PHIL-185 Philosophy & The Wire
Fall for 2017-2018
No faculty information available
The idea of responsibility pervades social life. Being responsible, holding responsible, taking responsibility – in addition to being parental buzzwords, these notions are a central part of the ordinary fabric of living as an agent among others. But the ordinary is just as often puzzling as not, and philosophy has a rich history of scratching beneath a surface where things make sense to find that there are questions whose answers we have merely been taking for granted. The focus of this class will be some of the many faces of responsibility staring up at us from beneath the surface.
Our inquiries will be organized by two different perspectives on the concept of responsibility. First, we will investigate what is required for the possibility of responsibility. Challenges here arise in the form of the metaphysical problem of free will, the nature of agency and intentional action, coercive or corrosive influences over choosing and acting, and the problem of moral luck. Discussion of the possibility of responsibility will touch on key issues in metaphysics, philosophy of action, moral psychology, and experimental philosophy. Second, we’ll look at different aspects of responsibility in practice, including punishment and forgiveness as ways of holding an agent responsible, loyalty as a way of being responsible to others, and collective responsibility as a way of being responsible for more than what one accomplishes exclusively under her own power.
‘The Wire’ is a critically acclaimed HBO television series that ran from 2002-2008. It chronicles urban plight in contemporary Baltimore through the experience of a large and diverse cast of remarkable characters: drug dealers, drug addicts, police, teachers, politicians, longshoremen, journalists and lawyers, among others. Because it encompasses such a large range of intricately developed characters interacting in complex ways, the series is a realistic and compelling setting in which to launch philosophical inquiries into the idea of responsibility. This is an important distinction about the focus of the class and the way in which it will use the series. The class is not about ‘The Wire’; instead, the class will use ‘The Wire’ as an environment for philosophical work, a dramatic and shared vehicle for scratching beneath the surface of the everyday concept of responsibility to find questions we hadn’t thought to ask and to begin to answer them.
Interested students should be cautioned: the series is emphatically TV-MA; it is violent (often graphically) and vulgar (often intensely and explicitly). Between them, the cast of characters will combine to perform all manner of violent acts and say offensive things about just about every type of person, and the series itself may be found offensive for how it portrays certain groups or individuals. Critical reaction will always be welcomed, but since viewings will be a mandatory part of the class, strong disinclination to experience this sort of unpleasantness should rule out enrollment.
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