Teaching Comparative Perspectives in Ancient Ethics


How can philosophers unfamiliar with non-Western philosophies teach courses on ancient ethics beyond the canons of classical Greek and Hellenistic philosophy? In this talk, we will present our experiences of teaching two separate undergraduate courses in ancient ethics from a comparative perspective—a comparative perspective that includes Confucian, Mohist, Daoist, Buddhist, Hindu, Egyptian, and Mesoamerican philosophies, in addition to classical Greek and Hellenistic ones. We will start by discussing some of the challenges that non-specialists face in teaching courses from this kind of comparative perspective, and how instructors can overcome those challenges to confidently and competently teach different ancient ethical philosophies. We will then turn to different options for structuring an ancient ethics course, including a region-based approach and a topic-based one, and we will present sample syllabi that instructors can use for each. We will highlight ways to draw out common themes across time and place, and explain how instructors can show both similarities across different regions and internal diversity within regions (combatting a “West vs. the Rest” narrative). Next, we will present various topic-specific activities and assignments that instructors may use in class to engage their students. Finally, we will discuss ongoing self-education strategies and feedback mechanisms to help instructors sustainably and conscientiously incorporate new material into their courses. By the end of this piece, non-specialist instructors should have a reasonable template on which they can base their own diverse and inclusive ancient ethics course.

July 15, 2019 — July 16, 2019
Manchester Metropolitan University