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Personalist Ethics

Taught by Jules van Schaijik, Fall 2008

In this course we discuss fundamental ethical norms and principles, paying particular attention to the interplay between these and the dignity of persons. We hope to show how the demands of morality are profoundly conducive to the happiness and flourishing of persons, both as individuals and in communion with one another.

When: Sep 15, Sep 29, Oct 13, Oct 27, Nov 10, Nov 24, Dec 8, Dec 22
Where: 519 N. High St., West Chester, PA

More about the class:

The dignity of human persons is closely bound up with the fact that we are moral beings faced with and challenged by the call to be good and live well. We thrive as persons only if we respond positively to this call. In today's culture, however, many question or even deny this link. They perceive rather a conflict between traditional morality and the freedom and dignity of the human person.

In this course we will discuss fundamental ethical norms and principles, paying particular attention to the interplay between these and the dignity of persons. We hope to show how the demands of morality are profoundly conducive to the happiness and flourishing of persons, both as individuals and in communion with one another.

We will reflect on basic ethical questions such as: What is moral goodness? How does it arise? How is it related to freedom? What is virtue, and how does it differ from vice? What makes an act right or wrong? Are there any moral absolutes? But we will also address, for instance, the tension that exists between individual freedom and objective laws and values, and how that tension can best be resolved. We will look at ways of preserving the freedom of conscience in the face of moral absolutes. We will examine how a belief in objective truth can coexist with tolerance.

The course is roughly divided into three parts. The first two sessions will deal with the nature of the good and human motivation. The next three will focus on the moral being or character of the person, and the last three at moral acts and the norms that govern them.

Note that this is a general ethics course, focusing on the most fundamental ethical norms and principles. Specific ethical issues (such as abortion, stem cell research, the morality of war, etc.) will surely come up by way of example, but they will not be the focus.

Per session topics:

  • A. Good and Motivation: What is Goodness and Why Do (or Should) We Care?
  •     i  The Call and Challenge of Goodness
  •     ii   The Good as the Source of Happiness
  • B. Moral Character: on Virtue and Vice
  •     iii   What is Virtue?
  •     iv   The Relation between Virtue and Action
  • C. Moral Acting: the Ethics of Obligation
  •     v   The Role of Duty in the Moral Life
  •     vi   The Subjective Intention and the Objective Nature of a Moral Act
  •     vii   A Personalist Critique of Utilitarianism
  •     viii   Conscience & Truth, Freedom & Law, Persons & Absolutes

Tentative list of reading material* (some of it optional):

  • Plato, Gorgias
  • John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism
  • Selections from Plato's, Republic
  • Selections from Aristotle's, Nicomachean Ethics
  • Selections from Kant's, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
  • Selections from St. Thomas' Summa Theologica
  • Selections from Peter Singer's Practical Ethics
  • Selections from Dietrich von Hildebrand's Ethics (out of print)

* A definite list will be published well before the beginning of the course. Students can expect to be assigned no more than about two hours of reading between sessions (i.e. one hour per week).

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