The People’s Colloquium › Forums › Academics › Philosophy and Ideas – Lectures and Discussions › October 2018 – March 2019: Theory, Criticism, and Society › Monday, December 17th – Theory, Criticism, and Society
Below, please find syllabi for our December 17th discussion and lecture. Typically these resources are posted 2 weeks in advance.
Theory, Criticism, and Society: 10/2018 – 3/2019
During this semester, we’ll explore ideas from theory and criticism focusing on art, literature, music, and culture, with the further intention of applying such ideas to the creation and organization of society. Our goal is to deepen our understanding of theory and criticism, and to broaden our perspective of the world we live in—and the possibilities open to us.
Lecture: Morality as the Greater Good
It’s almost time for Christmas! And you know what that means….Santa will be checking his list, checking it twice. Have you been bad or good this year? But what does it mean to be bad or good and how can we know? Is morality merely a matter of opinion, taste and preference or are there truly absolute moral principles?
This lecture explores the most common approach to moral judgements: the principle that morality consists of doing that which achieves the greatest amount of good for the greatest number. This principle, the principle of utility, was made famous by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham. What many people don’t know is that Bentham was a progressive social reformer who advocated for issues like the rights of women, decriminalizing homosexuality, abolishing slavery and prison reform. He developed his moral principles out of his concern that laws should be just, i.e. laws should benefit the greatest number of people while reducing suffering to the greatest degree possible.
On the face it, morality does seem to be about maximizing pleasure and decreasing suffering. But what are some challenges to this idea? If morality is not about achieving the greater good, is there some other principle that is better? In what ways does our society follow or reject this principle in our laws and policies?
In this lecture we will look at a few famous thought experiments as well as some humorous and serious scenarios which may offer insight into our moral lives and our moral principles. It might even help you get on Santa’s list!
Discussion: A Force More Powerful:
Witnessing the success of nonviolent political action
Nonviolent political action, especially that advocated and practiced by Mohandas Gandhi, is controversial. In a time when a citizen’s role in a democratic society is under question, can nonviolent strategies be effective in addressing problems in today’s political realities?
Though it has been decades since America has witnessed such a movement, luckily some of Gandhi’s work and much of the nonviolent campaigns of the Civil Rights era in the United States have been well documented in pictures, films and narratives. “A Force More Powerful” is an award-winning documentary that bears witness to several examples of nonviolent political movements in the 20th century that were responsible for significant change to social and legal norms.
Before our discussion, we will watch two of these examples: Gandhi’s Salt March to the Sea to challenge the onerous British Salt tax and the campaign in Nashville, Tennessee, in the early months of 1960, led by Fish University students and, their mentor, James Lawson (a follower of Gandhi) to end the segregation of lunch counters in that city (both episodes will total to about 50 minutes).
Afterward, we will discuss such questions as:
– What were the factors in each campaign that seemed central to their success?
– How successful overall, were these strategies?
– Might such methods work for change in the United States (or other countries) now? Why or why not?
The episodes we will watch are the first two here:
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