Ethics Lesson

A new term begins next week. I’ll be spending some time today going over my syllabi, making sure my new course design is as ready as I can make it.

I’ll have more to say about the new design in the coming weeks, especially as I begin to see its various failure modes, and so begin the next round of revisions and mid-course corrections.

In honor of the new term, I thought I’d post something I wrote over the summer.

I found myself alone at home for a few weeks, while my wife and daughters were traveling. One Sunday evening, I decided to attend a spoken-word open-mic at a nearby coffee shop.

The next Sunday, I put my name on the list and, when called, stood up to do my bit. Continue reading

A Field Guide: A First Sketch

This blog grew out of an idea I had, sometime last year, to write a Field Guide to Basic Values for use in my ethics courses, building on the idea of attuned awareness to which I referred in my previous post.

I once used this analogy with students:

There are no doubt some people who can walk outside on a morning in spring and simply not notice that birds are singing. Others might notice, but it might seem to them an undifferentiated sound to be filed under the general heading, “bird song.” A few, if they have any practice at all in birding – observing and identifying birds – will pick out the songs of individual birds, identify them by species, or even by variant, and note the ones they can’t identify just now. When I hear the call or the song of an unfamiliar bird, I immediately long for my binoculars and field guide.

I suggested that, as a matter of lived experience, ethics is much the same. Continue reading

Feral Philosophers!

Something noteworthy from The New York Times, this morning: a call by Steve Neuman, a self-described philosophy journalist, to “Free the Philosophical Beast.”

I have nothing much to add to it, but wish simply to point out a few highlights.

One concerns the reason it is so difficult to engage in meaningful philosophical work in the context of a research university:

But I think the key difference between science and philosophy is that we need the results of science more than we need everyone in the body politic “doing science.” By contrast, we need everyone “doing philosophy” more than we need the results of philosophy. In other words, we don’t need to know or understand how the scientist has gone from the minute molecular intricacies of DNA to a public good like genetic counseling. On the other hand, the emulation of the critical thinking and logical argument of a philosopher is a virtue that can be applied to any area of life — from where you stand on the most important social and political issues of the day to how best to spend the rest of your days on this planet.

Another highlight is the closing passage, which resonates with me in my current ventures in ethics education and in the very conception of this blog as a set of “field notes”:

So “powerful, soft strides” toward the reintroduction of the philosophical beast are being made outside the academy, but I would like to see even more philosophers become feral. Being feral is different from being wild, of course — the philosophical beast that still calls the academy its home just needs a wider space in which to roam, and maybe venture more often outside its walls.

Just let me put on some sturdier shoes.

First Sketch

I intend this blog to be a series of observations about ethical values in everyday life, in professional practice and in public policy.

My outlook is that of a secular philosopher, and my interest is in the lived experiences of human beings pursuing various projects in particular places. The founding idea is that ethical thinking is as much a matter of experience and imagination as it is a matter of judgment.

It is not a blog about opinions or about conclusions.

I will, as much as possible, stay off the soap box.

Rather, in these notes I will aim to identify and distinguish the variety of ethical values that may be caught up in the complex situations in which people may find themselves, with attention to the particularity of situations and people alike.

I may talk about ethical theory, from time to time, but only to introduce or refine the tools of ethical field-work.