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« Real lives in academic philosophy | Main | Long Journeys into Print, Part 2: Trevor Hedberg »

09/10/2016

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Wesbuc

Presumably the goal of doing this is to establish just or epistemically good outcomes, which in turn, would end up informing what people mean when they say a course is sufficiently diverse. But I suppose you could test that, in other words, why people want to diversify their courses and if rates they find acceptable cohere with their stated goals. It would be interesting to know if any one reason takes priority, for example because they think it will increase interest of students, because they think valuable material is being overlooked, because it is fair in and of itself, because they feel political pressure to do this, etc.

Sara L. Uckelman

A colleague of mine, Simon James, writes quite a bit on Buddhist environmental ethics, and even has a book on it: https://www.amazon.com/Buddhism-Environmental-Ethics-Ashgate-Philosophies/dp/0754613682

It at least ticks the "non-western philosophy" ethics box!

Untenured Ethics Professor

Pursuing diversity either for its own sake or in response to political pressure shows a lack of intellectual seriousness about the content of what we are teaching.

Think about how math professors should design their syllabi. Should the gender or race of the people who first proved theorems even be a consideration in the choice of which theorems to present? The suggestion is absurd. A math course should teach the concepts, theorems, proofs, and skills that undergraduates need to know.

Philosophy typically does not prove results with the conclusiveness that mathematics has. Nonetheless, philosophy aspires to the truth, and unless one is teaching it from a skeptical perspective, one cannot regard the choice of material to teach as an arbitrary choice or as a political choice. In an ethics course, in particular, if you think that ethical theory aims at and is moving towards the truth, you should choose topics accordingly. You should present ethical concepts and arguments, including interestingly unsound arguments, that you think can get students closer to understanding moral reality.

There are nonetheless two good reasons to consider diversity in syllabi. First, there are philosophers who have made important contributions to value theory that have been neglected for unjust social or political reasons. These philosophers include non-Western thinkers and members of disadvantaged groups in Western societies. Since we non-skeptical, non-relativist ethicists want to get the truth, and since we have reason to believe that some work that would get us closer to the truth isn't being discussed for bad reasons, we should make efforts to learn more about this work. We should then include unjustly neglected work on our syllabi when we think that doing so would be the best way of helping our students learn to think well about ethics.

If a syllabus fails to do this, the complaint should not be that the syllabus lacks diversity. The complaint should be that there is a specific figure or a specific concept that students ought to know and that is not on the syllabus. Don't say, "There are no women on this history of political philosophy syllabus. That's bad." You could justifiably say, "If one teaches Jean-Jacques Rousseau without discussing Mary Wollstonecraft's response, won't students be missing something important?"

Second, some courses in value theory include a selection of concrete or applied topics. Instructors have some discretion about what topics they could appropriately include. Here it is appropriate to respond to students' interests and to choose topics that are likely to draw students in. It is also appropriate to select topics that are socially important but that have been neglected for unjust reasons.

Untenured Ethics Professor

I should add--the last three paragraphs of my previous comment focused on value theory because that is what I teach. Certainly there are philosophers whose contributions to other areas of philosophy have been unjustly neglected!

Amy Olberding

This sounds like a wonderful project. I do think that one of the challenges is shifting away from reflexively assuming a set of "essentials" for a class as broad as introduction to ethics. The "essentials" wind up defining the whole field and I think part of the purpose of diversity is to acknowledge that, absent much serious time and attention to wider materials, we really don't know yet how to define "ethics" and hence derive a set of essentials. That's more radical than many would like, I'm sure, but I do worry that we automatically consider the usual western suspects (Kant, Mill, Aristotle) as untouchably sacred. And this in turn can lead to all else looking like optional color, with the choice of plugging in this or that always calibrated against what room is left over following the "essentials." I get the worry that students heading to graduate school ostensibly need to know their Kant, Aristotle, and Mill in order to be counted credibly trained. But that's part of the problem too, I think, and I'm skeptical that intro topical surveys are really providing any real, heavy, substantive grounding at any rate.

Nathan Nobis

I tried to make a list of race-related readings that are commonly used in introductory courses here:

http://dailynous.com/2015/05/28/intro-philosophy-books-and-race/

https://goo.gl/EtPGfY

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