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Robert Morris College

CI-310 : November 08, 2000

CI-310 Information Systems Applications, 3 credits Admin/ General
Wednesday evenings, 6:00 - 8:50 pm Hale 306 Schedule
Instructor: Ed Quigley 724.774.2088
Dept. Head: Dave Wood, Ph.D. 412.262.2788 Links

Philosophy, Ethics, Chapter 14


Historically, cultural discourse focused on preserving and transmitting accepted dogmas. In ancient Greece, we see for the first time an emphasis on examining and questioning traditions rather than simply accepting them. Philosophy is a system of asking questions about the nature of things.

There are several branches of Philosophy:

Metaphysics, Epistolmology, and Aesthetics are speculative philosophies. Ethics (and politics and economics) are practical philosophies.

Ancient Philosophy

In the late 7th and early 6th century BC, Thales of Miletus was the first of several ancient philosophers that were monists. Thales believed that the fundamental building block of matter was water. Anaximander argued that the world originated in confliccts between extremes: hot/cold, dry/wet. Anaximenes declared that air is the source of all matter. He also introduced the notion of the conservation of matter and energy.

Later philosophers sought explanations based in plurality. Empedocles described four basic elements: earth, air, fire, water. Anaxagoras taught that everything is made up of infinitely small particles. Democritus and Leucuppus carried the idea further by teaching that all matter is made up of atoms.

Late in the 5th century BC the Sophists used their philosophical tools to earn money; to this day sophistry is a derogative term for pseudo-logical positions in support of dubious claims.

The first famous Greek philosopher was Socrates, who led his students into a questioning paradigm. Socrates challenged the Sophists by saying it is possible to learn absolute virtue and attain truth. He sought universal principles by pursuing the clear, common meaning of terms, and he raised basic questions of knowledge and ethics. The teaching of Socrates rested on two basic assumptions: a person is never to do wrong, either directly or indirectly, and no one who knows what is right will act contrary to it.

Socrates taught Plato, and most of what we know of Socrates comes through Plato's voice and pen. Socrates generated great resistance among the establishment, was charged with leading the youth astray, and chose suicide by hemlock rather than face exile from Greece.

Plato carried on the questioning tradition, and operated his own school. His 'Dialogues', even in translation, are some of the most interesting reading in Western literature. He developed a many-sided philosophy that includes a theory of knowledge, a theory of human conduct, a theory of the state, and a theory of the universe. He said there is a world of sense experience that is always changing. There is also a world of unchanging ideas, which is the only true reality. One of Plato's finest students was Aristotle.

Aristotle was Plato's most famous pupil, though he departed from his master's teaching on many points. His writings on nature make him the world's first real scientist, though his conclusions have long been superceded. He stands alongside Plato as one of the greatest thinkers of the ancient world. He said, in contrast to Plato, that the material world is real and not a creation of eternal forms. He taught that individual things combine form and matter in ways that determine how they grow and change. Aristotle was also the founder of formal logic.

Aristotle became a tutor of royalty, including young Alexander the Great. Alexander went on to great conquests, but felt slighted by a member of Aristotle's family, so Aristotle withdrew from the court and moved to his father's town of Nichomachus, where we wrote his Nichomachean Ethics. Aristotle's Politics moved ethics from explaining individual choices to explaining how a good society should be built.

During the Dark Ages, the thoughts of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were lost to western civilization. Happily, they were preserved in the Middle East. The re-introduction of these works to Europe sparked the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.

Philosophy after Aristotle to about AD 100 was concerned mainly with ethics. Epicurus regarded reality as a random arrangement of atoms and decreed that pleasure is the chief goal of life. The Stoics, led by Zeno, believed that the universe is ordered and rational. The principle of Zeno's thought is to live in accordance with nature. He based his ideas on the teachings of Socrates. Humans, he said, must discipline themselves to accept their place in the world. There is a great deal of fatalism in the Stoic position. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was a leading Stoic, who explained the philosophy clearly in his 'Meditations'.

Another notable school of thought that appeared in the late 4th and early 3rd centuries BC is skepticism. Founded by Pyrrho of Elis, it asserts that humans cannot know anything for certain. No one can ever be sure that what is perceived by the senses is real or only an illusion. The skeptical view did not make much headway at the time, but it endured to reach new heights in the work of David Hume in the 18th century. It is one of the most radical positions taken in epistemology.

The Roman statesman Cicero introduced Greek philosophy to Rome, but his works show little that was new except in his political books. The so-called pagan philosophy based in Athens came to an end when the schools of Athens were closed by the emperor Justinian in AD 529. Its teachers survived for a while elsewhere, but with diminished influence.

