Philosophy | Selected topics in History of Ethics
P541 | 26360 | Eisenberg


Topic: Ancient Themes and Modern Echoes

In this course I shall examine several of the leading ethical
theories of the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers-- the theories
expounded in Plato’s “Republic,” Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics,”
Epicurus’s extant writings, and Epictetus’s “Enchiridion” together
with Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations”—and to compare/contrast those
theories, individually or as a group, with several important modern
ethical theories—namely, those of Kant (in the “Critique of
Practical Reason”), Mill (in “Utilitarianism”), Bradley (in “Ethical
Studies”), and Nietzsche (in “The Genealogy of Morals” and in
selections from “Beyond Good and Evil”).  All of the ancient
theories, despite their many differences from one another, are forms
of eudaimonism, which focus on the moral agent’s character rather
more than on her/his actions and on the personal well-being
(eudaimonia) which a life of moral virtue allegedly provides.  Of
the modern theories just mentioned, Kant’s—which is deontological
rather than eudaimonistic—is, nonetheless, most like ancient
Stoicism; Mill’s—which is act-oriented and consequentialist—is,
nonetheless, most like Epicurus’ hedonism.  Bradley’s self-
realization doctrine is a lineal descendant from Aristotle’s
ethics.  Lastly, despite his several radical departures from earlier
ethical theories, Nietzsche’s own theory is perhaps best interpreted
as a modern version of eudaimonism—one closest to Epicureanism,
despite Nietzsche’s rejection of both psychological and evaluative
hedonism.

There will be one short (approximately five-page) paper due around
the middle of the semester and a final paper of approximately
fifteen pages.  I am not yet sure whether there will be a final exam.