Philosophical Reasoning in Ethics and the Use of the History of Philosophy

Teaching Philosophy 20 (2):121-141 (1997)
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Successful critical thinking in ethics does not proceed directly to an evaluation of ethical phenomena, but rather necessitates the evaluation of one’s own ethical paradigm for truth. This requires the making explicit of one’s own ethical paradigm, something best achieved through a process of comparing and contrasting it with alternative ethical paradigms. This paper presents a pedagogical strategy for making explicit a very basic set of assumptions: those of the Western, liberal, individualist tradition. The author argues that Glaucon’s position in Plato’s Republic is essentially that of the liberal individualist and that, following Glaucon’s speech in Book II, the work presents an alternative to this position. In this light, Plato’s text is a helpful and illuminating counterpoint to Western liberal values. Reading the Republic as a foil to canonical liberal individualist authors (e.g. Hobbes, Locke, Madison) offers a unique opportunity to thematize some of our most fundamental moral assumptions and to help students gain the perspective necessary to perform the objective, critical work of ethics.



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