The Moral Self:  A Comparative Inquiry

Final Paper Assignment:  STAGE ONE

Your final essay (15 pages) involves choosing a topic that is intriguing to you and which you can explore with some depth.  You might be interested in focusing more closely on one of the thinkers or traditions we have been looking at, or on a particular emotion and its contribution to morality, or on an argument made by one of the scholars we’ve read that you disagree with. You might want to explore human nature or personhood in more depth in other thinkers’ works, or work on some context in which “techniques of the self” or “spiritual exercises” can be explored.  These are just a few suggestions; there are many other ways one could go.  But whatever you choose, your paper is likely to fall into one of the three following types of scholarly work in this class:

1)     Analytic/interpretative: This task involves making clear something not evident before.  This can include engaging in a comparative exercise or doing a careful reading of primary texts in which you discern ideas others have missed.

2)     Critical:  This task involves taking on an argument of another scholar (or scholars) and showing where it falls short as you argue for a more persuasive interpretation.  You can mount your own criticism or reply to one (for example, reply to Cates’ criticism of Nussbaum’s view of compassion).

3)     Constructive:  Build on something that has been argued in some of our readings (for example, expand a theory of grief beyond what Nussbaum says).

You will need to identify which of these three types of tasks you will be engaging in and begin to reflect on how you will craft your approach and argument.

There will be several stages of this assignment. For the first stage you will need to come up with a topic (i.e. a set of questions). You can stay within the sources we have used in class, but you might also branch out into further research.  You will need to produce for us a “prospectus” of your paper. This is a short (about a page) statement of what questions you are taking up and how you intend to explore them. You will attach your bibliography to this and turn it in on November 17th.  After this we will meet with you individually to discuss your projects.

The final due date for the paper is Friday, December 18th, at 4 pm.


Ideas for Paper Topics

This is just a list of possible paper topics, but is by no means exhaustive.


l.  What is  Eberhardt’s position on social  construction?  Take a position on social construction and argue for or against it.

2.  What  are  the  senses  of   Western individualism and  agency  that Eberhardt  thinks  are foreign  to the Shan?  Is she right?

3. Bridge concepts:  from one  tradition originally or  from some independent  body of  theory?   Sometimes both?  Who and  where is the interpreter who  uses these concepts?  The interpreter dialogues with both traditions  and sets up  an imaginary dialogue between  them?

4.What does Stalnaker think of the possibility of  reconciling  the  anthropologies   of   Augustine  and Xunzi?   For example, what does Stalnaker do with the bridge concept of the “ will”?

5.  Cates’s objections to Nussbaum’s  view of emotions. Who is right?

6. Cates’s objections to Nussbaum’s  view of compassion.  Who is right?

7. Nussbaum on social construction, e.g., notions of shame and disgust.  One could compare with Heim’s treatment of Buddhist views of shame.

8. Nussbaum on the roots of moral evil.  Compare Xunzi and/or the Shan on what we  are like  from birth.

9. Nussbaum on infancy and human development.  Compare with Eberhardt in her own voice and on the Shan.

10.  Foucault’s  “bridge concepts.” Compare Foucault in his own voice. For example, many traditions have thought the self is there to be discovered , but does Foucault think we  are blank slates  which  require  radical  self-creation?

11. How does Foucault combine the universal and the historically particular? Compare with Nussbaum.

12. Is  self-formation or  asceticism  (category   3  under “ethics”, the self’s relation to itself) for Foucault primarily an individual effort, or  a communal  practice? Can it be either or both?

13.  Compare “craving” in the Buddhist sources with  “cupiditas”  in Augustine.

14. What overlaps and lack of overlap do you  see between  emotions in Buddhist sources and, say,  Nussbaum’s taxonomies?

15. Compare notions of “habit” or disposition in Buddhist sources and Augustine.

16.  Consider the varieties of love in Buddhism and compare and contrast them with a western tradition.

17.  What is anger and resentment according to Buddhaghosa? How can it be dislodged?

18. What can literature teach us about emotions and morality? Look at Nussbaum and/or Heim as a model and explore a novel or narrative of your own choosing.

19. Go deeper into Abhidhamma or into Buddhist meditation on a particular emotion or phenomenon.


Taking Notes