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What's Good on TV?: Understanding Ethics Through Television

ISBN: 978-1-4051-9475-4
320 pages
October 2011, ©2011, Wiley-Blackwell
What

Description

What's Good on TV? Understanding Ethics Through Television presents an introduction to the basic theories and concepts of moral philosophy using concrete examples from classic and contemporary television shows.
  • Utilizes clear examples from popular contemporary and classic television shows, such as The Office, Law and Order, Star Trek and Family Guy, to illustrate complex philosophical concepts
  • Designed to be used as a stand-alone or supplementary introductory ethics text
  • Features case studies, study questions, and suggested readings
  • Episodes mentioned are from a wide variety of television shows, and are easily accessible
  • Offers a balanced treatment of a number of controversial ethical issues including environmental ethics, animal welfare, abortion, homosexuality, capital punishment, assisted suicide, censorship and the erosion of values
  • Includes a companion website at http://whatsgoodontv.webs.com
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Table of Contents

Preface xi

The Pilot Episode: Ethics and Popular Culture 1

What is Ethics? 1

How Do We Make Progress in Ethics ? 9

What Does Pop Culture Have to Do with Ethics? 29

Series I. Is Anything "Good" on Television?

The Nature of Moral Value

Episode 1: Truth and Nihilism in Ethics 33

Introduction 33

The case for nihilism 39

J. L. Mackie, “The Argument from Queerness,” from Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong 39

The case for realism 41

C. S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity 41

Case study: The Office (UK), “Work Experience,” series 1 43

Study questions 45

Alternative case studies 46

Episode 2: Normativity – Social, Legal, and Moral 47

Introduction 47

You promised to play by the rules! 50

John Rawls, “Legal Obligation and the Duty of Fair Play” 50

What does my neighbor have to do with my goodness? 55

John Stuart Mill, “Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual” from On Liberty 55

Case study: The Sopranos, “College,” season 1 57

Study questions 60

Alternative case studies 60

Episode 3: God and Ethics 61

Introduction 61

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? 65

Plato, Euthyphro 65

Does God make the law or does he just let us in on it? 69

C. S. Lewis, from The Problem of Pain 69

Case study: Law & Order, “God Bless the Child,” season 2 73

Study questions 75

Alternative case studies 76

Series II. What's Right and Wrong? Ethical Theory

Episode 4: Moral Relativism 79

Introduction 79

Are we merely products of our culture? 83

Ruth Benedict, “A Defense of Ethical Relativism” 83

Relativism is unjustified 86

James Rachels, “The Challenge of Cultural Relativism” 86

Case study 1: Deadwood, “Childish Things,” season 2 91

Case study 2: South Park, “Death Camp of Tolerance,” season 6 93

Study questions 95

Alternative case studies 95

Episode 5: Deontology 97

Introduction 97

Kant’s theory of moral duty 98

Immanuel Kant, from Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals 98

Case study 1: Arrested Development, “Not without My Daughter,” season 1 105

Contemporary Deontology 109

Case study 2: Friends, “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS,” season 5 109

Study questions 112

Alternative case studies 113

Episode 6: Consequentialism 114

Introduction 114

Mill’s theory of utility 115

John Stuart Mill, from Utilitarianism 115

Case study 1: Battlestar Galactica, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” season 1 127

Case study 2: The Twilight Zone (Newer), “Cradle of Darkness,” season 1 129

Study questions 131

Alternative case studies 132

Episode 7: Virtue Ethics 133

Introduction 133

Aristotle’s theory of virtue 134

Aristotle, from Nicomachean Ethics 134

Case study 1: Foyle’s War, “Enemy Fire,” set 3 143

Case study 2: Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Hide and Q,” season 1 147

Study questions 151

Alternative case studies 152

Series III. But What's Right When . . . ? Practical Ethics

Episode 8: Environmental Ethics 155

Introduction 155

Two Approaches to Environmental Ethics 157

Silly environmentalists, nature is for people 160

William Baxter, “People or Penguins” 160

Case study 1: Northern Exposure, “Zarya,” season 6 162

Case study 2: Family Guy, “It Takes a Village Idiot, and I Married One,” season 5 165

