Teaching Philosophy to Non-Majors as a Form of Public Philosophy (Forthcoming in the Public Philosophy Journal)
Teaching philosophy as a general education requirement has many challenges, but if done with an open mind it can provide unique opportunities for public engagement. Instructors can address a range of philosophical topics with a diverse audience with no background in academic philosophy, and we can use this opportunity to develop our research and communication skills to better suit public engagement. To achieve this, we need to actively cultivate student engagement, and be eager to learn from our students. In this article I discuss the philosophy and practices I apply to my general education courses and what I take to be the major benefits and challenges of this approach.
Abstract: This paper criticizes Aristotelian virtue-theoretic and feminist analyses of moral anger from a Buddhist perspective. Virtue theorists have argued that anger is morally appropriate in response to injustice. As Lisa Tessman has argued, this becomes problematic in cases of oppression, in which anger is almost always appropriate because injustice ever-present. In these cases, Tessman argues that anger is both morally required, and harmful to the agent’s well-being. I argue that a Buddhist framework focused on suffering allows an oppressed agent to respond in a way that is both moral and conducive to her well-being. Drawing from the Thai Forest tradition of Buddhism, I sketch the concept of skillfulness, and suggest that attitudes and emotions are morally appropriate, or skillful, according to their ability to alleviate long-term suffering. I then argue that anger is rarely, if ever, skillful, because of its tendency to perpetuate suffering. I then suggest that compassion can do much of the moral work of anger, without damaging the agent’s character, making anger less morally necessary than we might think.
Abstract: It is widely known that Buddhist philosophy rejects the notion of a substantial self, but methods and motivations for this are far less known. I argue that the rejection of the self is motivated by practical, rather than metaphysical concerns, and that it should be interpreted as supporting the Buddhist project of transcending suffering as opposed to a metaphysical doctrine in its own right. I present two ways that Buddhist thinkers have interpreted personal identity, “no-self” reductionism, and “not-self” quietism, and compare these with Derek Parfit’s reductionist view. I argue that because Parfit’s project has strong ethical concerns such as developing compassion and living a good life, Parfit should use the “not-self” interpretation, which offers the desired ethical benefits without the metaphysical costs.
Abstract: The term “skillful” is used in Buddhist philosophy to describe actions leading to beneficial results. Ethical actions can be called skillful, as can prudent or wise actions. “Skillfulness” sits within the broader soteriological framework of Buddhism: the goal of Buddhist practice is to escape the cycle of suffering and rebirth and reach enlightenment. Skillfulness is deeply dependent on the way things actually are. For example, the most skillful way to sail depends upon the actual conditions of the wind and the sea, and not upon theoretical principles of sailing. This brings us to one of the most interesting features of Buddhist ethics. It is perfectly logical to derive an “ought” from an “is” (King, 2005, 43). In this paper I will suggest that this comes from Buddhism’s rejection of “ethics” as a natural category, and that this allows Buddhism to approach hard ethical problems in ways that are unavailable in Western theories.
My dissertation constructs a Buddhist moral framework that takes the elimination of suffering, both for oneself and others, to be the primary ethical goal. I argue that this framework is particularly useful in contexts of oppression, because it pays careful attention to the nature of suffering, and highlights the ways in which individuals can control their own suffering. Using this framework, I offer a Buddhist-feminist account of personal identity, that defends against the harmful narratives and counter-narratives within oppressive societies. I also give an account of moral anger using this framework, arguing that anger costs us more than we think. Moral anger is typically viewed as a manifestation of the right kind of care, and this care is what is important, not the way in which it manifests. Although anger is understandable in many circumstances, I argue that it produces suffering for the angry person, both in the present and future, and thus there is good reason to leave anger out of our moral repertoire and manifest our cares in ways that defend and enhance our well being.