Questions of Value

Course No. 4433
Professor Patrick Grim, Ph.D.
State University of New York, Stony Brook
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Course No. 4433
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Course Overview

Our lives are filled with everyday questions of fact and finance. Which investment brings the highest return? What school district is the house in? What will this candidate do if elected? But the really fundamental questions of our lives, says Professor Patrick Grim, are questions of neither fact nor finance. They are questions of value. They are the deep questions that apply to every aspect of our lives.

What is it that gives something genuine value? What things are really worth striving for? What is it that makes life worth living? Are there values that transcend cultural differences? Can we have ethical values without religion? If the universe operates in terms of deterministic laws, how can there be real choice? Is all value subjective? We can even ask if life is always worth living, or whether in some situations we would be better off dead.

Questions of Value is a course for anyone who has ever felt the tug of such questions or who wants to fine-tune their ability to see how deeper questions of ethics and values apply to the choices that make up their lives.

In presenting this philosophical examination of the range of decisions we all encounter as we live our lives, Professor Grim has placed the accent on individual choice—and has not shied away from controversy. The issues he presents for your examination cover evolution and ethics, about whether punishment is justified by retribution or by deterrence, and about the differing lessons drawn from life's worst horrors by both religious and antireligious traditions.

What values, for instance, are involved in thinking about life and death? What values are evident in a yearning for immortality? The lines of discussion raised throughout the course are regularly as provocative as these, and Professor Grim means them to be exactly that.

"The purpose of the lectures," he notes, "is, first and foremost, to open issues for thoughtful consideration ... [to] give an appreciation for the complex concepts that lie just beneath our everyday patterns of evaluation, and for some of the bold and insightful reflections that can illuminate them.

"The student can expect to finish the course with some new and interesting answers, and a command of important philosophical arguments and approaches, but also with some new and interesting questions about values."

A Challenge to Look Inward

"The course is designed not to close debate but to open it, not to end controversy but to facilitate reflective thought. It was Socrates who said, 'The unexamined life is not worth living.' This course offers the tools necessary for examining the values that guide our lives."

Best known for his logical arguments in the philosophy of religion and his groundbreaking work in philosophical computer modeling, Professor Grim has published across an extraordinary range of disciplines, from theoretical biology to artificial intelligence and computer science.

With these lectures he returns to his abiding interest in values. He uses his award-winning teaching skills to draw on almost every expression of human endeavor, bringing to life not only the fundamental questions of the course but the insights gleaned by the thinkers and artists who have grappled with those same questions for thousands of years.

The net he casts encompasses history, beginning with Herodotus and running through usury in feudalism's seignorial system right up through more contemporary subjects such as the cases of Patty Hearst and John W. Hinckley. Theoretical economics makes an appearance as well, as does game theory from John von Neumann to Robert Axelrod's work on cooperation. He delves into both theoretical biology and sociobiology through the work of E. O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins on altruism and evolution. There is even a foray into physics, as quantum mechanics is used to discuss determinism. His discussion of relativism brings in aspects of anthropology, and an exploration of the role of rules in our lives draws on psychology, examining the work of Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg.

But it isn't only scientists whose work inevitably forces us to consider our values. The questions we ask and the answers we seek also figure prominently in the work of writers as varied as Charles Dickens, Peter S. Beagle, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ursula Le Guin, Mark Twain, Anne Rice, and Jorge Luis Borges. Even John Ford's classic western film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, is brought into the mix.

In exploring the course's varied sources, Professor Grim takes great care in ensuring that every concept addressed in a later lecture has been clearly introduced earlier. His presentation—even of the most nuanced material—is consistently clear, even to those with no background in philosophy.

A Range of Tools to Make even Complex Concepts Clear

Professor Grim has put together a course in which concepts are animated through both vivid examples drawn from real life and equally vivid "thought experiments"—hypothetical situations devised by philosophers to isolate and illustrate key concepts in readily accessible terms.

One of those thought experiments has its roots in the "evil demon" of Descartes' Meditations and is further developed in the work of both Robert Nozick and Hilary Putnam—and you may even recognize it in the theme of The Matrix films. In this example of a so-called "magic button" case, Professor Grim poses the question of whether one would accept a choice of pushing a button that would give everyone a very nice, but merely virtual, life—a life lived simply as a brain in a vat, experiencing as "real" the imaginary existence fed it by a master computer.

This particular thought experiment, along with G. E. Moore's famous one of imagining a universe containing nothing but the single thing you wish to evaluate, are two of the examples Professor Grim uses to discuss the question of whether values are objective or subjective. Both are remarkable for the clarity they bring to a complex subject.

In still another example of the tool kit offered as an aid to "doing philosophy," Professor Grim recalls the story of the Ford Pinto, built with a rear-mounted gas tank likely to explode in a collision. At least 500 burn deaths resulted, and many lawsuits were brought against the Ford Motor Company—bringing to light what some might consider the cold-blooded cost-benefit analysis of human worth that the Ford company had used to make its design decisions.

That analysis is one of the centerpieces of Professor Grim's discussion of the "cash value" of a human life and the ways people have tried to put an actual value on something most people are tempted to say has "infinite value."

The result is a fascinating discussion not only of the choices made by Ford but of the very different kinds of value that are evident in our decisions as individuals and as a society.

"Values for beings like us," Professor Grim notes, "are inescapable, but because we want our values to be right, reflection on values—given the particular values we have and for rationally placed beings like us—is also inescapable. ...

"The philosopher John Dewey somewhere characterizes philosophy as such an inquiry, and he gives an important warning: that an inquiry of ideas, like every other real exploration, is intellectually dangerous.

"Once you start to think critically about ideas, once you are no longer satisfied with familiar beliefs just because they are familiar, you can no longer be certain what conclusions you will come to."

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Questions of Value
    This lecture explains the basic structure of the course and its approaches to ethical, aesthetic, pragmatic, religious, and cultural values. x
  • 2
    Facts and Values
    This lecture focuses on the fundamental contrast between questions of value and questions of fact, drawing from sources both literary and philosophical, including Kierkegaard, Hume, Searle, and Jose Luis Borges. x
  • 3
    Lives to Envy, Lives to Admire
    "What makes a life a good life?" is a question too rarely asked. This lecture emphasizes that question against the background of Plato's Republic, Plato's Philebus, and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, examining the basic tension that separates two very different approaches to the answer. x
  • 4
    Foundations of Ethics—Theories of the Good
    Ethical evaluation is more complicated than simple judgments of "right" and "wrong." This lecture explores ethical theories based on the concept of the good as opposed to the right, emphasizing the approach set forth by Utilitarian philosophers like Bentham, Mill, and Moore. x
  • 5
    Foundations of Ethics—Theories of the Right
    Continuing the examination of ethical evaluation begun in Lecture 4, this lecture introduces the idea of a pure right-based theory, exemplified by the work of Immanuel Kant. x
  • 6
    Thoughts on Religion and Values
    This lecture explains why most contemporary philosophers think that values not only can be talked about independently of religion, but should be, examining an argument from Plato's Euthyphro that remains forceful against any Divine Command theory of ethics. x
  • 7
    Life’s Priorities
    This lecture introduces a simple method for examining one's own priorities in life, as well as drawing upon both Plato's Philebus and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics to enrich that examination. x
  • 8
    The Cash Value of a Life
    How much is a human life really worth? This lecture explores some of the abstract questions raised by the Ford Pinto case and then moves on to examine whether there are things worth dying for. x
  • 9
    How Do We Know Right from Wrong?
    This lecture examines a range of positions in the attempt to construct a better theory of ethical knowledge, including the Skeptic's gambit, A. J. Ayer's theory of Emotivism, and Plato's view of ethical perception. x
  • 10
    Cultures and Values—Questions of Relativism
    This lecture begins a two-lecture examination of cultures and values by asking whether values are culturally relative and introducing three theories of relativism: descriptive, ethical, and prescriptive. x
  • 11
    Cultures and Values—Hopi, Navajo, and Ik
    Do different cultures have fundamentally different ethical values? This lecture examines three famous anthropological studies in trying to arrive at an answer. x
  • 12
    Evolution, Ethics, and Game Theory
    This lecture examines two areas of research that promise us a better understanding of social ethics: sociobiology, introduced by E. O. Wilson and further developed by Richard Dawkins, and game theory, as it is applied to questions of social dynamics. x
  • 13
    The Objective Side of Value
    Are values purely a matter of subjectivity, or is there an objective side to value? Do subjective states give the whole story about value, or is there something important beyond them? A provocative "thought experiment" is but one of the ways this lecture looks for answers. x
  • 14
    Better Off Dead
    Can someone really be "better off dead"? Ideas drawn from Epicurus and Lucretius began our examination, which concludes with a provocative consideration of the rationality of suicide. x
  • 15
    A Picture of Justice
    What, exactly, is "justice"? This lecture draws on philosophers like Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Rawls, and Nozick in the attempt to paint a picture of what justice really demands; what a truly just society would have to be like. x
  • 16
    Life’s Horrors
    Life is filled with many arbitrary and freakish horrors, including natural evils like earthquakes, floods, and disease and man-made evils like rape, slaughter, torture, and war. This lecture examines the different lessons drawn from them by two different traditions—the religious and the anti-religious. x
  • 17
    A Genealogy of My Morals
    Why do we hold the ethical positions that we do? Knowledge of the history of our ethical conceptions can make us rethink and reevaluate our own moral views and may thereby lead us to change them. x
  • 18
    Theories of Punishment
    What justification is there for the death penalty? What justification is there for punishment in general? This lecture focuses on the ethical issues that lie beneath the legal controversies, examining two competing ideas regarding the justification of punishment: retributive theory and deterrence theory. x
  • 19
    Choice and Chance
    Two people may have precisely the same motives and intentions: to kill someone. One succeeds and is found guilty of murder. The other misses the targeted victim or has a gun that misfires and is found guilty only of attempted murder. Their sentences end up being very different. Can that be just? We examine the contemporary debate over the role of "moral luck." x
  • 20
    Free Will and Determinism
    Everything we do seems to be determined by two factors: (1) our biological makeup, for which we are not responsible, and (2) our environment, for which we are not responsible. How then can we be held responsible for the things we do? x
  • 21
    Images of Immortality
    Would you like to be immortal? If so, under what conditions? In examining the question, this lecture draws on sources as diverse as novelists Charles Dickens, Peter S. Beagle, and Anne Rice, and philosophers Derek Parfit and Bernard Williams. x
  • 22
    Ethical Knowledge, Rationality, and Rules
    Is ethics essentially a matter of rules, or is it something else? If there are reasons why one consideration outweighs another, can those be made explicit? Our search for answers involves Piaget, Kohlberg, Ross, Aristotle, and Nagel, as well as analogies from linguistics and computer science. x
  • 23
    Moralities in Conflict and in Change
    If two moral worldviews are in conflict, how is any resolution between them possible? This lecture examines the question using John Ford's classic western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and also looks at comparisons between changes in scientific and moral worldviews. x
  • 24
    Summing Up
    This lecture summarizes the course in terms of overarching themes, sources, philosophical methodologies and techniques, and conclusions about values and their roles in our lives. x

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Your professor

Patrick Grim

About Your Professor

Patrick Grim, Ph.D.
State University of New York, Stony Brook
Dr. Patrick Grim is Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He graduated with highest honors in anthropology and philosophy from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was named a Fulbright Fellow to the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, from which he earned his B.Phil. He earned his Ph.D. from Boston University. Professor Grim is the recipient of several...
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Questions of Value is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 87.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A nice starting point in ethics As a former chair of our hospital's ethics committee I found this course a nice overview of ethics in general. The lectures were well presented, complete and never boring. However, as I've witnessed over the years, the "rationality" of theories all too often is overridden by the "irrationality" of real life and real people. I do wish a little bit more time would have been spent on why people deviate from doing the 'right thing" so often. None-the-less, the material in the course is uesful both on its own and as a spring board for further studies in ethics. You will not be disappointed, unless you are already knowledgable in ethics.
Date published: 2011-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb I give Dr. Grim high marks for his course on values. We should begin educating our youth in this sort of discourse as early as possible. Yes, these are deep questions but we are never the poorer for having explored them. I admit if I hadn't known Dr. Grim already had a life partner - I would have been in danger of knight in shining armor syndrome. I will watch this course again and again. Many thanks, Dr. Grim.
Date published: 2011-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from SOCRATES TO SARTRE AND BEYOND This review refers to the CD's. In a rather rare case with Great Courses, this particular series of lectures is only as good as what one wishes to put into it. It calls for a lot of hard thinking about some of the major issues mankind faces. While one may list a particular group of issues particularly vital to one's own situation, the questions raised by Dr Grim seem to be particularly germane today. We, in the West, believed mankind had developed beyond the savagery of religious differences that plagued post Reformation years in Europe. Now, however, we are faced with comprehending a set of beliefs that include fringes bent on the our destruction as well as proclaiming the joys of suicide when bringing death to nonbelievers. While it may be out of the mainstream of human aspirations, it is a real threat to our civilization with no apparent answers readily available. It is essential we peer into the heart of this evil, determine its values, and arrive at some answers beyond struggling with it through military or police force--which history proves won't work in the long run. In that context, I believe Dr Grim's lectures are timely and helpful in at least giving some tools to consider in confronting this mystery
Date published: 2011-05-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from waste of time This was so simplistic, and so repetitive, that I couldn't make it through more than the first 10 lectures. He has his biases (who does not?) but equates himself with Socrates (a "gadfly"), and he is far, far from that standard. In examining the foundation for ethics/morality, he makes ethical judgments on, for example, Kant's system, without seeming to realize that he is measuring Kant's system against a moral/ethical code that he hasn't acknowledged. (E.g., "Kant's system would allow X which is morally repulsive.") He never resolves the issue, nor does he admit that he hasn't resolved the issue, nor examine the problems that that raises. Those problems are extremely significant, as Sartre would be the first to admit. Then he tries to determine whether religion can serve as a ground to ethics. His two belabored arguments against it being a ground are straw men. He is fond of citing "the current philosophical consensus" but he either hasn't read, or doesn't want to mention, basic refutations of the arguments he asserts. For example, that heaven and hell (reward and punishment) make the choice of ethical conduct forced rather than chosen( because it is the 'right' choice) is simply foolish. The reward is (supposedly) immense, yet it doesn't convince most people (or we would have far more saints). Even St. Paul admits that he knows what's right but doesn't do it. C.S. Lewis makes the (fundamental) argument that the heavenly reward is intrinsic, that is, that the reward is a natural consequence of the action (rather like the satisfaction of getting an 'A' in contrast to having one's parents pay $5 for each 'A'). Perhaps Lewis is wrong, but Prof. Grim should at least acknowledge the argument. There is so much more than Prof Grim admits/ discusses/ reveals that, to me, this course should be entitled "Prof Grim's thoughts on how you should lead your life". I was looking for a good, thick minestrone of a course--this offered watered down broth.
Date published: 2011-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Course Ever I have most of the Teaching Company Courses and find most of them very good but this course stands alone at the top. The subject matter is extremely difficult but Professor Grim does an amazing job. This course is not for the light of heart or someone who wants to listen to something light with little substance but I think for those who devote the time and energy will find that this course will change their lives.
Date published: 2011-01-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Extremely irritating The write-up for this course states that the professor "has not shied away from controversy". That is exactly where I disagree. The professor does not once actually draw any conclusions. He says this school of thought says this, and that school of thought says that, but never once does he go beyond that to reach a conclusion. If you like an even-handed historical review, this course is for you. If you are looking for a call to action to lead an ethical life, you may find his treatment as irritating as I did.
Date published: 2010-12-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not up to TTC's Average No Teaching Company lecture series has ever been a complete waste of time for me; they have all left me with something new to think about. This was no exception, but I was disappointed in both the presentation and the content. Like others, I found Prof. Grim's style to be tendentious and, unlike some of the best lecturers for the Teaching Company, quick to show his own viewpoint. Still, his topic was broad and his material was comprehensive. I learned new things, so I'm happy to have spent the time it took to listen.
Date published: 2010-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Excellent discussion. I doubt that anyone will agree with everything he says - it's about values after all, not exactly a hard science - but it really gets you thinking just as a good course should.
Date published: 2010-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from flippin' briliant I'm a dedicated PhD student of psychology, and I think this course is excellent. You can learn A LOT of human wisdom (sorry for being pathetic) from each single part, I really mean it. I think even from general social sciences point of view, this is the single most pregnant and applicable body of conceptual work I've come along in a long time. Selected topics and pacing of the lectures are great, arguments are both rigorous and crystal clear, and they are always carefully separated from the opinions. I now finished nearly all of the lectures, and I consider most of them as extremely well spent time and money. Maybe I'll sound a bit boring in my ongoing enthusiasm, but let me take one last advantage of internet anonymity. I've written thesis on relativism in psychology myself, and it turned out to be a really complex topic, with levels of diversity and ambiguity few people can stand without making fast (and cheap) conclusions, often in advance. I changed opinion on the topic myself during my theoretical research, and it was not easy (in addition relativism has strong roots in my intelectual surroundings). The point of mentioning this is lecture #10, which I enjoyed (and value) IMMENSELY. Now, thank you TTC, thank you professor Grim, you earned my deepest professional respect.
Date published: 2010-08-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not bad This course was a reasonble overview of ethical issues. It was a good refresher, but I didn't feel it advanced my understanding substantially.
Date published: 2010-07-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from As a medical student doing a course on ethics I tried to learn a little bit more on the subject and so I bought this series based on some of the good evaluations I read. This was a huge mistake, particularly for someone on a tight budget. This is not a course on ethics; it doesn’t follow any sort of pattern I can identify except the author’s opinions. Prof Grim takes constant refuge on the notion of subjectivity to hide the fact that there is very little real content here; most of the analysis is shallow and sometimes really unfair. I don’t have any problem with his opinions, he has a right to have them, but I thought I was buying a lecture series dedicated to ethics and that was not what I received.
Date published: 2010-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Covers the waterfront of value I have purchased several courses. My interest generally runs to philosophy and the history of ideas. This is the first time I ever wanted to comment on a course. Grim's coverage of value is outstanding. I liked it so much and found it so useful, yes useful, that I think it should be a prerequisite to any college ethics class. Grim uses the work of the giants in philosophy, of course, but he also astutely draws from great literature and even the movies to make a point clear. Thanks professor!
Date published: 2010-06-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting but disappointing I have listened to or watched a number of other Great Courses programs and found them almost uniformly outstanding. This one, unfortunately, fell a notch lower for me. This was for several reasons. First, the lecturer seemed excessively repetitive, often repeating exactly the same phrase or forumation several times within a few minutes. I kept saying to myself, "OK, we got it. Let's move on." More importantly, I found a number of inaccuracies, inconsistencies, or lacunae that left me frustrated and unhappy. In some lectures, for example, the lecturer didn't clearly differentiate between "morals" and "ethics," a crucial distinction, it seems to me, and even used the words interchangably. He also gave rather short shrift, I thought, to religious bases of ethics. Though not a believer myself, I recognize religious beliefs as the basis for ethics for many people around the world. In one lecture, the speaker mischaracterized the "Golden Rule" and based on that mischaracterization went on to build a further argument. Obviously an argument based on a mischaracterization of a premise is likely to be faulty. I also was disappointed that, as in so many books and lectures on intellectual subjects, this series was entirely based on Western traditions and literature. It totally neglected, for example, the Confucian paradigm of ethics that has dominated the history of most of East Asia (perhaps 1/3 of the world's population) for 2,500 years. Finally, I failed to detect a common thread leading me through the various lectures toward a comprehensive history, theory, or practical program for determining ethical values. The lectures were interesting on their own, but did not seem to me to add up at the end to more than the sum of their parts. I would love to have the same, obviously knowledgable, teacher do a more comprehensive and focused series eliminating some of these conceptual problems.
Date published: 2010-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from First course purchased As a minister I studied ethical material in seminary, but nothing like this course. Understanding the different historical and philosophical therories has helped me in my counseling and prayer work. On a peronal level, the lectures showed me how I had shaped my own value system. I did not like everything I was hearing, in fact one theory made me downright angry I disagreed with it so much. I believe this course would be enlightening to almost everybody.
Date published: 2010-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More substance! Considering the number of thoroughly excremental courses on TTC that get 4+ reviews, I could not in good conscience award less than 5 stars for this little jewel. There is a lot of good to be said about the course. The breadth is illusory, because focus is on value, only covered from many angles. The professor himself seems to be a likeable person and an able philosopher. He is always careful to say "I think" when introducing personal opinion, which is a welcome change to certain economy professors on this site, who seldom find more than 1% of their world view as being up for debate. BUT. We need relation of the content to concrete happenings today. Replace the standard philosophical moral dilemmas and analogies with a conceptual and case evaluation of our media, economic, judicial and political system and international affairs. This is a great introduction to the perfect course, but it can not replace discussion of current events, things people have a direct relation to in some way.
Date published: 2010-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Surprisingly Practical My primary intention in taking TC courses is to catch up on all the essential material I missed during my pre-med and medical school years at the university. Practicality is a secondary consideration. However, I found Dr. Grim's excellent course to address both spheres, and I find myself applying these important ideas to the everyday problems of patients in my psychiatry practice. As I found in Dr. Grim's Philosophy of Mind course, the professor explores deep conundrums of ethics, morals, and the meaning of human life in a clear and succinct manner, bringing welcome nuance to questions most of us previously accepted as givens. His scholarship and erudition are outstanding, and he is generous with examples that are both scholarly and quotidian. Highly recommended for thoughtful people!
Date published: 2010-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from GREAT!! I really enjoyed this course. It is a wonderful overview of philosophy, and Professor Grim presents a wide range of topics concerning values, ethics and morals, offering different ways to examine our own values, while teaching the listener about the history of others who have been prominent in the exploration of these topics. I also enjoyed the subtle way his sense of humor appeared within the lectures, and the way in which he provided modern day examples of different ideas to make them easier to comprehend. I will look for other courses by this professor, and I feel that I have learned much from this course.
Date published: 2009-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from enjoyable class! Professor Grim has a pleasant voice and his presentation of the information is well-organized & interesting. He gives pertinent examples to illustrate the concepts he is explaining, and for the first time, I thoroughly understood "philosophy"....If only I could have had a professor like him when I tried to take the subject 20 years ago in college! I so enjoyed this course that I am ordering the other one which Professor Grim offers.
Date published: 2009-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought Provoking and Enjoyable This was another winner. I enjoyed Professor Grim's presentation style of the lectures, which were well organized. The course covers a lot of different aspects of values (ethics): some common examples (along with arguments pro and con), how one decides what they are, societal influences, and important philosophical questions about values such as relativism. In addition to discussing many different philosophers through history, there are also a lot of examples from literature and film, and several thought experiments. In addition, there is a lot of general philosophy woven throughout, such as how to probe for the real meaning of a question and argumentative falacies.
Date published: 2009-08-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from wonderful course This is a wonderful course. When I was young, I was deeply exposed to moral relativism, and never really got over it. It was not a good influence on me, karma-wise. This course helped me to have a more helpful understanding of "Questions of Value".
Date published: 2009-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging and Important I will listen again! In fact, I've already replayed 3 of the lectures. I'm a biologist with an interest in all the sciences. This is my first dedicated Values/Ethics course. Professor Grim held my attention and my curiosity throughout due to his content and his delivery. I especially appreciated his use of repetition and re-framing and re-phrasing. Ethics is a topic with which we all have everyday experience, so it's natural to take momentary thought-detours during the lecture, as a way of connecting the professor's subject matter to our own experience. Professor Grim instinctively pulls us back into his stream of thought via this re-phrasing. Besides learning a great deal about the state of the art of Values studies (drawing on anthropology, game theory, law and more), I gained gems of insight that will be personally useful to me as I navigate into my 60's. No less than a 20 year-old, and probably more so, I want live a life "of value." I appreciated Professor Grim's sharing his own views along the way, and pointing to areas needing further research. He presented alternative perspectives vigorously as well. And, he properly exposed theistic morality to examination and inquiry.
Date published: 2009-05-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Complex and Thought-Provoking This is a very good introduction to a topic rarely met, I suppose, outside of college philosophy classes. As a scientist, I have no formal education in philosophy (outside of what I have learned from TTC!), so perhaps I am not the best person to evaluate this course. Unlike some reviewers, I did not find any of the material superficial. I did find the various lectures a bit uneven, however. A great number of thought-provoking subjects are touched on here, many applicable to everyday life. I was especially intrigued by Professor Grim's clear distinction between "facts" and "values" -- something I now keep in mind whenever I watch to the network news. I also enjoyed the professor's discussions of philosophical computer modeling -- this was eye-opening! All in all, a solid 4-star course, just a notch below the best.
Date published: 2009-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent introduction to the Great Courses I thought Prof. Grim made an excellent job of choosing a level and breadth that suited me very well indeed. As someone who has always been interested in questions of a philosophical bent but didn't even do 101 philosophy at college it was a much appreciated set of lectures. Of course any philosopher would dismiss the lectures as too superficial for words - but one has to start somewhere and for me this somewhere was very well presented and many of the ideas have stayed with me over the last few years - I've listened to the lectures twice. I too noticed the difficulty Prof. Grim has in coming up with strong support for a number of religious points of view - I somehow thought that was a characteristic of most philosophers, that unthinking belief is precisely what they have chosen against. The fact that Prof Grim, while describing the various sides of topics without obvious "spin", has, and is clear about, his particular beliefs on many topics is open, honest, and helpful. I strongly recommend this course for anyone intrigued by philosophical questions but lacking formal education in philosophy. Of course it's not "in depth" but it is broad and far from trivial, just what I wanted and expected when I bought the course.
Date published: 2009-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great This is one of the courses I will have to return to again and again. For my purposes it was excellent. Having taken a similar, poorly taught course in college, I was not looking for a dry, dispassionate review of history with little evaluation or drawing of conclusions along the way. I wanted someone to help me navigate through the complex arguments of the philosophy of ethics while providing some assessments of their relevance to the lives we lead and the world we live in. Patrick Grim does that very well. This subject material is not trivial and the arguments require your full concentration. I had to keep the course outline handy for refreshing my memory--you can't simply view these lectures as entertainment. Patrick Grim has been accused of presenting a personal point of view in these lectures. He makes his own preferences clear before beginning his discussion, so there isn't any mystery about where he stands. As a student capable of reasoning and drawing my own conclusions that doesn't intimidate me and it shouldn't intimidate you either. Given the extensive historical context of the subject and the time available during this series of lectures, Professor Grim does a great job. I highly recommend this course. I'll also give other courses he has prepared special consideration in the future.
Date published: 2009-04-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from High School Debate Level Class Similar to a few other reviewers, I found this class the most disappointing of the TC courses I got so far. The professor somewhat pedantically and mechanistically presents not very thought provoking arguments, which don't seem to bear much relevance in real life. I found it a bit like listening to a high school debate, superficially interpreting what others said and driving simplistic conclusions from it. Not for me.
Date published: 2009-04-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Strong positives; stronger negatives Most TC courses are good (the vast majority), bad, or ugly. This is a combination of all three. First the good: Prof. Grim's discussions are in depth considerations of crucial problems in the philosophy of ethics. It takes thought and concentration to follow him, but it's worth it. (This is in contrast to the course on Free Will and Determinism, although that is not the prof's fault; there just isn't that much profound to say about free will.) Prof. Grim also provides enough background for you, should you be so inclined, to work through your own views in some depth and with non-trivial supportive arguments. He is also extremely articulate, enthusiastic, and organized. Now, the bad: Prof. Grim is also extremely tendentious. While he does make a half-hearted effort to present different sides of each issue, he generally makes it very clear that the "other" side has it wrong, and that he is in possession of the Truth. Obviously I have no problem with a philosopher having a point of view on a philosophical problem, but Prof. Grim usually does not give a fair hearing to opposing viewpoints, occasionally even implying that those who disagree are philosophically impaired. Because he is such a compelling and articulate speaker, it is easy to find yourself agreeing with him and realizing only later that the other side of the argument might be worth considering after all. As a couple of areas to consider, I found his arguments for objective values, and against immortality, to be particularly weak. Now the ugly: the discussion of Nietzsche in Lecture 17. Everyone agrees that Nietzsche's misogyny is an inexcusable blot on his record. Beyond this, however, Prof. Grim carries out a character assassination against Nietzsche and evidences a complete misunderstanding of his philosophy which are themselves breathtakingly inexcusable. This opinion requires a few specifics: Prof. Grim, as a prime example of Nietzsche's supposed anti-semitism, goes into detail regarding Nietzsche's argument that Jewish morality turned Roman virtue morality on its head. He completely misses the the point that Nietzsche is here paying Judiasm the highest complement! It is the sincere admiration that a defeated general expresses towards his victorious foe. Prof. Grim seems blissfully unaware of Nietzsche's unique approach to philosophical writing. Much more importantly, Prof. Grim's assertion that Nietzsche was an anti-semite is outrageous, utter nonsense. Neitzsche hated anti-semites with a passion. The twisting of his philosophy (including the notorious "blond beast" reference which Prof. Grim also entirely fails to understand) into pseudo-fascist nonsense was indeed the doing of his fanatically anti-semitic sister and brother-in-law after Nietzsche became insane. Finally, Prof. Grim accuses Nietzsche of being a racist - also an absurdly incorrect charge. Nietzsche was not opposed to particular races, he was opposed to racial nationalism, an entirely different beast, and a true evil, as the world continues to learn to its sorrow. (For those interested, I would suggest Nehamas's and Danto's books as starters. The Teaching Company also has a worthwhile course on Nietzsche, although I feel it tends to skirt the deeper issues.) Well, that's the best I can do. Despite its strengths, I cannot recommend this course unreservedly because of its tendentiousness and it's inexcusiblely wrong-headed portrayal of Nietzsche. If you do take it, *please* review it! I'd very much like to know other's opinions on all this!
Date published: 2009-03-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Quite Good I enjoyed this course because Prof. Grim discusses ethical theory, but from a perspective somewhat different from the traditional approach. Although he hits the major thinkers and schools (Kant, the Utilitarions, etc.) he also integrates his lectures with related topics such as anthropology and game theory. Unfortunately the course is marred by a very anti-Christian and anti-religious bias.
Date published: 2009-03-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Discussion Provoking Exercises in Doing Philosophy Watching this together with my wife we found it very thought-provoking - and more than that - very discussion provoking. While Professor Patrick Grim canvasses a vast range of philosophical history including many novel ideas not found in other courses - such as the fascinating WD Ross, Derek Parfait, Thomas Nagel, Bernard Williams and many others - the course is not so much a history of philosophy course as a course in how to 'do' philosophy through a series of challenging thought experiments; and this found us often pausing the DVD to have lengthy discussions about our particular views. One might see a negative in this in that the course did - as Engineer's review below suggests - highlight the limitation of an electronic format where there is not the opportunity for class-based interaction; to which I can only suggest that one watches this course with a friend! Presentationally, I enjoyed the clarity of the Grim's approach but I would have preferred he engage the camera - which he did only at the end of each lecture.
Date published: 2009-03-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Should appeal to more learning styles Professor Grim should adopt more of a briefing style of presentation and use more lists of points made and pictures of situations he describes. His oral presentation per se is excellent but the visual dimension should be exploited more in the video version. The second comment is that I missed interaction with the students which might be found in the best learning environments: questions/comments from the students and questions to the students.
Date published: 2009-02-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Decent, but a little dry at times I learned from this series, so it was ultimately worth the purchase, but having listened to some fantastic lectures by TTC, this seemed merely normal. Prof Grim offered a nice overview of value-related philosophy, but on occasionally gets bogged down in the logic. If you know you like this stuff, go ahead and buy it, expecting a few dry patches. If you are luke-warm on the subject but just want to learn, don't be afraid to fast-forward here and there.
Date published: 2009-02-21
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