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Person and Social Responsibility

PL08810 Fall 2013

Instructor: Micah Lott micahelias@gmail.com

Office hours: Wed 3-4pm; Thurs 2-3pm, and by appointment

Course Time: Tue/Thurs: 10 30am. Disc Group: Wed 1pm or Wed 2pm

Location: Stokes 117S 
Course Description

This is the first semester of a year-long course that addresses core questions in ethics and politics. We will approach these questions through both philosophical and theological texts, reading some of the most influential works in the history of Western thought. In addition to the in-class component of this course, there is also a service-learning component, organized through the PULSE office. Each student is required to complete both components of the course, and it is my hope that the academic and service aspects will inform and illuminate one another.

Ethics centers on a practical question: What should I do? Or put more generally: How should I live? This question is normative. We are not asking how things happen to be, or how we tend to act. Rather we are asking how we ought to act and live. This question is also personal. It is question that each of us can ask for him or herself. And because human beings are social animals, it is also a question we can ask in the first-person plural: How should we live together? In this way, the study of ethics is closely connected to the study of politics – of how to order our common life.
When we pose the question of how to live (together), we face a number of related questions:

  • What is the flourishing life for a human being?

  • In what forms of human community do human beings flourish?

  • What is “justice,” and which things are “just”?

  • What do we mean by calling something a “virtue” or a “vice”?

  • How is a morally good life related (or unrelated) to a happy life? Or a meaningful life?

  • Is there such a thing as “human dignity”? If so, what is it and where does it come from?

  • What difference, if any, might God make in our answers to these questions?

These are some of the questions we will consider in this course. Our course is divided into four main parts. We begin with ancient Greek philosophy. We will read two works by Plato, each of which features the character of Socrates. These dialogues examine the nature of erotic love (Symposium) and the nature of craft, knowledge and justice (Gorgias). We will also read sections of Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics and Politics, focusing on his account of moral virtue and human happiness (=eudaimonia). We will pay special attention to the place of friendship in the Aristotelian good life and to Aristotle’s understanding of justice and the social nature of human beings.

In the second and third parts of the course, we turn to the Jewish and Christian scriptures, respectively. We will focus on the biblical authors portrayal of human life and community in light of their understandings of God. The fourth and final part of the course is dedicated to Confessions, the autobiography of Augustine of Hippo. Perhaps the most influential thinker of late antiquity, Augustine’s literary masterpiece draws from both Greco-Roman and Hebrew-Christian traditions.

Strategy and Goals

In approaching the study of ethics and social thought, our strategy will be historical and textual. We will be analyzing some of the most important texts in the history of philosophical and theological reflection. We will read, discuss, and write about these texts.

With every text, we will identify the author’s main claims, and we will evaluate the arguments given to support those claims. We will also attend to the literary and rhetorical features of these texts, and consider how these works are intended to shape their readers. In addition, you will write three argumentative essays in which you interpret the texts and develop your own arguments.
In our engagement with this texts, we consider how they shed light upon, and challenge, our own lives and communities. In this respect, our course can be understood as a search for greater self-understanding and as a practical activity – i.e. an activity that is for the sake of life and action.


The following texts are required and available in the BC bookstore. Please purchase the translations/editions available in the bookstore. Electronic devises are not allowed in class, so please do not rely upon electronic versions of the texts.

- PLATO,  Symposium trans. Nehamas (Hackett)

- PLATO,  Gorgias  trans. Zeyl (Hackett)

- ARISTOTLE,  Nicomachean Ethics trans. Bartlett and Collins (Chicago)

- BIBLE, New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV: Oxford)

- JONATHAN SACKS, To Heal a Fractured World (Schocken: 2005)

- AUGUSTINE The Confessions trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford)
Shorter readings and selections will be made available as photocopies. These include the selection from Aristotle’s Politics, the essay by Hauerwas, and the sermons by King.