During the early Christian era there were a number of philosophers called Neoplatonists because their basic ideas were derived from Plato. Their point of view also includes ideas derived from Aristotle and the Stoics. The most prominent Neoplatonist was Plotinus, who used his teachings to combat Christianity. He taught that the highest reality is the good (or God) and the lowest level of reality is the material world. By his time the influence of Aristotle had almost disappeared, not to be revived for centuries. Plato's thought became dominant, even among Christian writers.

Medieval Philosophy

Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire early in the 4th century. For the next 1,000 years it dominated philosophy and tolerated little opposition. Early Christian philosophy begins with Augustine of Hippo and includes Boethius, the church fathers, Anselm of Canterbury, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Peter Abelard. With the rediscovery of Aristotle, largely through the writings of Muslim philosophers in the 12th century, his influence became dominant for a time in Western Europe and reached its pinnacle in the teachings of Thomas Aquinas.

Augustine identified the eternal ideas of Plato with truths that come from God. This divine world of truth is encountered by turning the mind toward God's revelation. Augustine taught that the immortality of the human soul can be proved by its possession of eternal truths.

Boethius was a major channel of Platonist philosophy to the Middle Ages. In 'The Consolation of Philosophy' he teaches that the eternal ideas are inborn ideas that people remember from the previous existence of the soul.

Between Augustine and Aquinas the pivotal character in philosophy was Anselm. He used both faith and reason to arrive at truth. He is most remembered for his proofs of the existence of God, derived from Neoplatonist philosophy. Abelard constructed a question-and-answer method for teaching theology, published in his book 'Sic et Non' (Yes and No). His main interest was in logic. He taught that the material world is real. Universal ideas, in contrast to Plato, are only names or mental concepts. This position, called nominalism, had great influence in sidetracking Platonism from its dominant position in philosophy.

During the 12th century a revolution took place that completely changed the course of Western philosophy. The writings of Aristotle were translated into Latin and were studied by churchmen for the first time. They gave teachers access to his scientific works and to his logical method of argument. Many of these Latin translations are based on earlier Arabic translations and commentaries by such Muslim writers as Avicenna and Averroes. The 'Metaphysics' of Aristotle was especially influential in turning philosophers away from Plato. The scientific writings prompted research into the natural world by such men as Roger Bacon.

Medieval theologians who sought to reconcile the doctrines of Christianity with the rational explanations of the world given by Aristotle were called Schoolmen, or Scholastics, because they were university teachers. Their philosophy is called Scholasticism. This merging of Aristotle with doctrine culminated in the writings of Thomas Aquinas, one of the great system builders in the history of philosophy. His major work is 'Summa Theologica' (Summary of Doctrine), a Q&A approach to teaching that has never been equaled. Aquinas attempted to settle the conflict between faith and reason by showing that reason should deal with the facts of nature, but that supernatural truths of revelation must be accepted by faith. He said that some truths, such as the existence of God, are both revealed and provable by reason. Opposition to his teachings came from John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and others.

Opposition to Aquinas was condemned by the Roman Catholic church, but it persisted. By the 14th century there was a revival of Platonism and Neoplatonism in writers such as Meister Eckehart and Nicholas of Cusa. Aristotelianism lost its vitality, but its impact had been made. While theology persisted with Platonic ideas, the natural sciences and other research continued the path Aristotle had pioneered. Soon even it was overtaken by a period of invention and discovery that pushed medieval philosophy and other studies aside.

Modern Philosophy

From 1500 philosophy took so many twists and turns that it cannot be defined by any one approach. The ideas of Plato, Aristotle, and others still had to be dealt with but mostly for their relation to practical thinking. Metaphysics still had its advocates, as it does today, but many schools of thought denied its validity. After 1500 philosophy found itself in a world characterized by the growth of cities, the appearance of new inventions, the refusal to accept God or the supernatural as explanations for reality, the invention of printing to spread ideas, the emergence of a new economic system called capitalism, the voyages of discovery to the New World, the Reformation that split Western Christendom, and a great fascination with the natural world and human abilities to exploit and understand it.

During the Renaissance a preoccupation with mathematics and natural science began that endured for two centuries. In the Enlightenment era of the 17th and 18th centuries, attention turned to the nature of the human mind and its abilities to master the natural world. The two main philosophical points of view were rationalism and empiricism. Then Immanuel Kant tried to bridge the gap between rationalism and empiricism. With him the Enlightenment ended and the 19th century began.

