HUM 400: Ethics, Spring 2023

A tale from The Decameron, by John William Waterhouse

Why did I post this painting? Read about how the wealthy passed the time during the Black Death pandemic, in early 14th century Italy. (Link)


Glossary of Terms Used in This Course

Zoom Link

Link to Sign-Up Sheet for Student-Led Discussion Days (Groups of 3)

Discussion Days Instructions

Open Access Textbook: Introduction to Philosophy: Ethics 

created by Frank Aragbonfoh Abumere, Douglas Giles, Ya-Yun (Sherry) Kao, Michael Klenk, Joseph Kranak, Kathryn MacKay, George Matthews, Jeffrey Morgan, and Paul Rezkalla; it is edited by George Matthews and Christina Hendricks, and produced with support from the Rebus Community. The original is freely available under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license at

Online Textbook (requires login): Ethical Issues in Six Religious Traditions, by Peggy Morgan and Clive Lawton, Edinburgh University Press, 2007

Online Textbook via CSUMA Library (requires login): Striking a Balance: A Primer in Traditional Asian Values, by Michael C. Brannigan, Lexington Books, 2010

Online Textbook via CSUMA Library (requires login): Politics: Made Simple, by J.R. Thackrah, Heinemann, 1987

Online Textbook via CSUMA Library: Ethics & Capitalism, by John Douglas Bishop, University of Toronto, 2000

Online Textbook via CSUMA Library: Global Ethics: An Introduction, by Heather Widdows, Acumen, 2011

Problem? Question? Something not working on the site? Email me:

Course Home

  • Monday, February 6: Polytheism: Hinduism

    Homework for Wednesday EISRT, Section B: Buddhism, part 1a. On Being a Buddhist (pp. 61-4); part 6 (in entirety, pp. 91-6). AND Striking a Balance, “Taoist Ethics or Ethos?” p. 136-149 and take Quiz 6.

    Dhanvantri, the Hindu God of Ayurveda (Health)
    A detail from a miniature painting in the Rajastani style, made by the artist LaLa in Udipur.
    The original uploader was F16 at Hebrew Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

    Here’s a recording of a healing mantra (chant) to Dhanvantari. When chanted it is said by some to heal the coronavirus, or anything that ails one., an AI that tracks text-based incidents of “Hinduphobia”

    Today’s article: “A Dharma Perspective on AI and Faith,” by Rajiv Malhotra,, 4/8/21

    Moving into polytheism, Hinduism is the closest we can get, but it’s not a completely accurate definition. EISRT says, “Unlike other world religions, Hinduism cannot be defined by a central authority or dogma deriving from one spiritual entity or one scripture. Hindus know the theistic concept of the one supreme deity, monotheism, and will often talk about God, while referring to a particular chosen Hindu deity. [See a list of Hindu deities here!] In practice, then, Hinduism is polytheistic and sectarian.” (354) Hinduism is one of the oldest world religions, and first introduced the concept of the interconnection of all things: gods/people/animals/trees/rocks work (we’ll see this next in Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism).

  • Friday, February 3: Student-Led Discussion

    Homework for Monday: Read EISRT, Section A. “Hinduism,” subsections 1. “Religious Identity and Authority” and 6. “Questions of Right and Wrong.” Take Quiz 5.

    Student-led discussion article

  • Painting of Abraham, father of many nations, by Il Guercino (1591-1666) Public Domain

    Wednesday, February 1: Revelatory Ethics–Islam

    Homework for Friday: none

    Did you know that Muslims consider Jews and Christians to be part of their religious paradigm? Yes, these religions have a lot more in common than most people think. All three are monotheistic and revelatory (via a prophet or prophets); all three base ethical behavior on similar sets of commandments; and all view ethics through the lens of piety.

    Judeo-Christian Commandments

    Comparison of the Abrahamic religions

    The Commandments or Prohibitions in Islam, from Al

    Comparison of the Abrahamic religions

    Today’s article: “AI’s Islamophobia Problem,” Vox, 9/18/21

    1. What is the ethical situation?
    2. What stands to be gained or lost in this situation?
    3. Who are the potential winners and losers?
    4. How would the different sides of the argument argue that their position is the “right” or “moral” one?
  • Monday, January 30: Revelatory Ethics: Judeo-Christianity

    Homework for Wednesday: Read Ethical Issues in Six Religious Traditions (EISRT), Section D: Judaism and Section E: Christianity. Take Quiz 4

    The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (poem), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1797)

    Today’s Song: “Biblical Love,” a gospel song generated by AI, sung by “JC”

