Aristotle on the Mean

Oct 282009

One of my past-fellow philosophy graduate students at Boulder recent reported on the following response to a quiz question:

Question: “Illustrate the Doctrine of the Mean using the virtue of courage.”

Response: “Too little courage makes you cowardly. Too much courage makes you an asshole.”


Course Evaluations

Aug 042009

As I’m organizing my workspace this afternoon, I found my teaching evaluations from last semester. I decided to look through the written comments before filing them away, as I’d not yet done that. The comments were a mostly-positive mixture. I’m surprised that they were so positive, given that I felt like I seriously shortchanged my students last semester. I just couldn’t afford to spend much time on my teaching due to the dissertation. It was the right decision, but I didn’t like it.

Here’s the kicker, though: one student just wrote “not too bad on the eyes.” Seriously! I’m super-amused — and, I might as well admit, a tad flattered. Let’s hope he learned something while gazing at me.

God Save Me

Feb 182008

Holy fuck. I just read the following sentence in a student paper, supposedly on the argument from design: “‘Contact’ is my mom’s favorite movie.” The whole paper was like that: pointless, irrelevant, and rambling personal narrative.

I’m going to go bang my head against the wall for a while now…

Teaching Egoism Versus Altruism

Jan 032008

When I taught the issue of egoism versus altruism in my Introduction to Philosophy class last semester, I wasn’t happy with my ability to explain why the choice is either-or. I’m able to effectively explain the evils of a fully altruistic life, in part thanks to Susan Wolf’s article on “Moral Saints.” (She draws different conclusions in that article than I do, but it works quite well for my purposes.) However, the next natural position for my students to adopt is that some mixture of egoism and altruism is the right answer: sometimes we should think of ourselves first and sometimes we should think of others first.

Obviously, that view is partially motivated by the false assumption that egoism demands callous indifference to others. However, it’s also due to a much deeper problem, namely the fact that the students don’t understand the fundamental opposition of egoism to altruism. They fail to appreciate that because they don’t think of their own lives in terms of any fundamental principles or ultimate values. They don’t think that a life needs to be so integrated.

So, dear readers, do have any suggestions on how I might show that egoism and altruism cannot be coherently mixed? How can I make reasonably clear that to attempt to sometimes adopt one policy and sometimes adopt the other cannot be done on any rational, principled basis, but would have to be a mere emotional decision?

Of course, my students won’t be obliged to agree with me. They’re welcome to defend any views they please in class and in their papers, so long as those views are supported by plausible arguments. However, I’d like to offer them compelling grounds on which to question a view that seems so natural to them.

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