The Moral Sense

The Moral Sense

Introduction To Course/Cover Syllabus/Sample Writing
The Moral Sense Chapter 1 “The Moral Sense” (The Wilson material requires no reading! In is related
in lecture.)

From Civilization And Its Discontents Sigmund Freud
On Freud’s Civilization And Its Discontents Ian Johnston
“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” Ursula LeGuin

Sigmund Freud Documentary Part 1 (Video Supplement)
Sigmund Freud Documentary Part 2 (Video Supplement)
Sigmund Freud Documentary Part 3 (Video Suppliment)

Weekly Questions (about 100 words apiece)

1. What does Wilson mean by a “moral sense”? What is his theory about the origin of morality?
2. Briefly discuss what Wilson declares about the moral sense and how societies function.
3. Is Freud’s view of humans basically positive or negative? Explain.
4. According to Freud, how are societies sustained?
5. Discuss Homer and Plato’s views of society.
6. Discuss the Pleasure Principle versus the Moral Sense in “Omelas.”
7. Discuss three interesting new things you learned about Freud from the video.

Week 2

The Moral Sense Chapter 2 “Sympathy”
“Parable Of The Good Samaritan” New Testament
Zimbardo Stanford Prison Experiment Saul McLeod
The Milgrim Experiment Saul McLeod
Asch Experiment Saul McLeod
Discovering Psychology: The Power Of The Situation (In-Class Film)

Journey From The Psychology Of Evil To The Psychology Of Heroism (Video Supplement)

Weekly Questions (about 100 words apiece)

1. Discuss what Wilson has to say about evolution and sympathy.
2. Why is the Parable Of The Good Samaritan so often held up as the model of sympathy?
3. Discuss Freud’s view of humanity and the Zimbardo, Milgrim and Asch experiments.
4. Discuss the three experiments in light of Nazi Germany or the Rape of Nanking.
5. Does Zimbardo make a deal with the devil in defending Chip Frederick, especially after
what he implies later in the video about free will and heroism?



The Moral Sense Chapter 3 “Fairness”
“Rousseau’s Social Contract” Maurice Cranston
Night And Fog (In-Class Film)
Blind (In-Class Film)

Democracy And Participation: Rousseau’s Social Contract (Video Supplement)

Weekly Questions (about 100 words apiece)

1. Discuss Wilson’s ideas about the social origin of fairness.
2. Do you believe children are born basically fair or basically selfish? Explain.
3. Compare and contrast Rousseau’s basic ideas on society and justice with those of Freud.
4. Can Wilson’s ideas about innate fairness and justice be reconciled with what we see in Night And Fog?
5. Would the two characters in Blind have made good Nazi German citizens? Why or why not?
6. Are most people more like the two in Blind or less like them? Explain.
7. Discuss Rousseau’s idea of “moral freedom under the law.”


Week 4

The Moral Sense Chapter 4 “Self-Control”
“Discipline” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The Fast: Gaining Strength By Doing Without” Linda L. Crighton
“Marx, Religion And Sociology Of Religion” David H. Kessel

Sam Keen: In The Absence Of God (Video Supplement)

Weekly Questions (about 100 words apiece)

1. Discuss Wilson’s ideas about ediquette as a precursor or form of morality.
2. Do you believe there is a biological component to self control—or a lack thereof? Explain.
3. In what ways does Emerson view Nature as the teacher of discipline and self control?
4. Is religion and its rituals necessary—if not for every individual, then for every society—in order for
there to be discipline, self-control and moral order? Why or why not?
5. Is religion not a form of self-control but, as Marx insisted, a way of being controlled? Why or why not?
6. Briefly discuss Keen’s view of what religion should be.


Week 5

The Moral Sense Chapter 5 “Duty”
The History Place “Hitler Youth”
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Dietrich Bonhöffer
“U.S. Soldier Refuses To Serve In ‘Illegal Iraq War’”

Leni Reifenstahls’s Triumph Des Willens (Video Suppliment)

Weekly Questions (about 100 words apiece)

1. Discuss what Wilson has to say about fulfilling duties and the longing for attachment.
2. Discuss ways the sense of duty can go terribly wrong (see “Hitler Youth”).
3. Is there a fundamental difference between instilling duty and indoctination? If so, what is it?
4. Was it dutiful for the German soldiers to fight for Hitler? For an American soldier to fight for what he
sees as an unjust cause? Or does duty lie in refusing such orders?
5. Give your own personal definition of “duty” and tell where you think it comes from.
6. Discuss elements of the Reifenstahl film that could easily brainwash a people desperate due to hunger
and financial ruin after the Treaty Of Versailles.
* Rough draft of second paper: Discuss the idea of “fairness”–justified human intent and action—in relation to a war in which innocent people and children are certain to die. (You may decide such a war would be entirely unfair, that any dead child rules out fairness; that the reason for the war entirely justifies the incidental killing of innocents and children; or anything in between. You can use an example from history or construct a hypothetical war of your own, but do discuss particular circumstances. Support your thesis with reasons and good reasoning!)