The decades of the 19th century were dominated by many differing currents of thought. The discovery of the irrational as an antidote to pure reason manifested itself in the discipline of Romanticism. New ideas appeared in political thought all over the world: liberalism demanded democratization of the political process, while socialism demanded economic justice.

Early in the modern period Francis Bacon was an ardent advocate of the new learning. He held that knowledge cannot be based on accepted authorities but must begin with experience and proceed by induction to general principles. He helped lay the foundation for British Empiricism, one of the main schools of modern philosophy.

Modern Rationalism originated in the work of the Frenchman Rene Descartes. From the statement, "I think, therefore I am," Descartes proceeded deductively to build a system in which God and mind belong to one order of reality and nature to another. He saw nature as a mechanism that can be explained mathematically, while God is pure spirit. The reconciliation of these two orders of reality in a new metaphysics occupied many other philosophers, including Nicolas de Malebranche, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

While rationalism was taking hold on the Continent, empiricism underwent new developments in the British Isles. The leading empiricists were Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume all of whom made distinctive contributions to epistemology. They were mainly concerned with how the mind can know.

Locke, for example, stated that the senses are the ultimate source of ideas. Thus, all mental operations result from combining perceptions into concepts. Hume carried empiricism to its ultimate conclusion in his radical skepticism, contending that there is no justification for assuming the reality of either a material or spiritual world. No reality beyond perception can ever be proved.

It was Hume's uncompromising skepticism that led Immanuel Kant in Germany to launch a brilliant, but unsuccessful, attack on it in his 'Critique of Pure Reason'. In it he deals with reason and its potential and limits. In 'Critique of Practical Reason' he examines ethics, and in 'Critique of Judgment' he explores the mind's role in aesthetics. Kant is another of the giants of Western thought, and his influence endured in the work of the German idealists Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Schelling, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

Hegel was the giant of 19th-century thought and the first great system builder since Thomas Aquinas. His ideas, and the powerful reactions to them, still carry great weight in philosophical circles. He formulated a logic that he believed accounts for evolution in nature, history, and human thought. Prominent German philosophers after Hegel were Johann Friedrich Hebart, Arthur Schopenhauer, Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

An attack on Hegel soon appeared from the north that was to influence all philosophy. In Denmark Soren Kierkegaard held that reality cannot be fully comprehended by reason because human existence is always involved in choices that are absurd from a rational viewpoint. He conceived of each person as a unique human being and that all people are responsible for their own development and free to direct their own lives.

This implies that one's existence creates one's essence, not vice versa thereby turning upside down the whole history of metaphysics. People become what they will be; they are not determined from birth by a nature that determines it for them. The name of the movement that Kierkegaard inspired is called existentialism. His concepts were developed in the 20th century by Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Gabriel Marcel.

In France meanwhile, Auguste Comte founded the philosophy called positivism. Positivism rejects pure speculation as a form of self-indulgence. It says that assertions must be subject to verification. Comte attempted to apply the methods of the natural sciences to the discovery of social laws. The English philosophers John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer were influenced by positivism, though Spencer relied a good deal on Charles Darwin's insights on evolution. He believed that the notion of "survival of the fittest" applies to society as well as to the biological world.

In the late 19th century some English philosophers absorbed German idealism (the name given to the work of Kant and his followers) and became critics of empiricism. Hegel's influence was especially strong in the writings of Thomas Hill Green and Francis Herbert Bradley. In the United States Josiah Royce advanced similar views. Earlier American thinkers tended to follow the lead of their British contemporaries. Thus Jonathan Edwards was strongly influenced by the empiricist views of Locke, while Ralph Waldo Emerson was an ardent admirer of Thomas Carlyle. The empiricist tradition in England was carried on by John Stuart Mill.

The principal contribution to American philosophy in the 19th century was pragmatism, first formulated by Charles Sanders Peirce. William James extended pragmatism to include a theory of truth: a proposition is true if it fulfills its purpose. John Dewey was the leading 20th-century exponent of pragmatism.

German philosophy after Hegel went in different directions. One direction continued the work of Hegel, creating a school of neo-Hegelians whose influence was felt even in the United States. Other Germans espoused irrationalism. Its two chief exponents were Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche. They displaced reason with the human will and its dark side, its propensity to seek power by any means. These writers, along with Kierkegaard, provided a nonrational explanation of human nature that came to the forefront in the politics of the 20th century.

