Tonight's ethics class was a riot. I wasn't feeling like talking too much, which is a problem when you're supposed to conduct a class for 4.5 hours. I went into the class and asked them how they were doing and my three ladies--Abi, Chi Chi and Doris--just started chattering for the next 20 minutes about everything. I just sat back and smiled and tried to figure out a way to segue into the lecture.
After they talked for a bit, I began to steer the conversation. I asked them about moral isolationism. I asked them to describe how our shrinking world made it impossible for us to be morally isolated from one another's problems. They began to chatter about family in Nigeria and in Atlanta. It was wonderful. We talked about responsibilities of rights, which led to a conversation about the responsibilities we have to embrace our right to happiness. Then we discussed how we have a responsibility to heal from crimes acted against us. We talked about the importance of forgiveness. We moved into a discussion of Kant and the categorical imperative about seeing people as an end itself and not as means to an end. We discussed torture, and the pros and cons and we talked about what a deontologist would say about torture and what a utilitarian would say about it.
I introduced new concepts and then threw in old ideas just to help them start associating the old and the new. I pulled out a book that introduced philosophers and they went crazy looking up pictures of their favorite philosophers. Abi immediately turned to John Stuart Mill and Doris went straight to Sartre.
We discussed the relationship between Ethics of Rights and Egoism. If we have the right to choose what makes us happy as individuals--then we are individually responsible for our happiness. Whereas, if we rely on a king or despot to choose the good for the majority--as stated in utilitarianism--then isn't he ultimately responsible for our happiness or heartache? With egoism and libertarianism--we exercise our rights--and we are ultimately responsible for our own happiness.
They were bright, attentive and I didn't have to do a lot of talking--which made me very happy. I was so pleased to hear their thoughts flow from one thought to the next. My goal in these classes is to help students learn to think and value their own ideas. I could not have been prouder of my students.