    Today’s video: “Artificial Intelligence and the Tower of Babel,” the C.S. Lewis Institute

    Interesting article about the Jewish golem & AI

    1. Will the rise of AI strengthen or weaken religion as we know it?
    2. Can a machine “know” God? Is a facsimile of knowledge close enough, or is something essential missing?
    3. One Judeo-Christian argument against AI is that man is made in God’s image–computers aren’t; therefore, computers shouldn’t be granted equal status. Do you agree?
    4. Another argument is that mankind’s uniqueness is in his/her calling–to assert dominance over the world and to seek God. That will never change, and machines do not possess it. Therefore, we have nothing to fear from AI. Do you agree?
    5. Is AI in danger of becoming a religion?
    6. What role do human relationships play in religious worship and faith?

    EISRT will outline some of the basic ethical tenets of Judaism and Christianity. Both share a part of the same holy text: The Bible. The Jewish God of the Old Testament is all about following His rules, notably in the Ten Commandments (see Glossary for a link to the list) handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai. What happens to people when they don’t obey God’s commands? Divine retribution (e.g. expulsion from the Garden of Eden, flood), and possibly punishment after death. Once Jesus comes along in the Christian New Testament, a kinder, gentler side of the deity is revealed. Themes of love and forgiveness of sin set a new tone. You can see how Aquinas’s Natural Law Theory makes Christians feel that they are flawed, but loved parts of a divine machine.

  • Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam, 1508-1512. Wikimedia Commons

    Wednesday, January 25: Revelatory Ethics

    Homework for Friday: Read the first student-led discussion article (posted here tonight by 10 pm)

    Ethics is so much easier when someone else lays down the rules for how to behave, because all one has to do is

    Respect the authority (metaethical assumption = The Authority Exists)

    Follow His/Her rules (metaethical assumption = Human Rules are Insufficient)

    When a code of ethics comes from outside of the individual–for example, when a deity hands down inscribed stone tablets on a mountaintop–we call it “revelatory.” Think of a game show, when the host pulls back a curtain to display the prize–surprise! Such is the mysterious, divine nature of religious ethics.

    Today we’re looking at the Western revelatory traditions of Judaism and Christianity, and two concepts that underlie them: Divine Command Theory and Natural Law Theory.

    First, we have Divine Command Theory and the famous dilemma (here’s a short video description) that results from it. This dilemma comes–like so many great things–from the Ancient Greek philosopher Plato. I won’t ask you to read Plato’s 2000-year-old original dialogue, but please check out this modern adaptation (watch with subtitles on–it goes fast) as a cute and creative way to not only understand the Euthyphro dilemma, but to get a sense of how Socrates vexed the people of Athens with his passive-aggressive rhetoric…known today as the Socratic Method. More on that later.

    A little more complex is Thomas Aquinas’s Natural Law Theory, which attempts to settle the dilemma by investing all of God’s creation with moral purpose from the get-go. God has given people the power of reason, so they can discover this moral purpose on their own…they don’t necessarily need to believe in God or know of Him at all to learn their moral purpose (though God still gets the credit for it!). In His divine omniscience, God knows how best to act, and He’s programmed us to imperfectly strive toward His ideals. If you’re confused, here’s a video that sums up the idea.

    Today’s discussion reading: “Is Artificial Intelligence a Threat to Christianity?”, The Atlantic, 2/3/17

  • Monday, January 23: Dilemma Day! The Trolley Problem

    Homework: Read Chapter 2 of ItPE, “Can We Have Ethics Without Religion?  On Divine Command Theory & Natural Law Theory?” and take Quiz 3 

    “Congratulations!” To see this and many more trolley problem memes, go here.

    Today, we’ll look at one of the most famous and studied ethical dilemma.

    There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track.

    You have two (and only two) options:

    1. Do nothing, in which case the trolley will kill the five people on the main track.
    2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

    What is the right thing to do?

    What if:

    1. The one person on the tracks is your child?
    2. There’s no switch, but you can push a car onto the tracks with a lone driver inside?

    Quick review on metaethical frameworks:

    Realism: The view that morality is objective, that “there are mind-independent facts about ethics that are true and binding, even if we have beliefs to the contrary.” (ITPE, 6-7)

    Descriptive Relativism: “Moralities and ethical codes are radically different across cultures–and we can observe this.” (ITPE, 7)

    Metaethical Relativism: “No standard exists beyond a culture to prescribe good or bad behavior. Thus, culture is king. […] moral truths are actually only true relative to specific groups of people.” (ITPE, 7-8)

    Normative Relativism: “…because no objective, independent standpoint from which to evaluate ethical codes exists, no culture can justifiably say that its morality is objectively superior.” (ITPE, 8)

  • Friday, January 20: Realism vs. Relativism

    Homework: none

    Q: How would the different schools of moral relativism interpret this use of AI?