Philosophy in the 20th century became captive to the universities. Few professors write for a popular readership. Two of the chief exceptions were Jean-Paul Sartre in France and Spain's George Santayana. This professionalism sharpened the differences between schools of philosophy, and it made the task of defining philosophy more difficult. There is, in fact, a total lack of consensus on the nature and purpose of philosophy. The main 20th-century schools are logical empiricism, linguistic analysis, existentialism, and phenomenology. In the socialist world Marxism still dominates.

Before defining these schools it is necessary to mention three philosophers who defy easy classification: Henri Bergson, Alfred North Whitehead, and John Dewey. All were basically metaphysicians but each in his own way. Bergson, in his great treatise 'Creative Evolution', says that the mind is capable of two different types of knowing. The first is the method of analysis, which is the means used in the sciences. The other is intuition, by which people are able to know their deepest selves and the profound truths of reality.

Whitehead was a mathematician as well as philosopher. Metaphysics was his main interest. He said it is the task of philosophy "to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted."

Dewey's writings encompass ethics, metaphysics, education, and scientific method. As a pragmatist he said philosophy should be geared to human needs. He desired to find the same positive underpinnings for ethics and politics that were being stated in the sciences.

Logical Empiricism was inspired by David Hume and originated after 1900 by Bertrand Russell (assisted by Whitehead), Rudolf Carnap in Germany, and Ludwig Wittgenstein in Austria. They all insisted that philosophy must be scientific. This purpose was stated by Wittgenstein in his 'Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus' (1921): "The object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a theory but an activity. . . . The result of philosophy is to make propositions clear." All metaphysics becomes meaningless. All statements have meaning only if they can be verified. As for what cannot be verified (religion, for instance), Wittgenstein concludes in his book: "Whereon we cannot speak, thereon must we be silent."

Later in life Wittgenstein became skeptical of the logical foundations of mathematics and science. In his 'Philosophical Investigations' he turned toward a critical examination of ordinary language. The school that emerged from his work is called linguistic analysis. This school believes that language itself is the object of philosophical investigation. Traditional problems in philosophy can be solved if language is rid of its obscurities and confusion.

On the European Continent Edmund Husserl originated the branch of philosophy called phenomenology. His premise is that it is possible to examine the world without any preconceived notions about causes or underlying structures. By carefully exploring all the data available to conscious experience, it is possible to arrive at an explanation of essential structures of all phenomena. (Phenomena are the realities perceived by the senses. The word itself means "appearances" and suggests that there is an unperceived reality behind them.) Phenomenology, in other words, is a new approach to constructing metaphysics.

So diverse have the schools of philosophy become in the late 20th century that there seems little likelihood of any unity of purpose. There are still individuals who have high regard for earlier thinkers, because they addressed the world in which people live while seeking to explain it and its meaning. One such teacher in the United States was Mortimer J. Adler, who published 'The Conditions of Philosophy' in 1965 as a defense of traditional philosophical functions.


What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give?
Hal David and Burt Bacharach

Ethics is a philosophy (system of questions) about the nature of the Good. What is good for the individual and society? What is Good? What is Bad?

How should a person live their life? What do you care about? What is rational? What is universal?

Meta-Question: What makes something ethical/moral? Consequences (consequentialist) or Intentions? Intent? Context (one's position or role)?

Descriptive Ethics describes things as they are (is)
Normative Ethics tells what should be done (ought)

Subjectivity vs Objectivity

Calvin : Man is depraved. Hobbes (Social Contract Theory) Man is Selfish but will make deals.
Kant (Deontological Theory) Objectivity, Rational

Ethical Absolutism

Aristotles's Solution. What people want they regard as good; there are two types of desire: natural and acquired. Natural Desires (food, shelter, health, knowledge, prosperity) are universal and good. Acquired Desiires are not needs but wants; they may or may not be good. Adult discernment is required. What is good for one is good for all others. To be able to treat others in the same way as oneself, it is necessary to have the three practical virtues: temperence, courage, and justice.

Ethical Relativism

People's moral constructs are products of society and need not be judged by universal or external standards.

John Dewey's school of pragmatism felt that each problem must be viewed in light of the solutions necessary to solve it, with some understanding of the consequences that follow the actions. Action has meaning in its consequences. A choice is right if it solves the problem but there is no good right or good. Every solution gives rise to new problems.

Chapter 14

Ethics: principles of right and wrong that can be used by individuals acting as free moral agents to make choices to guide their behavior.

Privacy, p. 460-1.
Intellectual Propert, p. 463
Accountability, Liability, Control p. 467
System Quality, p 470
Quality of Life, p. 471