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PHIL 380 (Topics): Love, Compassion, and Empathy

PHIL 380: Love, Compassion, and Empathy Fall 2013 

Course Description

This is a course on social justice and the role that emotion can play in helping both to reinforce and undermine oppression. It is inspired primarily by Alison Jaggar’s important paper, “Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology” which relies on a number of thick concepts that we will explore throughout the rest of the semester. 

The course will be divided into three parts. In Part 1 we will analyze oppression, ideology, system justification theory, the relation between ignorance and privilege, hermeneutical gaps (gaps in our collective understanding), and whether someone can have a responsibility to feel and believe certain things. In Part 2 we will analyze what beliefs and emotions are, as well as to think through their relationship to knowledge. We will go on to explore standpoint theory (the epistemological position that says some social locations are epistemically privileged) and consider whether those who occupy different social locations can come to see the world from a different epistemic standpoint via tools like compassion, sympathy, empathy, and love. Finally, in Part 3 we will consider some problems with those tools and will complicate the project of coming to see the world from a standpoint that is not your own. Specifically, we will consider a number of concerns Elizabeth Spelman raises in her book, Fruits of Sorrow: Reframing Our Attention to Suffering as well as the fact of intersectionality and what Linda Alcoff calls “the problem of speaking for others”. Finally, we will return in our final week to reconsider Jaggar’s paper “Love and Knowledge”. 

Our efforts will not be just an academic exercise in which we merely study what others have thought. Instead, you will be joining an active and ongoing effort to better understand a world shot through with injustice and how we should act in response to it. In other words, in this course, you are going to be doing philosophy. My primary goal for our time together this semester is to help you develop and refine your critical voice. I believe that you have important things to say. I want this course to help you say them. 

Required Course Materials 

There is one assigned book for this course: 

Spelman, Elizabeth. Fruits of Sorrow: Framing Our Attention to Suffering 

All the additional assigned readings as well as the syllabus will be available on the class Blackboard page, which you can access by going to blackboard.smcm.edu. All of the additional readings will be in .pdf format. I will update the syllabus frequently over the course of the semester. Before starting the reading for the following week, make sure you are using the most up to date version of the syllabus (which I will upload to Blackboard as I change it). 

I will send emails to the class frequently. If you prefer that I use some email address other than your St. Mary’s address, you should let me know immediately. 

Course Requirements 

Your grade will consist of a collection of points you can earn over the course of the semester. Although your grade is out of 100 points, there are 105 possible points you can earn (although it is unlikely that anyone will earn anything close to that many). 

Here is the breakdown of the assignments: 

First paper 25 points 
Second paper 25 points 
Short papers 50 points (5 points each x 10 = 50 points) 
Class Participation 5 points 
105 Total Possible Points 


You must write and turn in two long papers in order to pass the class. They should be 12-15 pages in length. In writing the long papers your job will be to explain and critically engage a particular philosophical position. Your papers must be informed by both our class discussion and relevant assigned texts. That means, for instance, that if you raise an objection that we defeat in class or that an author considers (but that you ignore) you will not be given credit for that objection. Your long papers should be submitted by email. 

The 10 short papers should be roughly three pages in length. Your job in each will be to critically and philosophically engage all the week’s readings. The short papers are due by 5 p.m. on Friday of each week in the box outside my office. You should pick and choose which papers or weeks you want to take off. You may write more than 10 short papers and I will count the 10 best grades towards your final grade. 

For all of your short papers, you must turn in stapled hard copies at the beginning of class on the day they are due. 
I will not accept electronic versions of your short papers except in cases of emergency. Emergencies do not include printer problems or forgetfulness.


You are not required to talk in class, but students who are active participants will receive up to 5 extra points towards their final grade. 
That does not mean that if you talk a lot you will receive any participation points. Instead, your job is to productively contribute to the class discussion, which will sometimes mean asking good questions, and other times will mean providing answers to my questions or your colleagues’ questions.

All students should be respectful of each other, of the authors, and of me at all times. Failure to do so will negatively affect your final grade.
If you choose to sleep, text, play on your laptop, talk to others (but not the class) or otherwise fail to engage productively with the class discussion, you should not expect to receive any participation points.


You are not required to come to class; I do not take attendance. However, doing so will most likely dramatically improve your chances of doing well on your papers. Since I do not take attendance you need not tell me why you have missed or will miss class (although you certainly may if you wish). 

Office Hours 

I strongly encourage you to come and meet with me during my office hours or by appointment if you are having trouble with the class. I also just simply like talking about philosophy and getting to know students, so I would be glad to have you stop by even if you feel comfortable with how you are performing in the class. My office hours are TBD. My office is Margaret Brent 205. 

Students with Disabilities 

If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability and anticipate needing to make use of them, please contact me early in the semester so that we can work together to help you succeed in the course. Additionally, my office is on the second floor. If you are unable or prefer not to climb stairs, please let me know and we will arrange to meet elsewhere. 

