Ethics in Focus: Rights and Virtues

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Ethics in Focus: Rights and Virtues

<p>It is commonly agreed that it is everyone’s right to have a shelter. When this right is taken from its possessor, it is commonly perceived as injustice. On the other hand, if we say it is virtuous

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It is commonly agreed that it is everyone’s right to have a shelter. When this right is taken from its possessor, it is commonly perceived as injustice. On the other hand, if we say it is virtuous to help others acquire happiness and if someone fails to do so, we usually do not perceive this failure as injustice because virtues are normally perceived as optional. Why are our perceptions of rights and virtues different? In addition to virtues, can rights also be the object of ethics? This course is not just about learning philosophy, but about philosophising for yourself.


SUGGESTED READING

  • Baumgarten, A. G.: Ethica philosophica [Philosophical Ethics], 3rd Ed. (Halle, 1763) [As there is no translation of this work into a modern language, I will provide my own]
  • Kant, I.: Metaphysics of Morals. (Cambridge University Press, 1996)
  • Kant, I.: Lectures on Ethics. (Cambridge University Press, 1997)


COURSE OUTLINE

  • Share your own views on rights and virtues. What do you perceive as your own rights and what do you perceive as your virtues? How do you feel if your rights are violated? How do you feel if you fail to exercise your virtues? What do you identify as the difference between rights and virtues?
  • External and internal laws. When do you perceive laws are binding? When they are issued by an external authority? Or when you perceive your internal sense of goodness as something like laws? Which of these two kinds of laws is more binding for you?
  • What is right? We have our right to something. But also others have their own right to some other thing. How do we prevent our and others' rights from interfering with each other? Yet, in this system of rights in which external laws bind each member of the society, how can we exercise our freedom?
  • What is virtue? Kant defines virtue as “the strength of a human being's maxim in fulfilling his duty”. But when is one judged to be strong enough in terms of virtue? Where is the source of motivation to be virtuous? Are we strictly obligated to be virtuous? Or is being virtuous an option, as one is often praised as virtuous, but failing to be so does not necessarily make her contemptible?
  • The relationship between rights and virtues. We all know that others' rights must be protected. But why do we sometimes violate, or are tempted to violate, others' rights? It seems, then, recognising others' rights is not sufficient for protecting them. We therefore need to combat our envy and ingratitude, which tempt us to violate others' rights, by the strength of our virtue. Can we conclude from this that virtue has primacy over right?
  • Reflect on your views on rights and virtues. Have you changed your views since the beginning of the course? Why or why not?


PLANNED LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Understand some of the major theories and debates in philosophical accounts of rights and virtues.
  2. Understand and analyse arguments in the relevant literatures.
  3. Evaluate these theories and arguments critically.
  4. Develop their own views and arguments through consideration and analysis of the views and arguments presented in the course.
  5. Engage constructively and respectfully with the views and arguments of others, even if they disagree with them.