PHIL 389: Contemporary Issues: Selected Topics
PHIL 389: Contemporary Issues: Selected Topics
The Generic Catalog Description
The various sections of this course discuss a wide variety of contemporary issues.
PHIL 389: Contemporary Issues: Race Theory
In this course we will examine several contemporary arguments within the field of critical race theory. The two major questions that guide this field are: What is race? What values do and/or should we assign to race in our society?. The course will be divided into three parts: 1) the historical roots of contemporary arguments about race; 2) several contemporary arguments about race; 3) a few of the social/political implications about these arguments.
Idea of Race, Bernasconi and Lott, eds.
Blackness Visible, Charles Mills
Color Conscious, Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann
On Race and Philosophy, Lucius Outlaw
Miner’s Canary, Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres
PHIL 389: Contemporary Issues: God and Morality
This class will focus on two of the central questions of philosophy. The first question is: “what difference does it make for morality if God exists or does not exist?” People hold very divergent views on this topic. Some think that God has everything to do with morality and hold that God’s will or Gods’ commands are the only possible basis for an objective morality. Others think that God is irrelevant to morality. Starting with Plato, the dominant view in Western philosophy is that basic moral standards are independent of God. We will begin by examining the extremely influential arguments of Plato’s Ethyphro and some of the standard objections to the divine command theory of morality. We will then read and discuss two recent important books that defend moral theories based on God and God’s nature/will, Robert Adams’s Finite and Infinite Goods (1999) and Linda Zagzebski’s Divine Motivation Theory (2005), as well as selections from Robert and Marilyn Adams's The Problem of Evil (1990).
The second question concerns the problem of evil: “Is the existence of so much suffering and evil in the world consistent with the existence of a loving, morally good, and omnipotent God?” We will read many of the classic treatments of this topic. Among the topics to be discussed are: “the free will defense” and other theories about the nature of the goods for the sake of which God permits evil/suffering, the problem of horrendous/gratuitous evils, and “the evidential problem of evil” (does the existence of so much evil and suffering in the world make it less likely that God exists?)
PHIL 389: Contemporary Issues: Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy
How should we, as social beings, live together? This is the fundamental question of political philosophy. This course will address this question directly. Following the example of Plato, we will think about an Ideal Society. Specifically, we will ask, given the knowledge and resources that we possess, what is the best form of society that we, in the United States today, might construct?
Virtually everyone would agree as to the basic political structure of our ideal society. It should be a democracy. Democracy has proven itself to be a durable and contagious ideal. The history of the past several centuries has witnessed a steady deepening of democracy to include all citizens of a society and a steady spread of democracy--at least as an ideal--throughout the world.
There may be agreement about political structure, at least in broad outline, but there is no agreement about that other fundamental feature of a society--its economic structure. It is this disagreement that will be the focus of this course. Should our economic structure remain capitalist? If so, to what sort of capitalism should we aspire, a conservative free-market economy that gives keeps governmental intervention to a minimum, or a more liberal version that would, among other things, allow the government to regulate the economy more and significantly redistribute income and wealth. Or should we aim for something more drastic. Should we aim for a "green" economy that incorporates both capitalist and socialist structures. Or should we try to move beyond capitalism altogether? Does there exist an economically viable socialist alternative to capitalism, or has the socialist project been wholly discredited? If an economically viable alternative to capitalism does exist, is it worth fighting for?
To clarify the issues, we will read three books and a set of articles, each representing a contending view: conservative, liberal, green and socialist. The conservative position is represented by the most influential economist of the post-World-War-Two period, Milton Friedman. We will read his classic statement, which is still, as you will see, highly relevant. The liberal position is represented by several figures, the philosopher John Rawls, the British philosopher/political scientist, Brian Barry and the economist James Galbraith. The green position will be represented by another classic text, E. F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful. The socialist position will be set out in David Schweickart’s After Capitalism.
These readings will comprise the first two-thirds of the course. During the last third the class will divide into four groups, each of which will draw up a blueprint for its own Ideal Society, based (at least loosely) on one of the above perspectives. The course will culminate in a Great Debate, in which each group attempts to defend its vision against the alternatives.