Card thinking - trite platitudes and shallow maxims (and thankfully not obsolete adages) that masquerade as philosophy, but which are not - being too lazy to sufficiently ask 'why bother?' and leaving us with statements and claims without substance (which is why you immediately forget platitudes, maxims, and adages, their being trite, shallow, and obsolete, and would only clutter your mind with valueless garbage).
So the book revealed to me that former and present minds have not had the ability or capacity to delve into the Great Questions adequately, and so they have failed us, which is why we still have war, hate, envy, a lack of self-worth, prejudice, mysticism, unjustified ego, Hollywood and pulp-fiction mentalities (and they are not compliments), depression, and suicide, just to rattle off a few human ills that my philosophy would alleviate, once people acknowledge it, and place proper value and emphasis of time and effort on it (I call it 'refocusing' since people already have a (vague) value of life, consciousness, and higher consciousness) (and they currently cannot properly value them or refocus - because they still "swim in a sea of philosophical stupidity" as I call it - they may acknowledge such ultimate values for a fleeting moment, but then will be immediately subsumed back into that sea that incessantly calls to them, which led me to state that I've given-up on my generation - they belong in a Natural History Museum display case - they will never escape that sea (which brings up the question, "How long does it take for a 'lower-order human' to become 'enlightened'? and the answer (it was not easy) is "As long as it takes to shed past and present debilitating mind-frames (I tried 'mental baggage' but my daughter said she likes her mental baggage (playing the perfect contrarian), so I had to be more specific) in order to properly perceive and acknowledge the new. For some people, it may be a minute, for others, a lifetime, and for others, never.
Another book recommended by the professor that I noted is "Darkness at Noon".
I found, through the book, that I answered Kant's three questions, "What should we know?" (at least the ultimate core value, ultimate core goal, and good and evil). "How should we live? (pursuing the ultimate core goal - which includes all subordinate activities, and the needed occasional R&R (which people today mistake for the ultimate core goal, becoming hedonists); and "What should we hope for?" (to be reconstructed by a future advanced higher consciousness (through technology) - so there you have the possibility of 'life after death' and a basis for further morality (for they would not choose to 'reconstruct' a person who lived an evil life. Stalin - out. Gandhi - in. and notice that I answered Kant's questions on the broadest of terms ("ultimate core values"), and not on a local/immediate level (the realm of animals and smart-asses). (and note that I said 'core' - and this is important - for even though people disparage philosophy (for good reason, as the book points out - not having offered any adequate answers to any important questions yet, but having a pretense of having been important), everyone already has a 'core philosophy' - it is what (I've observed) every little non-animal life decision is weighed against (and any true artificial intelligence will also need a core philosophy - and such an entity, when let loose in the world (as only a 'true' AI can be) will only be as good as its core philosophy). The problem with people's core philosophies are, lacking guidance from past and present philosophers, people are left to their own devices (hail relativists) - so they end up gathering a hodge-podge of trite platitudes, shallow maxims, obsolete adages, and even twisted thinking (in the spirit of experimentation and social-fabric testing) in place of a solid life-guiding philosophy (such as mine) (their not having the inclination, ability, or time), which then fails them in the face of the slightest breeze of life adversity. Local/immediate concerns keep people motivated only to a certain degree (and local/immediate concerns places such people on the level of animals - only 'human-style', hence my label "lower-order humans"), but such local/immediate (lower-order) concerns (such as impressing Aunt May, for example, which is not a broad/far-ranging concern, let alone a universal motivation - for not everyone needs to impress Aunt May) are not mental-state sustaining (or strengthening), and hence you have eventual depression and suicide. They do not have broad/far-ranging goals (such as securing higher consciousness in a harsh and deadly universe), they have no clue as to a ultimate core value (such as higher consciousness), and they have no idea of what good and evil are (which they do not even know are goal-driven, having been misguided by past and present thinking). Hence they live largely aimless, clueless lives (which includes scientists, for they block-out higher thinking and bury themselves in work), with all the ills that accompany it.
You may benefit from the book's lectures in you own way - this is how I benefited (as an example); and as for me, I will continue refining the details of my new philosophy (and philosophy's restructuring in order to reflect all the latest verified knowledge and current best models of reality we now have), and I will continue to determine what the current state of philosophy is and compare it to what I've independently arrived at (for I like to think first, THEN see who else in the past or present has had the same insights and notions). Then I will try to figure-out how to get what I've arrived at "out there in the world" - which includes vaulting over the closed academic culture (of which I am an outsider), and cutting-through with what Plato observed 2500 years ago - fleeting fashions and trends that tie-up people's mentalities. Perhaps I must use fashion and trends as vehicles... I'm thinking a world-wide simultaneous billboard campaign, which will (initially) read, "A New World Philosophy - read it or die". (though I've made a case for the dumb).
The book, if nothing else, was inspiring, having been graspable throughout (not a small accomplishment).
What do philosophy and religion say about how to live (broadly, not in specifics) and how can we synthesize this information in a time of many beliefs? No spoilers, and the final section may not be a spiritual epiphany , but I found it to be useful.
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.
"Crystallised my vague thinking"
I found this course challenging and rewarding. It's far from the first philosophy that I've read, so what I needed was a framework from which to hang it. This course was brilliant for contextualising some existing knowledge and creating new lines of thought.
"Quest for Meaning"
I absolutely enjoyed listening to the philosophical sessions: they are informative, fascinating, provocative and funny.
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