Joseph A. Murphy

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Ethics Department Chair

Dwight-Englewood School

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I teach a one semester mandatory ethics course to tenth graders at Dwight-Englewood School where I also teach two, one semester electives in philosophy: Introduction to Western Philosophy and Introduction to 'Eastern' Philosophy -- primarily ancient Chinese ('ametaphysical') and Indian (metaphysical) philosophies. I also teach two courses in Spanish: Ancient Philosophy and Modern Philosophy. I use Fernando Savater's book '"Historia de la FilosofĂ­a sin temor ni temlor" (History of Philosophy without fear or trembling).

My ethics course is a minor, but required course at Dwight. It is academic, but personalized. The grade for the course is added into a student's GPA. The course is "intimate" in that there is a lot of student-centered discussion based on case-studies and scenarios. I introduce the course with Steven Pinker's NYT article, "What makes Us Want to Be Good?" "The Moral Instinct (1/13/2008). Then I sometimes read a very short essay by James Rachels entitled "Cultural Relativism" and use some of Simon Blackburn's ideas on moral relativism because relativism seems to be the first ethical/philosophical idea that my students articulate in response to the general concept of ethics or moral reasoning. I am now also using Sam Harris's concept (and a lot of his wording) of a scale of well-being, which I articulate and use in my classes in the following way. I view moral behavior on a scale of well-being and human flourishing on one end and ill-being and human misery on the other. The goal of human moral behavior is to help move one's self and all of those in whom one has any influence out of and as far away as possible from ill-being and human misery and as close to well-being and human flourishing. This image seems to be very powerful for my students. Finally, and for the bulk of the course, I use Arthur Dobrin's book entitled "Ethics for Everyone. At the end of the course I ask my students to write a short essay, using what they have learnt in the course to decide whether each one of them sees one's self as primarily a Virtue, Consequentialist or Principled ethicist and why.

I have created a middle school model to teach ethics at Dwight. It is called 'HomeBase Ethics.' I write monthly short stories in which an ethical problem is dramatized, as it were. Following the story is a set of provocative questions. The teacher leads the class by moderating discussion.... The stories and method will become a book for Middle School.

Member of the American Philosophical Association.
International Philosophy Olympiad US Delegation Leader.

Updated as of 14 February 2011.

Recent Publications
American Pre-College Philosophy, International Philosophy Olympiad This blog is for philosophers, teachers who'd like to learn to teach AP-CP, interested students, and friends. It is also an American IPO source site. I blog and invite both national and international guest bloggers to write on relevant ideas &...
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Dwight-Englewood School

Current Position

Ethics Department Chair

Highest Degree

M.A. in Hispanic Studies at Universidad de Salamanca, Spain

Research Interests

High School and Middle School (secular) ethics programs,
Secular ethics,
in general,
especially where neurology and philosophy come together as expressed,
for example,
in the current work of Sam Harris as expressed in his new book,
'The Moral Landscape',
Pre-college philosophy,
History of Western Philosophy,
Spanish Philosophy,
History and Sociology of Spain. International Philosophy Olympiad - I'm the US Delegation Leader since IPO Vienna 2011. IPO Oslo 2012. I am now working on building an infrastructure and organization for a US national (& inspire local & regional events) philosophy essay 'competition.'

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