Week 6

The Moral Sense Chapter 6 “The Social Animal”
From The Descent Of Man Charles Darwin

Robert Richards Lecture On Darwinian Moral Theory (Video Supplement)

Feral Children (In-Class Film)
Weekly Questions (about 100 words apiece)

1. Detail reasons why Wilson believes even babies are sociable.
3. Discuss Darwin’s ideas about intelligence and the broadening of hard-wired “moral instincts.”
4. Applying Darwin’s theory, tell whether an ant can have any sort of moral sense.
5. Do cases of feral children argue for or against the idea that humans are innately sociable? Explain.
6. Do cases of feral children prove that humans are inherently “base animals just barely socialized?” Why
or why not?
7. Briefly discuss Richards’ theory that Darwin was more Deist than atheist.


Week 7

The Moral Sense Chapter 7 “Families”

MLA Format
“Morality And The Emotional Brain”
Weekly Questions (about 100 words apiece)
Wilson’s view of the family is obviously limited to the “traditional”—address the following questions:

1. Can gay and lesbian couples with children do as good a job with family living as man/woman couples
with children? Explain.
2. Can unmarried couples do as good a job with family living as married couples with children? Explain.
3. Can single parents and “nontraditional” familes do as good a job with family living as “traditional”
husband/wife families? Explain.

(Note: these are not loaded questions. You will receive full points for answering either way.)

4. In your opinion, which is worse, “rule-obsessed” parents or “laissez-faire” parents?
5. To what degree do you agree or disagree with Nichol’s theory in the video supplement? Explain.



Week 8
The Moral Sense Chapter 8 “Gender”
“Gilligan’s Theory Of Feminine Morality” Jennifer Cole Wright
“Sex On The Bench: Do Men And Women Have Different Moral Values?” Part I
“Sex On The Bench: Do Men And Women Have Different Moral Values?” Part II
THE MORALITY QUIZ! (the discussion)

Taking Sex Differences Seriously (Video Supplement)

Weekly Questions (about 100 words apiece)
1. Are Wilson’s delineations between men and women too severe? Why or why not?
2. Do you believe gender roles are more biological or culture? Explain.
3. Discuss the difference between the propositions of Kohlberg and Gilligan on gender and morality.
4. Detail three ways (sitcoms, commercials, magazines, etc.) that the popular media misportrays gender
roles and differences.
5. Give an example you have seen in which personality overrode gender stereotype.
6. Rhodes’ work in gender differences has been controversial. Do you think what he says encourages
inequality? Why or why not? Does the work of Kohlberg and Gilligan, and our own “Morality Quiz”
support what Rhodes has to say about gender differences? Explain.
* Rough draft of third paper: To what degree do outlying circumstances (family conditions, socio-economics, religious beliefs, culture, etc.) and innate tendencies (biology, inheritability, “hardwiring,” etc.) influence one’s sense of moral values in regard to such basic principles as sympathy, fairness, duty, etc.? (This is a “nature versus nurture” sort of question—whether morality is nonexistent if not taught or whether it is “hard-wired” into the human machinery, or something in between.) Use at least one example from culture, history or personal experience to support your thesis. Your thesis doesn’t necessary have to exactly match any theory we have studied this quarter, but use good reasoning and clear explication to support your ideas.

Using at least three of the questions in the morality survey (and the answer percentages given by each gender), along with any other data you wish from the morality quiz stat sheet or outside sources, formulate a thesis concerning gender and morality To a degree, this is, again, a nature/nurture paper: are men and women “wired” differently for moral decisions, or does environment shape them, or is there a varying degree (and how much) of each? It can, but does not have to argue that one gender is more moral than the other; it can, but does not have to, consider different kinds of “moral thinking/reasoning/emoting” done by men and women; it can, but does not have to, involve examples from life. It does have to have a central point around which the argument is based and come to some sort of conclusion concerning gender and morality.

Week 9

The Moral Sense Chapter 9 “The Universal Aspiration”

Weekly Questions (about 100 words apiece)

”A Modest Proposal” Jonathon Swift
“Shooting An Elephant” by George Orwell
Jane Elliot


The History Of Violence (Video Supplement)

1. Is moral behavior really a universal aspiration? In short, do you agree with Wilson’s premise?
2. Discuss Swift’s sarcastic dressing down of socio-economic oppression in “A Modest Proposal.”
3. Discuss the power of peer pressure in Orwell’s “Shooting An Elephant.”
4. Does Elliot’s experiment with children undermine Wilson’s basic ideas about the innate nature
of morality? Why or why not?
5. Why choose moral behavior over self-interest? Or should we?
6. In what ways do Pinker’s ideas support both the theories of Wilson and Darwin?

* Theme for final paper due

Week 10

The Moral Sense Chapter 10 “The Moral Sense And Human Character”
Flight From Death: The Quest For Immortality (in-class film)

Free Will And The Brain(Video Supplement)
Do We Have Free Will Or Is Everything Determined? (Video Supplement)

Weekly Questions (about 100 words apiece)

1. What does Wilson say about moral universals?
2. List as many moral universals as you can. If you do not believe there are any, explain.
3. What basics are necessary in order for there to be a moral sense in a human being?
4. Are most people basically moral or immoral? Explain.
5. Discuss your opinions concerning the principles put forth in the two video supplements.

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