SOCIETY AND VALUES
McFerran, Professor of
Office hours: by email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is this course about?
Pierce Catalog: The
course introduces the student to some of the traditional and
contemporary issues in rational decision making about ethical and
political issues. (This course transfers to both UC and CSU and
is equivalent to Phil 160 at CSUN.)
note that on the schedule it is recommended as a first introductory
course in philosophy. This has been true for a long while at
Pierce after we adopted a pattern from UCLA which reversed the
traditional sequence of having a course about how we should live
(ethics and political thought) follow a basic course on how to talk
about truth and reality (epistemology and metaphysics). The
reason was that questions about society and values seemed more clearly
relevant to the beginning student than the more abstract issues covered
in Philosophy 1 and so would offer a better starting point for someone
who might take only a single semester of philosophy.
This is an entirely online
course. We will be using
the Moodle portal set up for this class, and it is through this that
you will carry on the activities required.
there any prequisites for this
No, there are no courses you need to
have taken first, but given the
amount of reading and writing involved I do strongly recommend that
you have met the prerequisites for English 101. Also, since it is
an online class, you do need to have adequate access to the Internet on
a regular basis.
are expected as the student
learning outcomes for this class?
will demonstrate the ability to apply thinking skills to some of the
problems and responses central to philosophical questioning.
As a result of this
class we want you to be better able to carry on a reasoned discussion
about society and values.
will understand, comprehend, subdivide, and inter-relate major
philosophical questions, and responses central to social and political
A reasoned discussion will involve being able to see the connections of
some of the ideas that have come up in the more than twenty-five
hundred years of both Western and Asian philosophy.
about a textbook?
Everything you need for the class
will be available online at no
And what if you want
to know ahead of time who are the main writers we will be discussing?
With the lecture material expect to meet, among others, Plato and
Aristotle from ancient
Greece, Mencius and Xun-zi from ancient China, Locke and Hobbes, Kant
and Mill, Rousseau and Marx, Herbert Marcuse and John Rawls and Peter
Singer. At the end of each week's lecture I will have links for
you to read more about them
on your own, and in few cases there will be specific online selections
that will be the basis for items in your exams.
how are you graded?
There are four things that go toward
your grade. The first (15%)
is a participation score. Going into this is a weekly log in
which you let me know what you are doing for the
class and we have more of a chance to discuss your individual
progress, and for your score I will also be taking into account the
evidence of your activity recorded on the Moodle
site. The second (45%) is based on a set of
weekly discussions or forums on the Moodle site, the third (10%) is an
individual position paper, and the fourth (10% each) are two midterms
a final exam, all done online. Converted to points, you need a
total of 90-100 for an "A," 80-89 for a "B," 70-79 for a "C," and
60-69 for a "D." The details for all of these
activities will be explained on the Moodle site.
What are the
The midterms are completely objective (true/false or multiple choice),
but the final will be an essay exam. Included in the final
will be a question decided by all of us teaching this course that
relates to the assessment of our specific learning outcomes (SLOs).
other things you should know?
You should already have a personal
email account indicated as part of
your LACCD profile. Since we rely so heavily on email contact, I
strongly recommend keeping a separate folder for our correspondence,
and also you need make sure things do not get diverted into a junk or
spam folder. Also, please be aware that the standards of academic
honesty expected of you as a Pierce student require that the work you
submit should be your own and that anything that would not meet this
standard (and that includes using "copy and paste" in a paper as well
as evident collusion in an exam) would result in losing the credit for
that activity. Students with a disability that may affect being
able to work adequately with our online materials need to advise me so
that we can make appropriate adjustments.
what is the schedule we'll
I am dividing the course into four
Understanding how philosophy is
different from both science and
are going to look briefly at the overall history of the discussion of
society and values. Our major emphasis is on Western thought,
especially as it developed in modern times, but we will also look at
certain Asian ideas.
We need to begin with the
recognition that a philosophical question
has to be answered differently than a religious or a scientific
question. However, there was a strong tendency in
philosophy to restrict it to logic and the analysis of scientific
method, and this week and next we will have to look more closely at
this approach. Before we do, though, we are going to look at the
beginnings of philosophy in both ancient Greece and ancient China since
the basic questions for philosophy have not really changed since
For this week's forum I will be asking you to introduce
This is what I would be calling on you to do in a regular classroom,
and it is chance for you to see the diversity in age and
and expectations there will be with the class. Keep in mind that
are also able to post your photo and a brief bio on your Moodle profile
week I want you to be thinking about whether it seems reasonable to
expect objectively true answers when it comes to talking about right
and wrong (a position we label as moral realism). We are looking
the case against this in the last century and the response. For
forum I am going to ask you for your own expectations about the
answers we aim at in this course.
