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PHIL335 Why Be Moral?

This course explores the ’Why be Moral?’ question in Philosophy and Literature through the work of Plato, Wilde, Dostoevsky, Laclos and Shakespeare.

'Why be Moral?' is a question that dates back to Plato. Some suppose that morality is socially necessary, a culturally evolved device that counteracts our nasty natures and allows us to 'get along'. Others believe that morality is pernicious since it serves as an excuse for cruelty and a prop to predatory elites. I reply that society would be better off believing in a sane and humane morality than none at all (though we would be better off believing in no morality rather than - say - the morality of the Nazis). But even if a sensible and humane morality is socially necessary, why should I, the individual, subscribe to the myth? Or if morality is not a myth, why should I do the right thing, if the wrong thing would pay better? I reply, using examples drawn from literature, that the life of an amoralist would tend to be emotionally empty. Another anti-moral claim is the idea - preached by Hegel, Nietzsche and (perhaps) by Machiavelli - that some people, 'Napoleons' or 'great men', have the right to transcend the ordinary bounds of right and wrong. We discuss these issues in the light of Plato's dialogues (Apology, Gorgias, Protagoras and Republic), with side-glances at Karl Marx, Max Stirner, Bertrand Russell and the metaethics of Bolshevism.

The paper concludes with some fictional amoralists and putative 'great men' - Dorian Gray from Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray; Valmont and Merteuil from Laclos' Dangerous Liaisons; Raskolnikov from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment; Stavrogin from Dostoevsky's Demons; Richard III, Falstaff and Prince Hal from Shakespeare's history plays; and Mr William Elliot from Jane Austen's Persuasion. In case you are concerned, you don't have to read all the relevant texts - movies are sometimes an option to bring you up to speed.

Paper title Why Be Moral?
Paper code PHIL335
Subject Philosophy
EFTS 0.1500
Points 18 points
Teaching period First Semester
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $851.85
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $3,585.00

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Prerequisite
One 200-level PHIL, CLAS, GREK or LATN paper
Restriction
PHIL 406
Schedule C
Arts and Music
Textbooks
Charles Pigden PHIL 335 Course book, "Why Be Moral?" in Philosophy, Literature and History (available from uniprint or as a pdf on Blackboard).
Eligibility
This is a third-year paper targeted especially at students of Philosophy, Politics and Classics and at students majoring in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE).
Contact
charles.pigden@otago.ac.nz
Teaching staff
Associate Professor Charles Pigden
Paper Structure
Two 2-hour lecture/seminars per week, two essays and a final exam

Topics covered will include:
  • Why Be Moral? (Bradley and Prichard)
  • Socrates on virtue and happiness (Apology, Crito)
  • The function of morality in Protagoras' 'Great Speech' (Plato, Protagoras)
  • Thrasymachus 'Justice is the Advantage of the Stronger' (Plato, Republic)
Assessment:
  • In-class contributions: Attendance, class discussion and sometimes an optional presentation 5%.
  • Internal assessment: Students will write two essays during the paper. They can choose from a list of topics prepared by the lecturer.
    • First essay (2,200 words maximum) 20%.
    • Second essay (2,600 words maximum) 25%.
  • Final exam: Students will sit a 3-hour, 3-question exam at the end of term. The exam is divided into two sections. Students must answer at least one question from each of the two sections 50%
Teaching Arrangements
Two 2-hour lecture/seminars per week, with a short coffee break halfway through
Course outline
Why Be Moral? (Bradley and Prichard) Socrates on virtue and happiness. (Apology, Crito) The function of morality in Protagoras' 'Great Speech' (Plato Protagoras) Thrasymachus 'Justice is the Advantage of the Stronger' (Plato, Republic).
View course outline for PHIL 335
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Self-motivation.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
Students who successfully complete the paper will acquire
  • A critical understanding of the ideas, theses and themes discussed in this paper
  • Some knowledge of ancient philosophy, specifically Plato, plus an acquaintance with some great works of world literature, specifically those of Wilde, Laclos, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare and Austen, and the relevance of these works to moral and political questions
  • An enhanced knowledge of world culture and world history
  • Enhanced literary sensitivity and enhanced logical, analytical, communicative and writing skills

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Timetable

First Semester

Location
Dunedin
Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system
Blackboard

Lecture

Stream Days Times Weeks
Attend
L1 Wednesday 16:00-17:50 9-15, 17-22
Friday 14:00-15:50 9-14, 17-22

This course explores the ’Why be Moral?’ question in Philosophy and Literature through the work of Plato, Wilde, Dostoevsky, Laclos and Shakespeare.

