1. Cultural anthropologists such as Malinowski and animal behaviorists like Frans de Waal depend on empirical observation of subjects to fashion their conclusions. More and more ethicists today are also taking this “empirical” route, partly because they have become persuaded by colleagues in other disciplines that our knowledge of ethics can be increased by fieldwork and partly because of their embarrassment at the errors of “armchair philosophers” of the past who didn’t know their way around the real world. Your assignment is to observe and report on the “mating rituals” of your species in a public place where couples are likely to gather—a mall, the movies, a coffee shop, or similar place. Spend at least an hour observing as many couples as you can, and if possible, “vary your sample” in terms of age, race or other factors. How many conclusions about the behavioral patterns of males and females can you generalize from your observations? Does your “study” seem to confirm or refute any of the themes we studied in this module? Write up your “study” and its conclusions in a 750-word essay.
2. In this module, we have touched on only a few of the significant figures who have contributed to primate and evolutionary ethics. Using sources outside the course text and lectures (you may use reputable internet sources), write a 750- word essay on the ethical significance of one of the following authors and the specified text. You do not have to read the text itself (although you may choose to get it and read the introduction or first chapter) since you may be able to refer to reviews or reference sources such as The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Here are the choices:
Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Ethics
Thomas H. Huxley, Evolution and Ethics
Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
Robert Wright, The Moral Animal
Peter Singer, A Darwinian Left
Frans de Waal, Good Natured
Matt Ridley, The Origins of Virtue
Focus less on biographical information about the author or his general project and more on the arguments that he offers for why we should investigate ethics in the context of anthropology, primate behavior, evolutionary theory or genetics.
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