Philosophy 45, Advanced Topics in Ethics:

Self-Deception, Bad Faith,
False Consciousness, & The Problem of Ideology

10:30 - 11:50 TTh Peter Suber
Carpenter Hall 316 Fall 1997-98

The reading for this course consists of a few hand-outs and the following books:

  1. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Lewis White Beck, Macmillan, 1956 (original 1788).
  2. Mike Martin, Self-Deception and Morality, University of Kansas Press, 1986.
  3. Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, trans. James Strachey, W.W. Norton, 1961 (original 1927).
  4. Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, trans. Louis Wirth and Edward Shils, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1936.
  5. Raymond Geuss, The Idea of a Critical Theory, Cambridge University Press, 1981.

The following book is recommended but not required: Brian McLaughlin and Amélie Oksenberg Rorty (eds.), Perspectives on Self-Deception, University of California Press, 1988.

I've created a course home-page containing a collection of hand-outs and course-related web links at If you find any other relevant links, let me know and I'll add them to the collection.

Works and pages cited for a given day will be discussed or presupposed that day in class and should have been read in advance. Works and pages in brackets are recommended but not required. Unless stated otherwise, assignments are due at class time.

The Beck translation of Kant's second Critique exists in two forms, one from Macmillan (in print, assigned for class), and one from Bobbs-Merrill (out of print, but available used). The pagination differs slightly from one edition to the other. I give the Kant assignments first using the Macmillan page numbers and then, when they differ, using the Bobbs-Merrill page numbers.

Week 1. August 25-29

Week 2. September 1-5

Week 3. September 8-12

Week 4. September 15-19

Week 5. September 22-26

Week 6. September 29 - October 3

Week 7. October 6-10

Week 8. October 13-17

Week 9. October 20-24

Week 10. October 27-31

Week 11. November 3-7

Week 12. November 10-14

Week 13. November 17-21

Week 14. November 24-28

Week 15. December 1-5

Week 16. December 8-12

Work Summary

Case Studies

Find a first-person account of a moral decision or act, analyze it for traces of self-deception (or bad faith, false consciousness, ideology), and assess the significance of those traces of self-deception, if any, to the moral worth of the decision or act. I can suggest some examples, but half the fun will be to find your own. The accounts will be more useful if they justify or defend the action, not merely describe it.

Write for an audience that has not read the first-person account you are using. Summarize (paraphrase and quote) the aspects of the account on which you base your diagnosis and analysis.

We'll spend two days of class time doing a case study together (Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience") in Week 6. One of your case study papers will be due before those discussions, the other one after.

The risk in these papers is not so much misinterpretation or weak argument, but the potshot. Before you accuse your author of self-deception, be sure you have some persuasive evidence. (On this point, see Martin's advice at p. 37.)

Long paper

Ask a sharp question about any aspect of self-deception (bad faith, false consciousness, ideology) in ethics, reconstruct the answer of one of our authors, with its supporting argument, and then evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the author's position and argument. For more details on the assignment, see the generic hand-out.

I'll want your question, and the author you will be working with, a week before the paper is due.

You may incorporate work done in your case studies, if relevant.

Kant paper

Here the assignment is the same as in the long paper, but the author must be Kant and the topic question need not concern self-deception.

If you give me a self-addressed, stamped envelope with your final paper, then I will mail it to you after I grade it. Otherwise you'll have to pick it up next fall.

Oral presentations, leading discussion

The first hour of most Thursdays is reserved for student presentations and discussions. The assignment is for the presenter to offer a 15-20 minute presentation on a problem, question, position, or argument in the reading for that day. The presentation should include a reading or interpretation of the text for that day, but may go well beyond it, e.g. to criticism, applications, significance, influence, and so on. I encourage presenters to draw on library research, although it is not necessary. After the presentation the same student will lead the class in a discussion of the issues raised in the presentation. For more information, see the hand-out on giving presentations and leading discussions.

Sign up for a Thursday as soon as can; they will be allocated first-come, first-served. You will present and lead alone, not in teams, unless there are not enough slots to match the enrollment. You may have to go more than once if there are too few students to fill every slot.

On the day of your presentation, please submit a short (2-4 pp.) paper on the issues, questions, or material of your presentation, and the questions or plan for your discussion afterwards. They must be typed and cannot receive extensions. They are described more fully in the presentation hand-out.

Please observe these aspects of the presentation:

Grade Weights

The final grade is based on these elements with these weights:

two case studies 20% (10% each)
Non-Kant paper 25%
Kant paper 20%
oral presentations 10%
participation 25%

"Participation" includes (1) attendance, (2) preparation, (3) quality of oral contributions. All assigned work must be completed to pass the course.

Return to the course home-page

Ribbon] Peter Suber, Department of Philosophy, Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374. Copyright © 1997, Peter Suber.