'Why be Moral?' is a question that dates back to Plato. Some suppose that morality is socially necessary, a culturally evolved device that counteracts our nasty natures and allows us to 'get along'. Others believe that morality is pernicious since it serves as an excuse for cruelty and a prop to predatory elites. I reply that society would be better off believing in a sane and humane morality than none at all (though we would be better off believing in no morality rather than - say - the morality of the Nazis).

But even if a sensible and humane morality is socially necessary, why should I, the individual, subscribe to the myth? Or if morality is not a myth, why should I do the right thing, if the wrong thing would pay better? I reply, using examples drawn from literature, that the life of an amoralist would tend to be emotionally empty. Another anti-moral claim is the idea - preached by Hegel, Nietzsche and (perhaps) by Machiavelli - that some people, 'Napoleons' or 'great men', have the right to transcend the ordinary bounds of right and wrong. We discuss these issues in the light of Plato's dialogues (Apology, Gorgias, Protagoras and Republic) with side-glances at Karl Marx, Max Stirner, Bertrand Russell and the meta-ethics of Bolshevism.

The course concludes with some fictional amoralists and putative 'great men' - Dorian Gray from Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, Valmont and Merteuil from Laclos' Dangerous Liaisons, Raskolnikov from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Stavrogin from Dostoevsky's Demons, Richard III, Falstaff and Prince Hal from Shakespeare's history plays and Mr William Elliot from Jane Austen's Persuasion. In case you are concerned, you don't have to read all the relevant texts - movies are sometimes an option to bring you up to speed.

Paper title Why Be Moral?
Paper code PHIL335
Subject Philosophy
EFTS 0.1500
Points 18 points
Teaching period First Semester
Domestic Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for 2018 have not yet been set
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

^ Top of page

Prerequisite
One 200-level PHIL, CLAS, GREK or LATN paper
Restriction
PHIL 406
Schedule C
Arts and Music
Eligibility
This is a third-year paper targeted especially at students of Philosophy, Politics and Classics and at students majoring in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE).
Contact
charles.pigden@otago.ac.nz
Teaching staff
Associate Professor Charles Pigden
Paper Structure
Two 2-hour lecture/seminars per week, plus three essays.

Assessment:
  • In-class contributions: Attendance, class discussion and sometimes an optional presentation 5%.
  • Internal assessment: Students will write three essays during the course, chosen from a list of topics prepared by the lecturer.
    • First essay (2,500 words maximum) 30%.
    • Second essay (2,500 words maximum) 30%.
    • Third essay (3,000 words maximum) 35%.
Teaching Arrangements
Two 2-hour lecture/seminars per week, with a short coffee break halfway through.
Textbooks
Charles Pigden PHIL 335 Course book, "Why Be Moral?" in Philosophy, Literature and History (available from uniprint or as a pdf on Blackboard).
Course outline
  • Why Be Moral? (Bradley and Prichard)
  • Socrates on virtue and happiness. (Plato: Apology, Crito)
  • The function of morality in Protagoras' 'Great Speech' (Plato: Protagoras)
  • Thrasymachus 'Justice is the Advantage of the Stronger' (Plato: Republic)
  • Polus on rhetoric and tyranny (Plato: Gorgias)
  • Callicles and why 'the strong' ought to rule (Plato: Gorgias)
  • Glaucon's challenge - does it pay to be just? (Plato: Republic)
  • Bertrand Russell and humanistic amoralism.
  • Bertrand Russell and the meta-ethics of Bolshevism (Russell on Ethics)
  • Truth in literature
  • McGinn, Oscar Wilde and Dorian Gray. 'For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?' (Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray)
  • Two amoralists: Merteuil and Valmont. (Laclos: Dangerous Liaisons).
  • Raskolnikov and the Napoleon Idea (Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment)
  • Stavrogin: amoralist superman (Dostoevsky: Demons)
  • Machiavels versus Machavellians (Shakespeare: Richard III, Henry IV parts 1 & 2, Henry V)
  • Falstaff and Prince Hal: the amoralist and the Machiavellian prince (Shakespeare: Richard III, Henry IV parts 1 & 2, Henry V)
  • Hume, Jane Austen and a sensible knave (Jane Austen: Persuasion).
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Self-motivation.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
Students who successfully complete the paper will acquire
  • A critical understanding of the ideas, theses and themes discussed in this paper
  • Some knowledge of ancient philosophy, specifically Plato, plus an acquaintance with some great works of world literature, specifically those of Wilde, Laclos, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare and Austen, and the relevance of these works to moral and political questions
  • An enhanced knowledge of world culture and world history
  • Enhanced literary sensitivity and enhanced logical, analytical, communicative and writing skills

^ Top of page

Timetable

First Semester

Location
Dunedin
Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system
Blackboard

Lecture

Stream Days Times Weeks
Attend
L1 Monday 16:00-17:50 9-13, 15-22
Wednesday 16:00-17:50 9-13, 15-16, 18-22