    Q: Would a metaethical relativist find it fair to allow an AI painting to compete with an “original” painting in a contest? Why or why not?

    Q. A moral realist in favor of AI-generated art might argue that those who don’t approve of it are simply lacking in knowledge about how it’s made. What do you think of this?

  • Friday, January 13 (OMG): Discussion about Discussions

    Homework: Read Chapter 1 of Introduction to Philosophy: Ethics (ItPE). “Aren’t Right & Wrong Just Matters of Opinion?  On Moral Relativism and Subjectivism.” Take Quiz 2  before class on Wednesday.

    The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University has a handy pdf for “Ethical Decision Making,” and today we looked at just the first two steps: first, we must be able to recognize the ethical issue(s) in any situation. We should ask ourselves two questions: What stands to be gained or lost in the situation presented? And who, according to the author, are the potential “winners” and “losers”–aka “stakeholders”? The next step is to gather and verify as much evidence as we can to support claims from the different viewpoints involved (a good piece of writing always will provide sources). Only then can we most effectively consider what actions and outcomes might be right or wrong, and for whom.

    Let’s talk about a close reading strategy for our discussion days.

    First of all, groups should submit their articles 48 hours in advance. Email a link to me and I’ll post it here for everyone to read. Everyone else:

    1. Read once for basic comprehension.
    2. Read it again, marking the text as you go: underline key words/ideas, mark things you do or don’t understand, anything that seems to have an ethical or moral dimension.
    3. Let’s discuss. I have questions!

    Today’s article: “AI-Generated Art Won A Prize. Artists Aren’t Happy,” New York Times, 9/2/22

    Q: Is it morally wrong to use AI to generate art and then expect it to have the same creative status as an original painting? Why or why not?

  • Wednesday, January 11: A Rationale for Less Biased Information

    The Ring of Gyges

    Is your news biased? Here are two well-known media bias charts, which I’ll employ in presenting the most “centric” of articles for our discussions. Some of you may ask, “But couldn’t these interpretations of bias be biased themselves?” Of course they could! Bias is natural, and in small doses it doesn’t significally distort the evidence presented. It’s like dressing on a salad: it shouldn’t be the main ingredient of what you’re reading, but can add a lot of flavor to the experience.
    (Our library has a handy page about avoiding bias when you are reading or conducting research. It’s actually a companion guide for EGL 220: Critical Thinking, but it’s useful for this course, too. Thanks, Library!)

    Did you know that you have a free educational subscription to the New York Times? Let’s get you set up with that.

    Google News is also good.

  • Monday, January 8: Welcome!

    Homework: Please review the syllabus and this website and take Quiz 1 on its contents by the start of class on Friday (1/13).

    I’m Dr. Chisholm (pronounced CHIZZ-um). You can call me “Dr. C.” Here’s a short video in which I introduce myself:

    In this ethics course, we won’t be spending our time together in the traditional lecture–>take notes format. Instead, we will discuss and debate articles that I’ve collected on the topic of the semester–this semester, we’ll be talking about artificial intelligence– and you will read and be quizzed on the reading material outside of class. This is called a “flipped classroom,” and the format allows us to treat our thrice weekly meetings more like a forum of sorts. Bring your coffee and get ready to engage in discourse!

    Please make sure to subscribe to this site so you get an reminder email every time I update (usually, once or twice a week):

    Important links are listed in the left margin of this page: first is the course syllabus, which is obviously full of important information.

    Under this is a link to a glossary of mostly philosophical terms. I’ll be throwing these around a lot; plus, they’re pretty great words to know, in general. When these words appear on this site, I will highlight them.

    There is also a sign-up link for Student-Led Discussions, and a handout explaining how to do these underneath.

    Under this are links to the textbooks for this course. These are all online, open source or library e-books (read: FREE) texts. All other reading or viewing materials will be linked within each weekly module. Links to each module’s lecture/readings/assignments will be posted on this page as we move through the semester. For each reading, there will be a multiple choice quiz using Google Forms (links will be posted each week). These quizzes are open-note, and you can take each one twice. Only the higher score will be counted.

    There’s a lot here! Don’t get left behind!

“Let this grisly beginning be none other to you than is to wayfarers a rugged and steep mountain.”
― Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron

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