Course Requirements

I) Participation. Discussion is essential for learning philosophy, and a significant amount of class time will be devoted to discussion. You should come to class having read and thought about the assigned texts, and prepared to discuss them. You should also be prepared to be called on in class.

You are allowed 2 unquestioned absences. After that, each absence will cost you 1 point in your final grade. Absences may be excused by extreme circumstances (e.g. family tragedy). An absence will not be excused if you email me to explain that you are very busy.
II) Assignments:

Reading Analyses (1 page each, see below) 5 total- combined 10% of final academic grade.

First paper (4 pages), due 10/15 worth 25% of your final academic grade.

Second paper (5 pages), due 11/26 worth 30% of your final academic grade.

Third paper (6 pages), due 12/17 worth 35% of your final academic grade.

Reading Analysis Assignment:

In one page (double-spaced), answer the following questions:

  1. What is the main point(s) that the author is making in the reading for today?

  2. What is the author’s principle argument, or evidence for his/her main point(s)?

If you believe the author does not rely on argument or evidence in the usual sense, then explain how you think the author conveys his/her main point.


Your grade for this course will come from two sources. Your academic grade counts for approximately 65% of your total grade for the course, and your placement grade counts for approximately 35%. However, the PULSE office has determined a formula for how these two grades fit into your final grade. See the Excel spreadsheet for this information.

You will receive both letter and numerical grades for each assignment. Numerical and letter grades correspond as follows:

A 100-95 A/A- 94 A- 93-91 A-/B+ 90

B+ 89-88 B+/B 87 B 86-85 B- 83-80

C+ 79-77 C 76-73 C- 73-70

D 69-60 F 59 and below

Late papers will be deducted 5 points for each day after the deadline they are received. You are allowed 1, no questions ask, no penalty, 2-day extension on one of the papers. (NB: This cannot be “split” into two, 1-day extensions). I suggest you save this till absolutely necessary. No other extensions are allowed, outside of tragedy.


Plagiarism is forbidden. Plagiarism undermines the enterprise of learning. It is dishonest. It is disrespectful to your fellow students, to your instructor, and to yourself. Do not plagiarize. For penalties and guidelines, please see the BC website.


All electronic devices should be switched to silent mode before coming to class. Because laptops, tablets, and phones tend to be a distraction and an impediment to discussion, their use is strictly prohibited. Bring your text, your mind, and a pencil and paper!

Special Concerns

If you have any questions or concerns – including any concerns related to a disability or special need – please feel free to speak with me or email me. I am happy to make accommodations. I want all of you to be able to learn in a safe, comfortable environment. If you require any accommodation, speak to me at the beginning of the term. Do not wait till assignments are due to bring this to my attention.

If you are an athlete who needs to miss class in order to play in games, you must give me your game schedule at the beginning of the term. Based on the number of classes you will miss, we can then decide if this class is a good option for you. As always at Boston College, athletic practices are not an acceptable reason for missing class.
Schedule of Meetings

NB: the reading is to be completed before class on the day the Assignment is Listed.

Part I: Plato and Aristotle – Love, Virtue, and Human Happiness




Plato Symposium 172a-193e

Opening scenes of the dialogue.

Speeches by Phaedrus, Pausanius, Erixymachus, and Aristophanes.



Plato Symposium 194-212c

Speeches by Agathon and Socrates.

Diotima; giving birth in beauty.



Plato Symposium 212c-223d

The character of Alcibiades. Summary discussion of the dialogue (212c-223d).
How do the speeches fit together?

What is eros, and how is it best described?

How are eros, virtue, and philosophy related?



Plato Gorgias 447a-481b

Opening scenes of the dialogue.

What is oratory/rhetoric? Craft, knowledge, pleasure and the good.

Socrates’ exchanges with Gorgias and Polus.

Justice, injustice, and benefit.



Plato Gorgias 481b-507e

The challenge of Callicles, and Socrates first response.

What is the good life?

Who is the truly free person?

