Rhetoric of Ethics
113 001 | CCN: 33490
Passions, Persuasion, and Virtue
Instructor: IK Udekwu
Date / Time: Mo/We/Fr 10:00am - 10:59am
“Science is meaningless because it gives us no answer to the only question that is important to us: 'What shall we do and how shall we live?'”
– Leo Tolstoy
From the Stoics and the Cynics to modern psychiatry and human rights discourse, a concern with 'right conduct', 'virtue', and 'the good life' stretches across historical eras and cultures. In a life that presents manifold choices and consequences, what criteria should we use to choose courses of action, large and small? By what criteria shall we judge the past actions of ourselves and others? Is there anyway to prepare ourselves, in advance, to see and pursue the 'right' course of action?
This course examines the rhetorical features of ethical discourse from classical, early modern, and contemporary texts, with initial attention to how 'passion' is presented as an obstacle to moral life. With potential readings including selections from Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Kant, Martha Nussbaum, and Sara Ahmed, we will trace how thinkers have grounded their discussions of ethics with appeals to religion, revelation, reason, happiness, law, and humanity. We will also investigate how rhetoric itself appears in the context of ethics, and how our capacity to persuade and affect one another is thought to hinder – or help – the pursuit of virtue.