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View Program and Text Highlights

The video highlight shows our panelists in action. The Discussion Guide frames their debates in contemporary terms, while the Ethics Reader grounds the discussion in the philosophy of the past.

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Am I my neighbor's keeper?

Panelist Anita Allen wrestles with the ambiguous obligations of neighbors to each other and the limits of those obligations. Allen's new neighbor, Neil, asks if his colleague can use Allen's driveway when she comes to Neil's house. Allen has no problem with this initially. But she becomes concerned when she notices that the colleague is a very attractive young woman and that she always seems to come in the afternoon. And she always seems to leave before Neil's wife gets home. "Hey, Anita, how are you doing? I'm going to use the driveway today. No problem?"

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Framing This Discussion (from the Discussion Guide)

This scenario asks what ethical obligations follow from membership in a community. Implicitly, it also asks if community is a fact of nature necessary for human existence or a conscious project, adopted by a group of people to create, discover, and institute values? If it is the first, it is given as a part of our environment, like bodily life and death, and we do no more than adapt to it. If it is the second, then we are responsible for it, for its quality and value as well as for its maintenance. The second understanding of community suggests a sense of fragility concerning human associations; but it also gives currency to the notion of individual as well as collective responsibility for the moral or other "crimes" committed by the collective, and holds to a much higher moral standard the acts of our own associations, especially government.

For a deeper examination of the analysis abridged here, see the Discussion Guide.

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Philosophical Grounding of This Discussion (from the Ethics Reader)

This excerpt from Aristotle's Politics suggests that the values of the state or community are maintained by exercising the uniquely human "power of speech."

Now, that man is more of a political animal than bees or any other gregarious animals is evident. Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech. And whereas mere voice is but an indication of pleasure or pain, and is therefore found in other animals (for their nature attains to the perception of pleasure and pain and the intimation of them to one another, and no further), the power of speech is intended to set forth the expedient and inexpedient, and therefore likewise the just and the unjust. And it is a characteristic of man that he alone has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust, and the like, and the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state.

To read selections from philosophical texts relevant to this program, see Ethics Reader.

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