Appetite, freedom, self control. Nature vs. law.



Plato Gorgias 507e-527e.

+ Film - 7pm (classroom)

The Socratic response to Callicles continued. Justice as health of the soul. Socrates as true politician.

The life of philosophy reconsidered.

A place for rhetoric after all?



Aristotle Nichomachean Ethics

Book I.1-5

+ Reading Analysis #1 due

“The good is ‘that which all things seek’ ”; Human happiness. The conditions and purposes of ethical inquiry.


No Class. Film night on 9/19!



Aristotle Nichomachean Ethics

Book I.7—13

Book II. 1-4

Reason, virtue, and human function.
Some questions about human happiness.
The cultivation of virtue.



Aristotle Nichomachean Ethics

Book II.5-7

Book III.6 – IV.5

Paper #1 Topics Distributed

A more precise account of virtue.
Some studies in the virtues: Courage, Moderation, Liberality, Greatness of Soul, Gentleness



Aristotle Nichomachean Ethics

Book V (entire)

The virtue of justice.

Corrective vs. Distributive justice.

Justice and equality.



Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics

Book VIII.1-9

Forms of friendship.
Friendship, justice, communities and politics.



Aristotle Politics I.1–9
+ Reading Analysis #2 due
Paper #1 Due in class

The polis by nature.

The natural rule of masters over slaves.

Natural vs. unnatural commercial exchange.

Part II: The Hebrew Bible – God, Freedom, and Covenant Community




Chapters 1-4

The Hebrew story of creation. Adam and Eve and “the fall” of humankind. Knowledge, freedom, good and evil. A fall “up?




Chapters 5-12

Sacks To Heal A Fratured World

Chapter 10 – “The Birth of Responsibility”

Noah and the Flood. The Tower of Babel.
Sacks’ 4 levels of responsibility in the first 12 chapters of Genesis.




Chapters 13-22

Sacks, Chapter 1: “Faith as Protest”

The calling of Abraham.
What does it mean to be in relationship to God?

What is the relationship between God and justice?



Exodus 1-15

Egypt and exodus: the calling of Moses. Plagues and flight from Pharaoh’s army. The song of the Israelites.
Is Pharaoh free? Are we? Free Will & (vs?) Providence



Exodus Chapters 16-24
Sacks, Chapter 11: “Divine Initiative, Human Initiative”

The giving the law at Sinai. The covenant between God and his people.



Amos (entire)
Sacks, Chapter 12: “The Holy and the Good”

The prophetic criticism of Israel and Judah. Fidelity to God, justice in the community.



Sacks, Chapters 3 and 4:

“Charity as Justice” and

“Love as Deed”
+ Reading Analysis #3 due (explain each chapter separately, 2 pages total)

Sacks interpretation of two fundamental concepts in Jewish social and political thought.

Part III: The New Testaement – Jesus and Human Redemption



Gospel of Luke

Chapters 1-11

Jesus birth. Teaching, miracles. Jesus’s vision of human community. Poverty vs. wealth



Gospel of Luke

Chapters 12-24

Paper #2 Topics Distributed

Teachings of Jesus continued. Death and resurrection.



Stanley Hauerwas: “Jesus and the Social Embodiment of the Kingdom”
+ Reading Analysis #4 due

An account of the ethical and social implications of Jesus’ life and resurrection.



Martin Luther King Jr:

“Loving your Enemies”

“Love in Action.”

Love, evil, and forgiveness.



Paul Philippians

Paul’s understanding of Jesus. Humility, suffering, conversion.

Part IV: Augustine – Search for Self and Desire for God



Augustine Confessions

Books I and II

Paper #2 Due in Class
+ Reading Analysis #5 due



Augustine Confessions

Books III and IV


No Class.



Augustine Confessions

Books V and VI

Paper #3 Topics Distributed



Augustine Confessions

Book VII and VII

++ Final Papers Due: December 17th, noon ++

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