by Joao Pinheiro da Silva, Alumni Scholarship Recipient and MA student in the Department of Philosophy
Whenever someone finds out that I'm a philosophy student, it usually is just a matter of time before that person tell me how much she hates it. And I get it - why would anyone even be interested in issues that are little or nothing concrete, that seem meaningless and have been discussed for millennia with no solution in sight?
But it is very rare for a person to tell me that she has no interest in ethics. Few people doubt the relevance of discussions about good and evil, relative and absolute, right and wrong. These are absolutely philosophical themes, but of such universal interest that they seem to haunt every human being at some point in their existence.
Ethics is a gateway to other philosophical discussions because it seems to be something that permeates our everyday life. After all, even if often unknowingly, every single one of us acts on a concept of “good” or doesn’t do something because it seems like that is “bad”. When asked why we do so, we say we want to be “happy”.
The ethical discussion is practically as old as humanity. The greatest thinkers of history have focused on these same questions that haunt each of us, offering the most diverse answers to them. These are often in contradiction with each other. They are not supposed to be a manual for action but rather a questioning or foundation of our day-to-day moral life.
So why should you take an Ethics course? Well, it doesn’t seem that studying ethics actually makes people more ethical. But why would you even expect so? Expecting that studying ethics would necessarily make people more ethical would be like believing that reading the civil code of law would make people not commit crimes. Is that really why it matters?
In my opinion, you should take an Ethics course because it is a philosophical exercise in its purest form. You will engage with the great thinkers of the past and present on topics that matter to everyone. You will agree and disagree with them, expose your views and see them crumble against some objections. You may not get many certainties from it, but that’s part of the process. You will start to understand how to live with doubts. You will understand the dialectical way in which philosophy is done. And even if you get few answers, you will learn how to pose the right questions, the questions that can entertain you for the rest of your life.