Presentation on theme: "1 Introduction (Part II): Films, moral imagination and ethical reasoning Hektor Yan Department of Public and Social Administration City University of Hong."— Presentation transcript:
1 Introduction (Part II): Films, moral imagination and ethical reasoning Hektor Yan Department of Public and Social Administration City University of Hong Kong Dec 11, 2008
2 Background: Moral imagination Ethical thinking cannot remain purely descriptive: it has to engage with what ought to be the case. This means that the goal of ethical reasoning and ethical behaviour often involves the realisation of a state-of-affair that does not actually exist in the present. In other words, moral or ethical behaviour often presupposes some ethical ideal to strive for.
3 *Background: Moral imagination However, how to characterise such an ethical ideal is not a straightforward matter. E.g., the just society. This situation suggests that an important part of ethical reasoning involves moral imagination: the ability to envisage in a clear and comprehensive manner what our ethical ideals should be like.
4 Background: Moral imagination However, how to characterise such an ethical ideal is not a straightforward matter. For example, we might agree that we want our society to be a just society. But what exactly does it mean for a society to be just? What are the characteristics of a just society? This situation suggests that an important part of ethical reasoning involves moral imagination: the ability to envisage in a clear and comprehensive manner what our ethical ideals should be like.
5 The failure of our moral imagination: It is possible for ethical reasoning to malfunction when our ability to do moral imagination is failing.
6 The failure of our moral imagination: Moral imagination can be frustrated for a number of reasons. Some common factors: –Habits and mental sets –The pressure to conform –The urge to obey authorities –The persuasive influence of existing norms, ideologies and traditions –The human inertia to change –Greed and the desire to further ones self- interest –The conceptual blind-spots of moral theories
7 The failure of our moral imagination: When moral imagination fails, the existing way of behaviour might be seen as the only alterative. One may even see ones own way of life as natural or inevitable. Appalling practices such as slavery or the oppression of women and minorities may be seen as acceptable as a result.
8 *The role of narrative and stories: Narrative works are fictitious and they allow room for free imagination This freedom provided by imagination can even give us a chance to look at things from a perspective previously considered novel or alien to us. An example: gender and ethics. Narrative works expand our moral imagination.
9 The role of narrative and stories: Narrative works (such as stories, novels and films) are fictitious: they need not be a strict description of what is the case. As a result, narrative works can provide human beings with an opportunity to imagine freely and creatively. This freedom provided by imagination can even give us a chance to look at things from a perspective previously considered novel or alien to us.
10 The role of narrative and stories: An example: gender and ethics –Men may find it difficult to imagine themselves to be women, but a play or a novel about women may allow them a glimpse into the mental world of women. –By giving a role for women to play in a narrative work, the creator must try to represent women as they are. In doing so, the narrative work has to give women a voice to express their own point of view.
11 The role of narrative and stories: –Giving such a voice to women can not only help to empower them, it can also open up new conceptual possibilities. Instead of seeing the world in from a male-centred perspective, one may develop a sensibility to look at the world from an alternative perspective. –The availability of such a perspective is ethically significant. It can form the basis by which we judge our existing moral intuition. Seeing our society as sexist, for example, can allow further ethical reflection to take place. Even radical changes in ethical sensibility or ethical paradigm may become possible.
12 The role of narrative and stories: Narrative works such as stories, novels and films can therefore activate and expand our moral imagination to the fullest extent. And since narrative works are often focused on the lives of particular human beings, they can allow us to see how ethical theories, which are often general and universal, can be related to the particularities of human lives.
13 Narrative works can have a variety of ethical roles: With regard to moral and ethical values, narrative works can serve different functions; and a single work can hold different functions at the same time: –To consolidate existing norms and conventional values –To introduce new moral perspectives and values –To challenge existing moral values
17 Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)
18 (Ang Li, 1993) A film that makes us rethink the relationship between homosexuality and marriage.
19 Film, Vera Drake (Mike Leigh, 2004)
20 Narayama bushiko [English title: Ballad of Narayama]
21 Narrative works can have a variety of ethical roles: From this we can see that a critical attitude is needed when we are dealing with narrative works: they may have their own biases and limitations.
22 The positive functions of films in the context of teaching ethicsfilms can: Provide relevant background information Work as illustration of an ethical/philosophical theory or perspective Offer challenges to our existing beliefs Enable us to grasp and make sense of an alternative perspective Remind us the complex nature of real life issues Guide us to make sense of the actions and choices of individual human beings in particular circumstances Give us examples of role-models and exemplary behaviour Stimulate discussion
23 Thinking ahead: What should be the objectives of ethics education? To develop among students an awareness of the ethical issues they may encounter in real life. To help students understand and articulate the conceptual nature and ethical challenges involved in major ethical issues. To introduce to students major ethical theories and their applications. To enable students to reach their own defensible ethical positions based on the best arguments available to them.