Human Conduct and Values: Knowledge


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INSTRUCTOR: Daniel Alvarez

SECTION: U01

SCHEDULE: Mon, Wed, Fri 1:00PM – 1:50PM

SYLLABUS: Human Conduct and Values: Knowledge

Course Description

Being human involves both knowing and acting (at the very least, in addition to being or existing). In the first half of the course we will deal primarily with three influential analyses of knowledge: Cartesian Foundationalism, W. V. Quine’s Naturalized Epistemology, and Heidegger’s Existential Phenomenology.

In the modern era (1500 to the present), Rene Descartes (d. 1650) sought to ground of all knowledge on an a priori, innate structure that would serve as the firm foundation for empirical knowledge. In the second half of the 20th century, the Harvard philosopher W. V. Quine (d. 2000) defended a version of naturalism in which there is no room for an a priori, and for whom knowledge and values can only have a provisional (because fallible) or instrumental value. The controversial German thinker, Martin Heidegger (d. 1976) turned from his earlier existentialist point of view to a new understanding of human beings as grounded in an ultimate reality that he called Being, which departs from both the Cartesian and the Quinean understanding of knowledge and what it means to be human.

In the second half of the course, IDH 3035 (Spring 2019), we will explore the nature morality or ethics through various approaches human values and conduct: 1) “Might Makes Right,” 2) “Divine Command,” 3) Kant, 4) Mill’s Utilitarianism, and 5) John L. Mackie’s Subjectivism, 6) W. D. Ross’s concept of prima facie duty, 7) Quine’s Naturalistic Ethics, 8) Max Stirner’s Ethical Egoism, 9) Thomistic and Lockean Natural Law theories, and 10) Hilary Putnam’s (d. 2016) and David Wiggins’ “soft” objectivism” (in contrast to the “hard” objectivism of Plato, Kant).