Study questions 168

Alternative case studies 169

Episode 9: Animal Welfare 170

Introduction 170

Two Dead Ends 171

Three Approaches to Animal Welfare 173

Animals are morally valuable, but not as valuable as adult humans 179

Mary Anne Warren, “Difficulties with the Strong Rights Position” 179

Case study 1: Bones, “Finger in the Nest,” season 4 182

Case study 2: House, M.D., “Babies and Bathwater,” season 1 184

Study questions 187

Alternative case studies 188

Episode 10: Abortion 189

Introduction 189

One Common Assumption 190

Six Fallacies to Avoid 191

Judith Jarvis Thomson and the Violinist Argument 197

Mary Anne Warren and the Space Explorer 200

Abortion is wrong for the same reason that killing adults is wrong 202

Don Marquis, “Why Abortion is Immoral” 202

Case study 1: Law & Order, “Dignity,” season 20 203

Case study 2: Maude, “Maude’s Dilemma – Parts 1 and 2,” season 1 206

Study questions 208

Alternative case studies 209

Episode 11: Homosexuality 210

Introduction 210

Arguments Against the Permissibility of Homosexuality 213

Arguments for the Permissibility of Homosexuality 216

Additional Concerns 220

New natural law theory and the morality of homosexuality 220

Stephen Macedo, “Homosexuality and the Conservative Mind”; Robert George and Bradley Gerard, “Marriage and the Liberal Imagination” 220

Case study 1: Law & Order, “Manhood,” season 3 225

Case study 2: Family Guy, “You May Now Kiss the . . . Uh . . . Guy Who Receives,” season 4 227

Study questions 230

Alternative case studies 231

Episode 12: Punishment and Capital Punishment 232

Introduction 232

Theories of Punishment 234

Arguments For and Against Capital Punishment 241

Capital punishment is unjustified 244

Jeffrey Reiman, “The Justice of the Death Penalty in an Unjust World” 244

Case study 1: Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Hunted,” season 3 246

Case study 2: Oz, “Capital P,” season 1 249

Study questions 252

Alternative case studies 253

Episode 13: Assisted Suicide 254

Introduction 254

A Few Terms 255

Three Moral Arguments Against the Permissibility of Assisted Suicide 256

Moral and Practical Arguments for the Permissibility of Assisted Suicide 260

The good of society depends on assisted suicide 261

Daniel Callahan, “Aging and the Ends of Medicine” 261

Case study 1: Picket Fences, “Abominable Snowman,” season 2 262

Case study 2: Scrubs, “My Jiggly Ball,” season 5 266

Study questions 268

Alternative case studies 269

The Epilogue: Does TV Erode Our Values? 270

The Moral Influence of Television 270

The Debate Over Censorship 271

A Kantian Reason not to Censor 272

Case study 1: Family Guy, “PTV,” season 4 273

Utilitarian Reasons not to Censor 274

Moral Reasons to Censor 275

Exploitation, Objectification, and TV 277

Case study 2: Toddlers & Tiaras (any episode) 279

Reality TV and Psychological Harm 283

That’s All Folks! 286

Study questions 286

References 288

Index 295

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Author Information

Jamie Carlin Watson is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Young Harris College, Young Harris, Georgia. He has published in the fields of philosophy of science and popular culture and philosophy. His current research is in the epistemology of a priori justification.

Robert Arp taught aspects of philosophy at several colleges and universities, including Southwest Minnesota State University, Florida State University, and Saint Louis University. He has published works in many philosophical areas, including philosophy of biology, philosophy of mind, and popular culture and philosophy.

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The Wiley Advantage

  • Utilizes clear examples from popular contemporary and classic television shows, such as The Office, Law and Order, Star Trek and Family Guy, to illustrate complex philosophical concepts
  • Designed to be used as a stand-alone or supplementary introductory ethics text
  • Features case studies, study questions, and suggested readings
  • Episodes mentioned are from a wide variety of television shows, and are easily accessible
  • Offers a balanced treatment of a number of controversial ethical issues including environmental ethics, animal welfare, abortion, homosexuality, capital punishment, assisted suicide, censorship and the erosion of values
See More

Reviews

“In short, this is an excellent book: pleasant and easy to read while imparting essential philosophical Knowledge.”  (Times Higher Education Supplement, 24 May 2012)

 

Clear, concise, yet comprehensive ethics textbook - informative and entertaining, with references to a wide variety of television comedies and dramas - a first-rate instrument for enlivening the philosophical classroom!

Jason T. Eberl, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

 

Philosophers often seek ways to "meet students where they live", to find familiar examples from daily experience that will give traditional theories new relevance. Jamie Carlin Watson and Robert Arp do this in a way that clearly communicates ethical theory and moral reasoning, in a book that is both rigorous and genuinely enjoyable to read.

Christine James, Valdosta State University

 

This thoughtful, entertaining introduction to ethical philosophy rescues philosophy from the arid realm of academia and smartly incorporates it into the accessible land of television and everyday life.

Dan Dinello, Columba College Chicago

 

Linking classic and contemporary ethical theories to the likes of Star Trek and South Park, this unique book gets the pedagogical use of pop culture just right. What a fun and exciting way to teach and learn ethics!

William Irwin, King's College Pennsylvania

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