Tag Archive: ethics


From: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 6: Nietzsche – Knowledge and Belief

Transcript: First, what’s supposed to be so scandalous about Nietzsche. Nietzsche is supposed to hold the scandalous view that knowledge is a form of power. Now that is scandalous because knowledge is knowledge. It’s objective. You know, like journalism. And it would be scandalous to show that wherever we find knowledge, we will find it structured and constructed around a system (or systems) of power. Won’t find one without the other. Now, one can think of this along the simplest pedagogical models. By that I mean the classroom models. I mean, I ought to know this from teaching the university. I know how to pass along knowledge.

To get someone to believe me in the last analysis, I give them an “A”, which I could replace with a “happy face”. They are used to that, it’s from kindergarten. They are both just symbols, right, of achievement. They’re not getting paid for this stuff. Just give them a little “A”, they smile. That same system starts in kindergarten: “happy face”… “A”… runs through to “F”. “F”, no face… blank. The same thing would work in kindergarten. That form I used looks fair. I mean, I am grading objectively. But the point is deeper. That what the knowledge is based on is my spot of power as the teacher. That’s what it’s based on. Now, you would go: “oh no – it’s based on what’s really true!” Yeah, but… but… how does that get meted out and parsed out? Who decides that? Well the blunt and ugly answer is: we do. The teachers do. We decide.

Now there are clear counter examples to Nietzsche’s argument. In mathematics at its simplest levels, I will grant you, that if we are doing a mathematics course, I could grade objectively. But I will also grant you that nothing of great importance to human values hangs on truths that everyone can accept. That two plus two equals four, that A is A, are all acceptable, and they are acceptable precisely because nothing of very great human importance hangs on them. The moment you go a little beyond that in any direction, even in math class, when you discuss for example the philosophy of mathematics, then the disputes start, and then power at some point has to insert itself and decide.

So, an important part of Nietzsche’s investigation is in the interconnection between the forms of knowledge and power. Forms of… and for the purposes of our course… forms of ethical behaviour and power, ah, are the subject of his most important book. Well, maybe not his most important, but certainly the one that is the most coherent: “On the Genealogy of Morals”, by Nietzsche.

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 5: Hegel and Modern Life.mov

Transcript: Okay, in our last lecture, ah, I ended the history of ethics in a way – what would be a usual introduction to an ethics course – by discussing Hegel’s view of ethics with its ah… one might call it… super concept of freedom; the very large concept of freedom as formulating those goals and desires of individuals in whatever given historical period. And the idea that freedom represents is to see those goals and obstacles and their overcoming in that period, and to name that activity and those sets of practices “freedom”. View Full Article »

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 4: Mill on Liberty.mov

Transcript: Okay, we ended the last lecture by discussing the Utilitarian ethical theory which is that we should always act as though to bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number, and Kant’s ethical theory that we should always act so that the rule of our action could be willed by us to be universal law, and then we raised objections to both those. Now, a further reminder is in order, and it’s very important. View Full Article »

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 3: Kant and the Path to Enlightenment.mov

Transcript: I have the daunting task of summarising 2000 years in two sentences, so I’ll avoid it, and hope that you saw the last tape. Which was basically… the movement so far is to present something like a traditional history of ideas but – if you’ve noticed – with little rejoinders along the way that suggest that that history of ideas is not innocent. Not as though it were being presented in the way that the National Association of Scholars would have you believe. Books being selected as though by very intelligent readers because they are the best books. That isn’t always wrong, but the story of the survival of books and the formations of canons clearly has other factors. View Full Article »