Cultivate Virtue

Mon, Sep 14

The utilitarians think your moral success depends on the outward consequences of your actions.  Kantians think it all depends on your inward intentions.  Today we look at a different theory, one that assumes that the most important part of being moral is forming your own character.  We'll also consider why we should try to be good -- should we be moral because we want to the social problems that would come with people thinking we're immoral?  Or is there something intrinsically valuable about being a good person?  Plato will be our guide on this, as we read more selections from The Republic.  We'll also wrestle with an important skeptical question -- does modern psychology show you do not have a stable character?

By the end of class, you will:

  1. Understand why Plato thinks justice is both instrumentally and intrinsically valuable.
  2. Understand two different reasons for pessimism about our abilities to cultivate virtue.
  3. Be able to defend your own interpretations of thought experiments like Plato's "Gyges" and situationist experiments like Milgram's "Shock Room"

Read This:


Interactive Essay: Why Be Good? Book II of Plato's Republic


Rethinking One of Psychology's Most Infamous Experiments (The Atlantic)


Do This:

Complete these steps before you come to class

  • Consider the following prompts (you may want to write responses to these in your journal or talk about them with a friend):
    • What would you do first with the Ring of Gyges?  What kind of person do you think you would become over time with the Ring? 
    • Some people think the conclusion we should draw from the Millgram experiments (and similar studies in social psychology) is that there are no such things as virtues and vices, because behavior is so situation dependent. Do you agree with this take? Why or why not?
  • Optional: test yourself by taking a practice comprehension check. [Now closed]

Watch This: