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 5 out of 5 by from Really makes you think! I found this course to be extremely interesting. It really makes you think about things that you may have always taken for granted—our right to punish, for example.
Date published: 2018-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview of ethics This is a great overview of ethics. I have never taken any ethics courses so had no idea of all the areas in life that ethics actually touches. Almost completed the 24 lectures and looking forward to listening again. I can't remember any of the lectures being boring however I must admit that the ideas caused me to ponder ideas that they introduced me to. Maybe this is not the best ethics course (I don't know as I have not taken any others) but listening to this is a wonderful way for me to spend my precious time.
Date published: 2017-11-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too light in content Some of the views offered are simplistic. I think Great Courses learners want subject matter that is presented fairly and completely. Personal beliefs have a place in teaching, but can go too far. As one example of this, there is a consistent bias against religion. More balance on this and some other topics would have improved the class. On the positive side, the professor did include illustrative examples of interest and did organize the class well.
Date published: 2017-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Very Best of the Great Courses My wife and I bought this course to catch up on modern thinking about ethics. It did not disappoint us! This course reminded me of a general philosophy course that I attended at the University of Arizona, taught by one Dr. Knipe. I had to take a humanities course and this was the only one not filled under our registration system. I expected a dry as dust series of lectures, but was very pleasantly surprised. Knipe did a fantastic job of lecturing and was the only professor that I had during nine years at three institutions who received a standing ovation from his class (which was composed of 400 students!) Professor Grim is very much like Knipe in his presentations and in our opinion the very best of a great series of lecturers in your courses that we have bought to date. His clear and fair lectures are a model for teaching complex ideas in philosophy, and indeed in any subject. As a former professor myself I was early on impressed by the need to explain the history of any subject in order to introduce the concepts. Grim does this masterfully. Would I recommend this course? Absolutely and without reservation!
Date published: 2017-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have enjoyed and have learned more about Questions and the importance of Value in a difference prospective. A review we all need to give thought too.
Date published: 2017-03-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An interesting course Good lectures on topics to think about. Would recommend it for anyone who simply wanted to understand his or her own values, and self, better.
Date published: 2017-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Kind of like your friend's cooking? I've read over some of the negative reviews of this course, and after consulting my deep, ruling center, I've decided that I do not agree with them. I first read them and I thought, "man, did I miss something here? I actually liked this course." Three weeks later, I came to the conclusion that I simply had a different reaction. I found these episodes clear and informative. There is a nice balance of moral theory (e.g. Kant, Mill), contemporary evidence (e.g. Ford Pinto), anthropology, and if my memory is reliable, Lucretius. I think Lucretius was mentioned. One example that stands out, months after listening to this course, is the argument that claiming that a human life has infinite value might entail serious problems. I had the audio option, so I don't know what the video was like. I did like Patrick Grim's voice. I usually dislike similes, but his voice was like crushed velvet sprinkled with gold sparkles. I think the audio option is probably sufficient, but you'll have to make up your own mind on his one. I can't make your decisions for you. Not that you're asking. But if you were, I would say, "Look, Mike, I've told you my judgment, but this has to be your own, personal decision." One reviewer objected to Grim's hatchet job on Nietzsche. It's clear that Grim doesn't think much of Nietzsche as a philosopher, but even so, I thought he was charitable about what he did appreciate. If you like Nietzsche, that's cool. Now you've got another perspective to consider when evaluating his ideas. It's kind of like when your friend doesn't like your cooking and says, maybe use less salt. Well, it's not exactly like that, but maybe you see my point. If you do, then you're ahead of me. I don't know what I'm talking about, but if I listen to more philosophy episodes from The Great Courses, maybe I'll gain greater clarity. Maybe even enlightenment, but I don't want to be too optimistic.
Date published: 2016-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Broad-ranging, clear and well-reasoned As philosophy courses go, this was excellent. The professor knows his subject well and organized it so that each lecture was self-contained, for the most part. He was very clear-spoken, with an authoritative tone and arguments that were easy to follow. I was surprised at how many interesting topics came up that you wouldn't find in a typical ethics course: What makes a life worth living? Can we put a monetary value on life? Do we have free will and if so, how? Are our values objective or relative to our culture? Is immortality desirable? My only substantive criticism involves Lecture 23, where his discussion of Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" goes off the rails because he overlooks the role of "normal science" and anomalies in Kuhn's theory of how thinking systems change. Some negative reviews of this course faulted the professor for being secular and academic in his approach, but that's exactly what I expected - and what I got.
Date published: 2016-11-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb course This course is a very interesting, broad review of a fascinating subject, discussed by a person with impressive academic credentials and extensive knowledge of a subject he clearly has spent much time thinking about and studying. He points out at the start that one will not always agree with him, and part of the value of the course is the challenge that comes with thinking through why one does or doesn't agree. Actually, after having listened to it twice, I would say that for me the worth of this course was less about the useful facts and concepts taught (although there are many) and more about the thinking stimulated as a result of learning about them.The usefulness of 'thought experiments' was particularly instructive.
Date published: 2016-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Questions of Value: Is this course of any value? I bought this one on a bit of a whim. I had another course from Grim that was very good, and thought on that basis mostly I would give this one a try. Was NOT disappointed. Grim is phenomenal for explaining ideas clearly and just being so interesting. He comes across as pretty dry and like an old book come to life in audio form - but he will grow on you and has so much substance behind what he is saying, you can't turn it off. Very thought provoking course, I've listened to it three times already.
Date published: 2016-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Best of the Great Courses Audio CD Review This is the best of the dozens of Great Courses I have watched or listened to. I routinely lend it to friends as the exemplar course in my quest to spread the good news of the Teaching Company. Biggest selling points: 1) Dr. Grim distills abstruse concepts down to their essences. Moreover, he does so in such a manner as to make them practically useful in daily life. 2) As a corollary of the first point, there were times when it was as if Dr. Grim were talking to ME. I frequently listen to the Great Courses while walking. There were a handful of moments when I stopped in my tracks as I found myself on the verge of entering into a discussion with the lecture. I have had this phenomena reported back to me from several people to whom I had leant the course. 3) Dr. Grim delivers the materiel in an extremely humorous, deadpan style. I acknowledge that all may not appreciate his style, but it works for me. There were moments when he had me laughing out loud – and this within the context of classes on some inherently non-humorous materiel!
Date published: 2015-11-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Thought Provoking Professor Grim initially comes off a bit dry and dull, but his style quickly grew on me. He's sort of the consummate Philosophy Professor and his lessons and points were very well done. I feel confident that I learned what I was looking to learn in this course & I will likely go back to it many times over the years. I should point out that I'm not religious at all, and this course addresses the topics of Ethics and Morality from a secular viewpoint. In fact, Professor Grim specifically refutes the religious views on these topics in many instances, but respectfully so in my mind. I appreciated that personally, but if you have any ideas of viewing this course with hopes of having a religious worldview validated, you may wish to take a pass. If you are religious and you'd like to hear "the other side" on the other hand, there's probably no better option. There are challenging and thought provoking points, but he never stoops to condescension or dismissiveness. I would definitely recommend this course to anyone interested in the Philosophy of Ethics.
Date published: 2015-10-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Limited view of "value", slow moving, redundant Dr. Grim seems almost bored during his lectures no enthusiasm. Most of the other course presenters are excited about their discipline No visuals. Many examples are trivial & simplistic. His idea of "value" is very limited & narrow. He ignores the value of: love, beauty, compassion, wonder, spirituality, feelings, friends, etc He reads from many people, but with no display of what he is reading. The pace is very slow & redundant. He seems to think that only things that can be measured can have any value. His narrow view is sad to see from a "philosopher". After several lessons, I gave up. am returning it.
Date published: 2015-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Still quite substantive! Request updated edition I took this course when it was first released, and just returned to it after going through a lot of other material (audio and written) on ethics. As a result, I fully expected this introductory series to seem too basic or superficial. But there's still quite a lot to chew on! True, many of the early lectures seem designed for people who haven't studied ethics before. Key points are repeated perhaps more often than necessary, and those who don't share the professor's analytic and secular perspectives may find less to value here. But Prof. Grim is a very compelling storyteller and can enliven even the simplest material. His lectures on personal life choices are especially thought-provoking and immediately applicable to one's own circumstances. He teases apart the different types of relativism in a very illuminating way (which isn't done often enough). And it’s a pleasure to hear him dismantle the 'speculative anthropology' of thinkers like Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, suggesting that their ‘state of nature’ is basically a fantasy. He certainly doesn’t take things at face value. The course rises to another level entirely in lectures 19 and 21-23 when Grim immerses us in the messiness of ethics, questioning whether moral guidelines can ever be precise, or rule-governed, or easily articulated, or complete. This is hardly beginners' material. And in the amazing lecture 21, the best use of thought experiments I've ever heard, he shows how thinking about immortality can help us decide what's important in our own finite lives. Like several other reviewers I was mystified by lecture 13, in which he tries to show that values could exist in the universe even if valuers like us never did. (See the review by StanfordPhD for a detailed critique of this lecture.) The problem arises, I think, because terms like 'subjective' and 'objective' imply that only two positions are possible on the nature of value. And in his understandable desire to avoid 'crude relativism,' the idea that individual preferences are the sole basis for value, the professor seems to endorse the idea that values can be absolute or 'out there' in the cosmos. One way out is simply to recognize a middle ground, an inter-subjective or social realm where many values are established and refined. This may not seem 'foundational' enough for some (even for some secular philosophers!), but nothing important need be lost by conceding that values are ultimately tied to valuers in some sense. We can still make moral progress, strive for pan-cultural agreement when possible, and even extend our circle of concern beyond humans if we wish, without insisting that values have to be part of the fabric of the universe. Besides, as Grim points out in another lecture, we've already given up on foundationalism in mathematics and science, yet life goes on.... Another point of contention is his portrayal of Nietzsche in lecture 17, but I'm less bothered by this since it's not the main point of the discussion. At the same time it's refreshing to hear a relatively balanced depiction of Kant, who is often either overpraised or over-criticized in surveys like this. The bottom line is that there's so much good material here that this course calls out for a revised and possibly expanded edition. No doubt Grim has a lot more to say on these matters, and in fact has already demonstrated that. His lecture on free will in the Philosophy of Mind course is a clear improvement over the corresponding lecture in this course; it probes deeper and advances his arguments further without losing anything of substance. In a second edition I'd like to see greater coverage of virtue ethics, all the rage these days, but is it a fully developed system on its own or merely a supplement to other schools of thought? Also, the lecture on punishment would feel more complete if other theories were mentioned (punishment as rehabilitation, for example). On the theme of moral pluralism, I'd like to hear him discuss other advocates of this approach (Bernard Williams, Isaiah Berlin) as well as those who argue for a unity of value (like Ronald Dworkin). Can we make a case for a universal moral 'grammar' that children learn from an early age, like language? Or, at the other extreme, is it best to give up on moral principles entirely and just judge situations on a case by case basis (moral particularism)? Finally, it would be nice to see some recent research touched upon. For example, can primary emotions like disgust be a basis for ethical values? Do the popular 'trolley problems' teach us anything about everyday ethics, or are they merely interesting exercises in themselves? And when talking about immortality, I'd love to hear Prof. Grim comment on Samuel Scheffler's conception of a 'secular afterlife' (a fascinating idea, if you're not already familiar with it).
Date published: 2015-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Grim is a very good explicator. I was interested in what he said about Ethics in a Religious context, in Lecture 6. One theory on that is: Those who close the Gospel Bargain are not without self-interestedness in that transaction but their ultimate destination rests upon a righteousness imputed to them, their own unrighteousness being vicariously paid for, and not upon the quality of their ethical behaviour. But they are called to a life of Godliness, performing some ethical and good works that were predetermined that they should do them, before the foundation of the world. I don't think that a 100% good, ethical life or anything close to that % age is possible for human beings at large.
Date published: 2014-12-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Another Plato Lover Unfortunately, this course bases the term "Value" on Plato's writings which Prof. Ken Binmore (of Game Theory And The Social Contract) describes thus, "In modern terms, Plato was a fascist who thought that we all so need a leader that nobody should even 'get up, or move, or wash, or take his meals' without permission." And this is the man that most of the west bases its morality and philosophy on including this course. I would call this course "Questions Of Value Based On Nothing." Also, the term "Value" is never evaluated. It is simply assumed that the term has meaning rather than offering an actual reason for this assumption. This is a philosophy course, so it ought use that most vital philosophical instrument, logic. But it doesn't. It assumes that if the instructor says a thing has value, that thing has value. Including the term 'Value' itself. Value by fiat is not useful. I was bummed. I have several Teaching Company courses and this is the only course I've ever panned.
Date published: 2014-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Course of Value Audio streaming format. Living in an extremely complex world with a myriad of governmental, economic, judicial, religious and cultural systems raises, on a daily basis, the need for a system of values that allow us to navigate life in the most noble and ethical way. This was the my motivation in purchasing this course. I was not disappointed. Dr. Grimm is an articulate and effective speaker who raises ethical issues and questions of values that nag us from the day we are born. If the pursuit of these questions, he systematically addresses various thoughts and theories brought forth from the ancient Greek philosophers and modified or challenged by the greatest minds since those times. Although often complex and daunting, Dr. Grimm leads us to understand the nature of a value, allowing us to make better choices, choices backed by logic and ethics and a concept of right or wrong -or nearly so. The lectures are focused and sermon-like, without religious overtones. I found them both stimulating -in a soothing rational way. This is a five-star course that I will review often and I'm sure you will also. Best regards, j.k.h.
Date published: 2014-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent course I would give this course 6 stars if I could! The title "Questions of value" lead me to believe that this course would be a discussion on "right" and "good" in a gray world and it delivered! I have taken dozens of Great Courses looking for answers but this course made me aware of questions we all should ask but perhaps have not been able to formulate on our own.
Date published: 2013-08-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pedantic, Downbeat Tone but Still Interesting The first eight lectures were disappointingly pedantic considerations of dull topics, developing unnecessarily elaborate arguments for obvious points. By the ninth lecture, however, the topics addressed became much more interesting, and it was the latter half of the course that really saved it for me. I found myself disagreeing more often and more intensely with Professor Grim than with most other lecturers I have heard in the Great Courses series, though sometimes his challenging views seemed to be interesting departures rather than just based on simple errors or mistaken assumptions. Overall, it is an intellectually worthwhile course, though Professor Grim's downbeat lecturing style darkens the tone unnecessarily.
Date published: 2013-07-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Brings up lots of personal questions Professor Grim, like others have pointed out, may not be structured, may be too opinionated, may be controversial, but I enjoyed that. I wasn't bored. He challenged me to think about values and question some of my own approaches to life and its intricacies. For presenting a challenge, he earns 4 stars.
Date published: 2013-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best of TGC's! I love this course and disagree with about 87% of the lecture's views but that's what it's all about. I'm smarting from the dozens of mental welts inflicted by this Gadfly and its all good. Too bad TGC's don't have a discussion form for the courses they offer (only open to those who've purchased the course) I'd bet a form attached to this course would be packed!
Date published: 2012-10-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from OK if you are into philosophy The lecturer does a good presentation and is systematic in his approach, and it is not a bad philosophy course, but I am coming to the conclusion that unless you get a really riveting philosopher like Daniel Denett, (not in Great Teaching Courses) philosophy is altogether too wooly for my tastes, but clearly as the other reviews show it suits some.
Date published: 2012-09-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Low on axiology, sloppy on ethics I found this course quite disappointing because I was looking for something that it was not: a course on axiology (the philosophy of values, of good and bad). Instead, it is a mainly a course on ethics (the philosophy of good and evil, a subset of axiology). Specifically, the course is a survey of intriguing ethical questions, with a few highlights from the valuation of human life and living. I believe my expectation was reasonable, since the overview of the first course explicitly says, "Although ethics will be important to the course, these lectures are better thought of as a course in the broader discipline of axiology." Granted, ethics is an important subset of axiology, and Grim does cover some important related axiological topics like "what is a good life?" However, how can a course that claims to cover axiology ignore such fundamental questions as: * What is beautiful versus what is ugly? * What is useful versus what is useless? * Why is truth superior to falsehood? When might it not be superior? * Are all opinions equally valid? Why and when would some opinions be worth more than others? The Great Courses has at least one other course devoted to ethics "Quest for Meaning: Values, Ethics, and the Modern Experience", which I have not listened to, but the TOC looks little different from Grim's course here. I was looking for a course in axiology, and got a course in ethics. If that were the only issue, I might have nonetheless enjoyed the course. Grim's presentation is excellent and engaging, and his choice of topics, while scattered, is very intriguing. I love his little stories about philosophers' lives, which make them seem more human than what only their intellectual arguments would convey. I tried hard to enjoy this course, and got as far as Lecture 12 (halfway). Unfortunately, I felt that Grim's treatment of his topics was too often rather sloppy, such that I lost confidence in his ability to accurately convey the subtelties of all the issues he presented. There are numerous examples when I felt that his presentation was sloppy, but I will briefly describe just two: * In Lecture 6 (Thoughts on Religion and Values), Grim argues against the possibility that God can be a reliable source for our ethical decisions. He basically argues based on Plato that if God is good because He is holy, then good must be distinct from God. Here's the sloppiness: Plato did not argue about God; he argued about gods in the Roman pantheon. In that context, the idea that the mutally contradicting gods could be a source of objective goodness was logically infeasible. More importantly, Grim completely dismissed the fact that the biblical argument for God's source of goodness is: "Be holy because I am holy. I am Yahweh." While Grim does not need to agree with this view, he was sloppy to not even consider it, since it is the most compelling argument that theists do, in fact, present. * In Lecture 12 (Evolution, Ethics, and Game Theory), Grim equates the tit-for-tat strategy to the golden rule, and then discusses the dilemmas that its evolutionary and game theoretic implications present for ethics. This is incredibly sloppy (even though he does eventually argue that there is no dilemma). The golden rule is "Do to others as you would have them do to you"; tit-for-tat is "Start nice, then henceforth do to others as they have done unto you". These are very, very different ethical principles, thus to equate them and argue based on such equivalency is simply sloppy. I had quite a number of other cases where I found his argumentation sloppy. Although I enjoyed listening to him (he is an excellent presenter), the topic is not really what I'm interested in, and too often he handles it sloppily. Thus, I don't recommend this course.
Date published: 2012-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Wonderful Opportunity to "do" some Philosophy [Audio Version] This course seems to have had mixed reviews, which I think may be due to two main reasons. 1). Unlike most TC courses, the subject matter is not presented chronologically, it is by topic. Those who thought the course was going to be a survey of ethical theories through the ages, will not be getting that in this course. I think what you get for your money is actually better than that, and as mentioned by Prof. Grim in the final lecture, even though it is not a "history of ethical philosophy" course, most of the big name ethical theorists are covered. 2). Those who feel that ethics and religion are inextricably linked will also be disappointed, and possibly angry. Be wary of that in the negative reviews. The course is so rich, it's tough to know where to begin. Suffice it to say the lectures tackle essential subjects, spell out the issues, with possible leads towards resolutions, in a way that I have never heard expressed as clearly. I did not find all lectures equally compelling, and some are definitely more Philosophy with a capital "P" (i.e. what you'd expect to read in a philosophy book), than others. I personally enjoyed these ones more than the "axiology" (what is the "good?") type lectures. The lectures on theories of the right and theories of the good, ethics and religion, relativism, and genealogy of morals were worth the price of admission alone. Loved his no-punches-pulled views on Neitszche (I wonder what Profs Solomon and Higgins would think of THAT?). Lecture 13, on the possibility of objective values, I found least convincing. I'd strongly recommend ignoring the nay-sayers and try the course for yourself. If you are the type of person who enjoys TTC's Philosophy and Intellectual History courses, I think you will get a lot from Prof. Grim's clarity of approach.
Date published: 2012-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I thought it was worth it. A brief glance at the earlier reviews shows that this course has met with a mixed reception. I think this may have something to do with the hodge-podge nature of the course. The course doesn't cover any pre proscribed area of study, but is rather a seminar put together by the professor which reflects his own particular areas of concern and sources and views. Overall, I thought the course was fairly successful in its survey of ethical systems from ancient times to the present. One section which I found really weak was the section on the "life not worth living". The professor didn't provide much insight here. The sections on modern evolutionary views of ethical systems was interesting, however. I like the way the author frequently cites science fiction and fantasy literature in his analysis. While I agree that this is not the strongest course I've had from the Teaching Company, I did feel that it was profitable, in a lite, entertaining sort of way.
Date published: 2012-03-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Dissatisfied I agree with both Poochnik and OakHolly. I was less than impressed with this presentation. What I heard was a rather tepid explanation of the stated topic. The professor certainly has a strong anti-religious perspective that is undisguised. Rather than an explanation of the values of ethics this course was a meandering mess I just could not follow nor desired too. I don't believe I will be investing in anymore of his courses.
Date published: 2012-02-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A valuable course, with some drawbacks I first listened to this course a couple of years ago in audio format, and just finished this course again in video format. In general, I have found that the video format of TTC courses always adds something to my learning that the audio-only version does not. But this course is an exception -- the visual content is insignificant, and even in places where I expected it (which is why I bought the course in video format), it was not to be found. I am quite surprised that TTC has shelved the video versions of courses like History of Science (by both Lawrence Principe and Frederick Gregory), where the visual content was useful, and is still continuing the format for courses like this one. Wonder who's making these bad decisions. Prof. Grim is an excellent teacher, very clear in explaining deep concepts in a simple language, without using too many words. Listening to him requires concentration, because the ideas are often deep and abstract, which is why I found that I could grasp the material equally well by just listening to his voice, closing my eyes, instead of seeing him just stare at the camera and getting distracted by the movements of his hands. He often repeats his explanations in a paraphrased way, which makes it easier to understand and follow the structure of his arguments. I am going to spend much of my review in discussing some negative points about the course, but please don't misunderstand this to imply that the course is not good. I highly recommend the course for its strong positives, many of which have been outlined in earlier reviews, and I would not be adding any new information by repeating those here. But I felt that the negatives I found were not mentioned in earlier reviews, so I am going to write about those here: 1. I thought the first and the last lectures had a lot of verbosity that was totally unnecessary, and the last lecture seemed almost like a repetition of the first. In TTC's course on the Art of Teaching, the professors emphasize that the first lecture should not just talk about what the students will do in the course, but should also start the actual material. That advice clearly is not followed by other professors in TTC's own courses! 2. The course does not have a clear structure from beginning to end. It seems more like a stream of disconnected (although important) questions covered one by one with no overall pattern of progression of any kind. Prof. Grim tries to defend his approach by likening the course to a rope, and quoting Wittgenstein, he says that the strength of a rope does not lie in any one strand, and in fact no single strand may continue from beginning to end, yet the different threads of a rope together make it strong. The lectures of this course are better likened to a spaghetti than to a rope, and I would say that even with all the messy arrangement of individual pieces of spaghetti, the course is still quite tasty overall. A more structured approach would have made the course even better. But lack of structure is certainly a drawback. 3. I just could not make any sense of the arguments offered in lecture 13 on the Objective Side of Value. The overall question that Prof. Grim dealt with was: "Are things OF value merely because they are valued BY someone? Or are there aspects of value that go beyond that?" and the professor's answer was YES, and he offered three arguments in favor of such a conclusion, none of which seemed to me to lead to that conclusion. For example, in getting us to think about the example of sunset in the Grand Canyon, the professor employs G.E. Moore's "Method of Absolute Isolation" and asks us to imagine two universes, one in which that thing exists (and ONLY that thing exists, so assume that there are no conscious entities in the universe), and another in which there is "perpetual night" (again, assume there are no conscious entities in the universe). Quoting Prof. Grim "If you were a god, would you choose to create one of those universes rather than the other?" But wouldn't such an imagination still be a subjective judgment about which universe of the two is preferable? How does that prove that the beauty of the Grand Canyon is objective? Doesn't beauty still have to be valued BY us, by imagining ourselves to be a god and then outlining our SUBJECTIVE preference? In fact, Prof. Grim says "If there can be only one of these, is there one that would be better? Now personally, I think the answer is yes, it is the first universe filled with contrasts of light and color, filled with beauty... Now, if that is the correct verdict... it appears we do have something of value beyond valuers." It is ironical that the professor himself says "Personally, I think the answer is yes" and in the very next sentence, says the value of the universe is "beyond valuers". How can personal, subjective assessments like these prove that something is of value independent of any valuers? The second argument (dealing with the "magic button") had the same flaw as the first one. The assessment of whether to press the switch or not is a subjective assessment. The third argument, which also relied on G.E. Moore's works, was (and I quote from the guidebook here): "Pleasure taken in someone else's pain taints the pleasure... Here again, what matters is not just subjective states (of pleasure in the mind of A and pain in the mind of B) but the relationship between them. That relationship is an objective matter beyond the subjective states themselves. Here again, there is an objective side to value" But all that this argument shows is that the value of A's pleasure depends on the FACT that it's based on B feeling pain. (A is feeling happy that B is in pain) This only goes to show that values can depend on external facts about the world. This does not disprove a claim like "Things are of value because they are valued BY someone" which was the original question that the lecture was supposed to be on (see above). As profound as I found many of his other lectures, Prof. Grim was certainly not clear and persuasive here. I also felt the same about Derek Parfit's argument that he presented in the lecture on Images of Immortality. Perhaps the works of these writers (Moore and Parfit) when read directly may be more persuasive (I have not read them yet), but at least the presentation of their arguments by Prof. Grim was not at all persuasive to me here. I noticed that another reviewer had issues with Prof. Grim's take on Nietzche, but unfortunately, I don't know much about Nietzche at this stage to judge whether Prof. Grim was fair to him or not. I noticed that some reviewers had problems with Prof. Grim's shallow treatment of religious arguments and his atheistic views. However, to be fair to the professor, he did qualify when discussing issues pertaining to religion that he's giving a warning that you may not agree with him on those issues, and that it's perfectly fine as long as you understand the reasons for your own arguments. He also said that he won't be going into the sophisticated arguments in the philosophy of religion. Since he made such qualifications explicitly, I think it won't be fair of me to hold it against him, although in the absence of such a qualification, I would have taken it as another negative point. I think the value of his arguments in such cases is in getting you to think about your own reasons, not that you have to come to the same conclusions as him. He does say in the first lecture that if you agree with everything he says, there is probably something wrong. For a different take on ethics, from a professor with a theist background (which would bring its own set of biases of course), you can refer to the Modern Scholar's course on Ethics by Peter Kreeft, available from audible. I think it is always good to listen from multiple sources (preferably from different backgrounds) and then form your own conclusions.
Date published: 2011-12-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Course, But Some Caveats I enjoyed the lectures quite a bit. A truly amazing amount of material was covered in the 12 hours. Ideas were brought up that I will probably ponder for years. However they sometimes seemed a bit ‘light-weight’. For example, the introductory lecture starts with the standard philosophy professor’s admonition about the drawbacks of an unexamined life. Thus, according to the lecturer the examined life must be superior since it gives more possibilities. Apparently Mr. Grim has not considered the fact that approaching the deeper aspects of life in the deliberative academic manner advocated, and displayed in his lectures, does not allow the possibility, on a psychological basis, of, for example, being a devoutly religious person, or a member of any one of a number of cultural groups that many people might consider to be ‘primitive’. The professor seems to have the sort of bias, based on his ‘genealogy’, that he warns about in Lecture 17 In a number of important cases the professor simply did not resolve the issue. For example, we obviously want to consider Ford Motor Company to have acted immorally in the case of the Pinto exploding gas tank. This is certainly what the lecture on this subject suggests. However, the case was never made. To make this case one would have to give some ethical weight to the value of commercial enterprises making autonomous decisions based on their own interests, as did Ford in this case. This is, after all our capitalist system, which we as a society accept with all of its flaws, based on the idea that it works ‘overall’. Besides irritating references to a presumed philosophical consensus, Professor Grim often set up ‘straw man’ arguments. In the area of religion he never mentioned some very strong arguments that have been made over about 2,000 years of Christian ‘apologetics’. In the interests of full disclosure, I am not religious, and am probably somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist. In regard to punishment, the professor mentions only two theories, retribution and deterrence, both of which he subjects to relentless analysis. This seems to be an egregious omission of the theory of punishment as a means of ensuring social stability. Under this theory, the state deals out punishment as an anonymous third party to minimize the vigilante/blood-feud practices between members of society that would otherwise ensue. A brief look at the historical evolution of justice systems, as well as societies where the state is weak, and the rule of law is as well, suggests that this well known argument has some merit, and certainly as much as the two that the professor mentions. The professor seems to hate Nietzsche, and minimizes the importance of his work. This is apparently based on Nietzsche’s alleged anti-Semitism and the idea, probably true, that his philosophy advanced the ideas of Nazism. The ‘hatchet job’ on Nietzsche does not reflect well on the professor’s intellectual impartiality. Again, in the interests of full disclosure I am of Jewish heritage, so my respect for Nietzsche’s ‘opus’ is probably not because I am an anti-Semite or favorably disposed to Nazism. In sum, with the caveats mentioned above I would recommend this course to anyone. However, someone with a significant background either in philosophy or some allied discipline might feel that they did not get their intellectual ‘money’s worth’.
Date published: 2011-12-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Poor Course This is by far the worst course TCC I have yet listened to. Grim should be honest with his listeners. He is presenting a limited view of morality and ethics, one that comes from a modern perspective (this makes sense since Grim's primary interest lies in the philosophy of the mind). While his point of view is perfectly acceptable as an item for argumentation, it is misleading to suggest the course provides an overview of morality and ethics. Lectures 1-5, start off strong. In fact, Grim creates a nice framework to think about the general issues. After that, however, filling in the framework proves too difficult for him. He is burdened by his acceptance of a number of philosophical assumptions (mostly notably those around subjectivism, empiricism, and materialism) and only presents arguments which accord with those assumptions. All other ideas are avoided, making the course thin, at best. Lectures 17 and 23 are quite good. The rest of the course, should be labeled, "warning, this course may make you think humanity has had only two original ideas about morality in the last 3,000 years." I would avoid this course.
Date published: 2011-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I found this course to be excellent with the content following closely the topics promised in the course description. Dr. Grim spoke with logical clarity and in a non-pompous manner.
Date published: 2011-12-02
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