Deciding whether there is a rational
basis for any discussion of right
and wrong. weeks 3-5, with a
midterm in week 6
of twentieth-century philosophy has been about whether value judgments
could ever be anything more than individual expressions of attitude,
but more recently there has been a greater emphasis on what is called
moral realism, a view that takes us back to the great history of
philosophy in both Asia and the West. We are going to look more
at the major ethical theories employed in
moral decision making.
3: The basic
theme that is going to run through the entire course is what we can
mean when we talk about justice. We will learn about the
objection made to Socrates, and we will see how the issue links in with
any understanding we have about human nature itself. In the forum
will have a chance to present your own reflections on what we are
it makes sense to look for objective answers in ethics, what are the
leading alternatives in the way we do this? We are going to look
very general terms at several moral theories, then in the forum I am
going to ask you about your own position on the possibility of being
consistently moral in our actions.
WEEK 5: In
a complex society such as our own we can look at the overlap of moral
values with religious teachings and with the law. We are going to
at two extremes and then in the forum, following up on last week's
discussion, I am going to ask you for a first reaction to the issue of
how to act rightly as an individual while respecting either religious
or legal limitations in doing so.
Deciding whether there is a rational
basis for preferring one type of
government over another.
midterm in week 12
Americans we are very familiar with the concept of "self-evident"
truths that are the basis for discussing what we mean by personal
rights. This, however, is a concept that has come under serious
challenge in modern times, and so we need to examine more carefully any
basis for talking about a democratic system.
Ever since Plato
political philosophy in the West has used the idea
that the moral authority of the state (why we should still feel
obliged to obey the law if we could get away with not doing so) is
based on a promise of some sorts. This has been seen as what we
call a virtual contract--not something we actually sit down and sign
but what is understood from the fact that we accept the protection and
service provided by a government. The central issue is how we
understand whatever we call our indivfidual rights, and in your forum
discussion I want you to explore how we should understand the first ten
amendments to the American constitution.
WEEK 8: After
looking at the political theory that inspired our own form of
government in the American Revolution we are going to look at the
theory that inspired first the French Revolution just years after own
own and then the form of government that for most of the twentieth
century characterized the Soviet Union and the other countries seeing
themselves as Communist. The key will be a quite different vision
why things would ever have gone wrong in a state of nature. Forr
week's discussion I will ask you to discuss the different ways of
having a true rule of the people in a modern society.
WEEK 9: The
theories we have been looking at over the last two weeks have been
secular in the sense that the basis for the legal systems proposed in
them is not religious in origin. However, in recent years we have
to see that religion, far from being just a thing of the past, has
assumed new importance in the discussion of how a society should
When religious and political authority are essentially the same we talk
about a theocracy. Your forum for this week will deal with just
are to reconcile secular and religious values in what we expect in our
WEEK 10: A
theocratic vision of society insists on the law making us be
Earlier we met John Stuart Mill proposing a quite different model which
would not recognize "victimless crimes." We are going to take a
look at Mill's ideas with special emphasis on the idea of free speech,
but we are also going to look at a major objection to how Mill
supports his position. In your forum for this week I am inviting
to examine this objection more carefully.
WEEK 11: Early in the course we saw that
Socrates made the idea of justice the key to his entire
philosophy. We are now going to look more closely at still other
positions about what we ought to take "justice" to mean. In the
forum I am asking you to reflect on whether there is a moral obligation
not just to obey "good" laws but also to work to change "bad" ones.
Looking more closely at some
specific issues. weeks 13-15
can vary from semester to semester. In the fall for 2011 I am
going to pose some questions about how to reconcile personal moral
standards with social expectations. It is here that you choose a
specific topic for your paper, which will be due before the final exam
and will actually be the basis for things I will ask you on the exam.
Each week I have an online lecture
and links to additional
materials. Also, at the beginning of each week I am going to
that I ask you to discuss together through the Moodle
forums. As we
go along I am going to have other online activities to advance your
understanding. At the time of the midterms and the final I would
expect that you can show a basic understanding of the concepts we are
working with as well as some of the philosophers associated with
In planning your study schedule I
would ask you to spend the first part
of each week (Monday through Wednesday) on the lecture material, which
will include requirements
or suggestions for additional reading, then for the last part
(Thursday through Sunday) contribute to the Moodle forum for that
week. I would recommend
allowing at least six hours a week for this class.
note: whether I would personally agree with stands you may take
in any discussion, including a paper or an exam, is not relevant to
your grade. Also, it is understood that at any point you may
present a view for the sake of argument and it should not be assumed,
either by myself or by other students, that what you say is what you
personally believe. At all times, however, the same standards of
courtesy and mutual respect appropriate in a face-to-face classroom
setting apply in our online interaction.