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ETHC3200Ethics and SocietyWeek 2: Western Ethics
Origins of Western Ethics▪Western ethics largely originates from two periods/influences:▪1. Classical Greek philosophy▪2. 17th-century early modernism / 18th-century “Enlightenment” thinking▪This week we are talking about these influences.
Classical Greek PhilosophySocrates (ca. 470-399 BCE) ▪Socrates thought that the best way to seek knowledge or wisdom was through questioning, including of basic assumptions.▪The Socratic dialecticis essentially a process of asking questions to uncover what is reasonable and what is false.▪Socrates was sentenced to die when he was 70 for suggesting/revealing the ignorance of many powerful Athenians; in his statement to the jury, he said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” ▪Think about the above statement. Do you agree?
Plato (438-348 BCE) ▪Plato was Socrates’ student.▪His best-known work is The Republic, which describes what an ideal society would look like.▪Like Socrates, he believed that most people are ignorant and are unaware of it. Furthermore, if people are led to the truth, they might reject it because they prefer to hold on to what they already know. He made use of a cave allegory to explain this concept; see ▪Plato urged that the truth can be reached by, and only by, reason (not one’s senses or feelings or desires or intuitions). He felt we need to deny these other things and ensure we are governed by reason, and act according to it.▪The Academy he founded was the first university in the West.
Aristotle (384-322 BCE) ▪Aristotle believed in moderation and in the balancing of rational thought and passion.▪He was the tutor of Alexander the Great.▪He focused on the concept of the “golden mean,” the harmonious place, or virtue, between two extremes.▪Eg. Recklessness CourageCowardice(too much confidence)(too little confidence)In the above example, courage is the virtue. ▪Can you think of another example of a golden mean?
Some characteristics, therefore, of classical Greek philosophy:▪believes truth is knowable ▪believes truth is empirically measurable▪does not see knowledge as including the senses, feelings, or spirituality▪generally privileges human logic as the way toward truth▪is human-focused
Modern Western EthicsClassical Greek philosophy was the root of the three main ethical approaches in modern western ethics:▪1. Principles-based ethics▪2. Utilitarian-based ethics / Utilitarianism▪3. Virtues-based ethics