The Writing Center 

"The Writing Center, located in the Library Annex, offers free consultations for student writers at all levels and in all disciplines. No matter what you're writing and no matter where you are in the writing process (generating ideas, drafting, revising or proofreading), the peer tutors in the Writing Center can assist you. These tutors are friendly students and also excellent writers with special training as writing consultants. They would not grade or correct your papers; instead, they'd coach you and help you become a better writer. I encourage you to use the Writing Center as much as possible. You can make a one-time or weekly appointment with the Center by visiting their website, www.smcm.edu/writingcenter and clicking 'Schedule an Appointment.' At the same website, you can find helpful resources on many writing-related topics.” 

What Does a Philosopher Look Like? 

Like many disciplines in the academy, philosophy has historically been dominated by white men. Stereotype threat is a psychological phenomenon that causes people to underperform in a discipline in the face of a stereotype that says that “people like them” aren’t good at that discipline. As a result, the stereotype becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Luckily, it is also the case that telling students that there are no actual differences in performance in a class can defuse the anxiety that the stereotype creates and subsequently undermines those tendencies to underperform. (For evidence of both, see Stereotype Threat and Women’s Math Performance” by Spencer, Steele, and Quinn, available on Blackboard.) The stereotype that says that only white men can be good philosophers is false. For more on this, visit: 


On Seeming Smart 

Related to that point, regardless of whether you’ve studied philosophy prior to this course, you might often find yourself feeling intimidated by the way philosophers write or talk. This might be because philosophy, like all disciplines, employs its own jargon and concepts that you either might not have encountered before, or that you might have seen used differently. Jargon can be useful, but it can also be used to exclude people and make them feel like they don’t have a place in the conversation. Don’t feel that way and don’t be intimidated! If you don’t know what a term means, ask for a definition (or look it up). If you don’t know how a concept is being used, ask for clarification. For a very helpful essay that speaks to this (among other important things) see “On Being Good at Seeming Smart” on Blackboard or visit: 


Topic and Assignment Schedule

Part 1 – The Problem

Week 1 – (9/2-9/6) Love and Knowledge

Love and Knowledge – Jaggar

Week 2 – (9/9-9/13) Oppression

Five Faces of Oppression – Young

Sex and Race: An Analogy of Social Control – Chafe

Week 3 (9/16-9/20) – Ideology

Ideology – Shelby

Ideology, Generics, and Common Ground - Haslanger

Week 4 (9/23-9/27) – System Justification Theory and Cognitive Bias

The Psychology of System Justification and the Palliative Function of Ideology – Jost and Hunyady

On the Epistemic Costs of Implicit Bias - Gendler

Week 5 (9/30-10/4) – Oppression Revisited

On Oppression – Frye

On Psychological Oppression – Bartky

In Defense of Guilt - Bartky

Selection from Eating Animals – Foer

Suggested: Oppression – Racial and Other - Haslanger

Week 6 (10/7-10/11) – Ignorance and Hermeneutical Gaps

White Ignorance - Mills

On Needing Not to Know – Bernasconi

Imposed Silences and Shared Hermeneutical Responsibilities – Medina

Week 7 (10/14-10/18) – The Problem of Speaking for Others

Reading Days – no class Monday, 10/14

Anti-Essentialism and Intersectionality – Grillo

The Problem of Speaking for Others – Alcoff

Week 8 (10/21-10/25) – Culpable Ignorance

Race, Complicity, and Culpable Ignorance - Bartky

Epistemic Responsibility and Culpable Ignorance - Medina

Part 2 – A Solution

Week 9 (10/28-11/1) – Standpoint Theory

Why Standpoint Matters – Wylie

Rage Against the Machine: The Case for System-Level Emotions – Jost

Moral Outrage – Jost

Reasons to Feel - Greenspan

Unreasonable Resentments – MacLachlan

                  11/1 - First Long Paper Due

Week 10 (11/4-11/15) – What are Beliefs?  What are Emotions? 

The Rationality of Emotions – de Sousa

Explaining Emotions - Rorty

Emotion: The Bodily and the Cognitive – Furtak

Intellectual Desire, Emotion, and Action – Stocker

Week 11 (11/11-11/15) – Compassion and Sympathy

Compassion – Blum

Compassion – Snow

Compassion and Beyond – Crisp

Sympathy - Taylor

Week 12 (11/18-11/22) – Empathy

Understanding Empathy: Its Features and Effects – Coplan

Empathy as a Route to Knowledge – Matrevers

Two Routes to Empathy – Goldman

Week 13 (11/25-11/29) – Love

Love’s Bond - Nozick

Romantic Love and Personal Autonomy - Friedman

Week 14 (12/2-12/6) – Spelman

Fruits of Sorrow – Spelman

Week 15 (12/9-12/13) – Love and Knowledge, Resentment, and Outrage

Love and Knowledge – Jaggar

Unreasonable Resentments – MacLachlan

Rage Against the Machine: The Case for System-Level Emotions – Jost

                  12/18 – Second Long Paper Due