Lying, Cheating and Stealing: A Philosophical Introduction to Vice

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
July 08, 2019 - July 19, 20197/08 - 7/19M-F 9A-11A and TWTh 1P-2:30POpenKirun Sankaran

Course Description

This course is designed specifically for English Language Learners interested in further developing their English skills in a challenging college-level academic setting.

Lots of people care about virtue. But less attention has been paid to vice. In this class, we'll think critically about what it is to be a bad person. Here are some things we'll think about:
What is lying? How does it differ from merely saying something untrue? And why is it bad to lie?
What is selfishness and why is it bad to be selfish?
What makes for a bad political leader? What kinds of things might a bad political leader say or do? How do societies fall victim to bad political leaders?
What is cowardice? Why is it bad to be a coward?

The point of this course is to develop philosophical skills while exploring relevant contemporary moral issues using relatively accessible texts that are also philosophically interesting. I plan to build the course around three books, all written by high-profile philosophers and political theorists. The first is Harry Frankfurt's famous *On Bullshit*, plus a series of responses to it. The second is the philosopher Tamler Sommer's *Why Honor Matters* which gives an account of a particular bundle of vices that we group under the term "dishonorable", and why they are interesting moral bads. The third is the political theorist Jan-Werner Muller's *What Is Populism,* which is a timely book about the vices of political leaders. In particular, it provides a useful diagnosis of the vices of contemporary populism, as exemplified by leaders like Viktor Orban in Hungary, Marine le Pen in France, and the President of the United States.
Each of these is an accessible but rigorous introduction to an interesting philosophical issue. What's more, virtue is the subject of plenty of ethics courses, but talking about vice allows us to examine some of the terrain covered by a traditional ethics course from a slightly different angle.
Over a three week course, students can easily finish all three books, and in a one-week course they could easily finish the Frankfurt and Muller texts (which are under 200 pages combined). I anticipate that students will write at least two short (5-page) papers on topics that I'll assign, and most of the learning will be through class discussion. I aim for the course to provide a solid grounding in philosophical method--how to read, reconstruct, and critique an argument. These are the basic skills they'll have to use in any other philosophy course, and in any other class that requires analytical and writing skills.

Students will finish the course having learned how to read a text and understand the argument its author is making; reconstruct the argument to an intelligent but uninformed audience; raise objections to the argument; and defend the argument from objections. These are the essential basic skills of writing an academic paper, both in philosophy and in other humanities and social sciences disciplines.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPL0942
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information

Summer@Brown for English Language Learners

A select group of non-credit courses in the liberal arts and sciences supplemented with English language learning, two weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For University-bound English language learners completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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