Note: saying something is right or good because it is the law, or because it comes from your religion, or because it is tradition, or because Mom said so, does not constitute an acceptable justification. That only tells us the source, not why it is right. The same goes for rejecting ideas because they are from another religion, or another country, or said by someone from another race. Good and Right ethics are determined by their justifiability – not their source. Giving a source as your justification (for example: “The Bible says…”) will result in a “0” for the essay.
What is it to be human? For Russell and Plato, to be human is to wonder, to explore the intellectual possibilities of life. Later in our readings we will see that Buddha agrees with Aristotle that to be human is to live a life of moderation. We will also see that for Confucius and the Bhagavad-Gita, to be human is to follow duty. All imply that to be human not only is to think beyond what is merely needed to survive, but also requires a sense of responsibility: intellectual honesty/open mindedness, moderation/rejection of extremism, and public and private duty towards others. So what do you believe are the qualities that distinguish us as human? Use the readings from the textbook as a beginning place to come up with your own version of what it means to be human. You are welcome to use the existing qualities listed above, add your own, or come up with a totally different set of criteria. Whatever the outcome, the grade for your essay will depend heavily on the logic of your justification for the qualities you come up with.
How is a good life achieved? Buddha believes we should start with the recognition that we are part of an interrelated universe. Lao Tzu takes the interrelated nature of the universe to its most mystical depths. Confucius concentrates on the way we are a part of social structures. Plato believes we need to focus on the rational life, and Aristotle believes we should focus on the long-term development of virtue. How do you answer the question of what makes life worthwhile? Is it the Buddhist insistence of compassion and “do no harm”? Is it the cyclical nature of reality according to Taoism? Is it the Confucian notion that “we are all members of a larger social community with responsibilities to all”? Is it Plato’s questioning (“the unexamined life is not worth living”)? Is it Aristotle’s goal oriented happiness itself? Would you combine aspects of two or more or come up with something totally different?
When Ethics Conflict. The theme of this essay is from the Mahabharata. In this saga, we see numerous times when personal duties/obligations come into conflict with other duties to family or country. The Bhagavad-Gita is an example of the moral dilemma faced by Arjuna on the eve of battle; when he asks Krishna how he can ethically justify fighting against his own relatives, teachers, and friends. Your task is to write an essay on a situation you or someone close to you have experienced when your personal ethics came into conflict with family or peer, or job or legal or religious ethics. It could be a situation where an employer did something wrong and you knew reporting it might jeopardize your job. It could be a conflict of personal ethics with the requirements of the job (police officer who has to arrest someone he or she believes should be helped rather than arrested, or soldier ordered to commit an action he or she believes unethical during a time of war). It could be a conflict with a close friend or family member. Was the solution teleological or deontological in nature? Or was it grounded in a different approach to solving ethical dilemmas? Explain the solution and the pros and cons of the philosophical approach in resolving it.
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