Ethics in Focus: Unsociable Sociability

We humans are social beings. Yet, we have a tendency to isolate ourselves from society. How should we understand these basic character traits of humans? Should these seemingly contradictory tendencies be considered as something we should overcome? Or, do these tendencies have any positive function for conducting human life? Two philosophers, Immanuel Kant and the greatest influencer on him, Alexander Baumgarten, provide completely opposite views on these basic, yet seemingly contradictory, character traits of humans. Offering tools for philosophising for yourself, this course casts philosophical light on what Kant calls ‘unsociable sociability’.


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.: ‘Idea for a History with a Cosmopolitan Aim’. In Anthropology, History, and Education (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
  • Kant, I.: Lectures on Ethics. (Cambridge University Press, 1997)


COURSE OUTLINE

  • Share your own views on unsociable sociability: Do you see yourself as social beings out of necessity? Or, do you genuinely enjoy socialising with others? Or, do you see no contradiction in liking socialisation at one time, and wanting to isolate yourself from society at another time? What do you think unsociable sociability means? Do you think this notion adequately characterise our basic character traits?
  • Humans as social beings: What does it mean that humans are social beings? Can they escape this status? Are they naturally social? Or, do they enter into society based on mutual agreement among humans? What would happen if they are not social?
  • Humans' tendency to isolate themselves from society: Contrary to the former characteristic, humans have a tendency to isolate themselves from society. Is this character trait more natural to human beings than their need to enter into society? Or, is their desire to be isolated an unnaturally developed character trait? Why do they desire to be isolated in the first place?
  • A duty to be sociable: Both Kant and Baumgarten claim that we have a duty to be sociable, but on different grounds. On the one hand, Kant thinks we have this duty on the basis of both our duties towards oneself and those towards others. On the other hand, however, Baumgarten thinks we have this duty on the basis of our duties towards others alone. What brought them to claim this duty differently?
  • Duties of perfection and happiness: Kant’s contention that our duty to be sociable are based on both our duties towards oneself and those towards others derives from his view that we have a duty to perfect ourselves, but do not have a duty to help others perfect themselves. Baumgarten, on the other hand, claims that we have a duty to help others perfect themselves, in addition to a duty to perfect ourselves. There is another point of divergence between the two philosophers. On the one hand, Kant thinks we do not have a duty to pursue our own happiness but have a duty to help others pursue their happiness. On the other hand, Baumgarten claims that we have both a duty to pursue our own happiness and a duty to help others pursue their happiness. How and why do all these differences between the two philosophers emerge in terms of the concepts of perfection and happiness? Do you think these concepts are something we have a duty towards, i.e. are obligated to pursue?
  • Reflect on your views on unsociable sociability: Have you changed your views on unsociable sociability 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 unsociable sociability.
  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.
$192 Limited / $173

<p>We humans are social beings. Yet, we have a tendency to isolate ourselves from society. How should we understand these basic character traits of humans? Should these seemingly contradictory

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10 Feb

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