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CHAPTER 4 – VIRTUE ETHICS
General Overview
The objectives of this chapter are to describe and analyze virtue ethics, from both Western and
Asian perspectives. This will involve distinguishing the ways in which virtue ethics differs from
both consequentialist and nonconsequentialist approaches. Central to this discussion will be the
investigation of the Aristotelian “good life” and the Confucian notion of “self-cultivation.”
Class Suggestions
This chapter treats the re-emerging virtue ethics approach from both Western and Asian
perspectives. Given this diversity, unique so far in the text, it will be important to distinguish the
ways in which comparative philosophical discussions can take place and also to warn students
away from making falling victim to false cognates between the two traditions.
There are a range of activities that an instructor might use to help students learn and engage with
this material in this chapter. The section on Aristotle raises the question of an end or purpose to
life. This obviously has great potential for philosophical discussions and, again, there are a
variety of exercises you might use to get students thinking about it. This is related, and yet
distinct from the Confucian notion of self-cultivation or self-development. Here is a simple but
very effective exercise involving the whole class: get students to each write their names at the
top of a blank piece of paper. Below that they should write “I attend college in order to…” and
they should complete the sentence by thinking about their reason for attending college. Students
then pass their piece of paper to the person on the left. Each student should now take the end of
the previous sentence and use it begin a new sentence. If one attends college “ to.. get a good
job”, the next sentence would begin “I want to get a good job in order to…” When the second
sentence has been completed, students should fold over the first sentence, so that only the second
sentence is visible, and once again pass it to their left. Try six or seven rounds or until they run
out of reasons. Get students to return the papers back to the person whose name is at the top and
ask students to read out what’s written on their sheet of paper. Be prepared for comedy. In a
feedback session the instructor might raise the issues of whether all actions have a purpose,
whether there is an ultimate end to all of our actions, i.e., happiness, pleasure, etc., and whether
morality should or should not serve those ends. This is usually where comedy yields to tragedy.
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Copyright © 2009 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.
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