Much of the grade will depend upon the quality of three written assignments required by the course, and spaced fairly evenly over the term: the papers will total twenty pages in entirety, two papers running to at least six pages each and a final paper running to at least eight pages. The papers will each deal with some aspect of the readings and discussion; topics may be invented by the students but an extensive list of suggested topics will be circulated two weeks in advance of each paper’s due date for those students who require it. The first of these papers will be rewritten upon its return and resubmitted in a form compliant with corrections made by the instruction on the pages of the first version. The second paper may be treated in the same way, depending upon the instructor’s judgment. The subject will also offer students opportunity for oral expression by reason of (a) its discussion format and (b) a division into groups of two or three students (depending upon enrollment), each of which will make two fifteen-minute presentations of materials conducive to the discussion of a given assignment, following the model of such presentations offered by the instructor at the outset of the term. The maximum number of students per section of this subject is 18, except in cases where there are no sections and where a writing fellow is attached to the subject, in which case the enrollment can rise to 25. There will be no final examination. Below are discussion questions for each of the class sessions and the paper assignments for the course.
Lecture #1 - THE PRINCE by Nicolo Machiavelli (1515)
Topics for Discussion:
1. Machiavelli’s adage, “The ends justify the means,” is justly famous. Yet he does not say simply that the means that are instrumental to a good end are just–on the contrary, he says that they are often unjust, that a wise administrator “must learn how not to be good”. Is this a coherent notion? If something is justified by the good that it produces, why not speak of it as good?
2. Machiavelli’s name became synonymous in the Renaissance with evil advice and practice, largely on the basis of this document. To be “Machiavellian” came to mean to be a sly schemer, one who hides his evil intentions behind the mask of executive necessity. Did he deserve this reputation? Is the maxim “the ends justify the means” only a cover for the notion that the real end and aim of the means is simply the means themselves–that is to say, the exercise of power.
3. What does it mean to advise the Prince that he must “learn how not to be good”? In what way is “learning” involved? Machiavelli advises the ruler to be both beast and human being. Is this like wearing two hats, one for the office and another for home? Can you put on and take off the hat of a beast at will? Machiavelli indicates pretty clearly that you must never seem to take off the religious hat–i.e. that the religious necessity is uncompromising and therefore you must always secretly wear your princely hat under the religious one. If there is some compromise possible, for us, which will be subordinate to which?
4. Machiavelli reserves special praise for Hannibal (page 6), whose “inhuman cruelty, together with his infinite other virtues, made him always venerated and terrible in the sight of his soldiers.” No doubt in Hannibal’s day, and perhaps in Machiavelli’s too, the nature of armies made fear of swift and terrible punishment an emotion that a commander-in-chief had to cultivate. It may seem that Hannibal, the army commander, is not a fit model for heads of state. But Machiavelli’s advice was intended for rulers in times of peace as well as war and concerned the nature of command, which has always to deal with the image that the ruler must project if he (or she–but that possibility never occurred to Machiavelli) is to be effective both within the state and without. Indeed, you might sum up Machiavelli’s teaching as follows: “Never mind reality, the image is everything”. Is this wrongheaded advice?
Lecture #2 - UTOPIA by Sir Thomas More (1516)
Topics for Discussion:
1. More’s Utopia gave its name to a genre of literature. On the basis of More’s text, how would you describe a utopia? Machiavelli claimed to be introducing a new kind of writing about political authority, one that would pay attention to the “real world” and not lose itself in dream about what might be. How would you regard More’s Utopia from this standpoint?
2. What are the chief features of More’s Utopia, as you see it? Of which do you particularly approve? Which do you find objectionable?
3. During the last Presidential campaign, the Democratic nominee for vice-president said that no one can be moral who does not believe in God? What would the Utopians say about this opinion? How do the Utopians regard religious dissent? More was Chancellor of England - the most important governmental officer of his day - and in that capacity he condemned heretics to be burned alive at the stake. He also practiced self-flagellation (whipping oneself to punish the flesh for its unholy desires). What can you say in defense of such practices? Would More’s Utopians have approved of More’s behavior?
4. The basis of the Utopian ethical philosophy lies in their praise of pleasure as the aim of all action - what we call the pursuit of happiness is not, in their view, the pursuit of an illusion. Is this a good basis for ethics? The Utopians all agree upon what counts as pleasure. How easy is it to reach agreement on this subject? How do they account for the fact that some people have pleasures which can be obtained only at the expense of others?
5. There is a uniformity of life in Utopia - uniformity of thinking, of ambition, of manners, of dress. What can be said in defense of such a life? What can be argued against it? What would the Utopians say to those who offered arguments against it?
6. At the end of the text, the character (More) argues that Utopian institutions are unsuitable for Europeans? How should one view his opinion? Does he express the view of the author, More, who wrote the text?
Lecture #3 - THE ESSAYS OF MONTAIGNE (Of Repentance, Of Diversion, Of Conserving the Will, Of Experience)
Topics for Discussion:
1. At the outset of the essay on Repentance, Montaigne claims to be the first writer to communicate with readers in his own person and not in some particular role. What does he mean by this? How can the idea that we each have (our own person) as something distinct from our various social identities?
2. Montaigne says that he is an expert on himself. How does he back up this claim? Does knowing about yourself require expertise? Is one better qualified to know oneself than to know others? How would Montaigne answer these questions?
3. We learn a great deal about the details and features of Montaigne’s habits, tendencies, and biases. Are these surface details or do they go deep? What excuses all this self-concern? Why does Montaigne think it wrong of others not to make inventories of their habits, tendencies, and biases in this way.
4. How much do we really learn about Montaigne’s self, his inner being? He writes a good deal about things that we might not consider important for self-understanding: his habits of sleeping, his diet, his manners at table, his frequency of urination and defecation, his approach to sexual pleasure. Is this the stuff of self-understanding?
5. Montaigne says that he gave himself only reluctantly to public service and that his ambition in public service was to effect change as little as possible. He makes both these points into principles suitable for everyone - part of a moral stance, in short. What do you think of these as ethical ambitions? He also says that the only true career is to live: our occupation is our living and it takes endless courage and determination to get through everyday life. What does he mean by this?
6. How does Montaigne’s description of Cannibals compare with More’s Utopians (who come from the same part of the world)?
Lecture #4 - KING LEAR by Shakespeare
Topics For Discussion:
1. Describe the situation at the outset of the play. What are Lear’s motives in dividing the kingdom? Are they reasonable? What view is taken of his proposed action by those at court? Why does Cordelia respond as she does to Lear’s request for a protestation of love?
2. Edmund, the bastard son of Gloucester, has an argument in favor of his conduct given in soliloquy at the outset of the second scene. How would you paraphrase it? What view do you think the play takes of the right relation between ruler and subject, and between parent and offspring?
3. Which of the characters speak for the play, conveying a view of things that would find an echo in the though of the play’s original audience? Does the play have anything like a moral?
4. Shakespeare’s version of the Lear-story was a re-working of an earlier play in which Cordelia comes back from France, wins the final battle, and restores her father to his throne. The next generation of theater-goers after Shakespeare’s seems to have preferred this version. How would you defend one or the other version of the story?
5. Examine the concern in Lear with the distinction between getting down to essentials and concern with the trappings of life. This starts early, with France’s declaration that Cordelia is herself a dowry, runs through Lear exchange with the disguised Edgar during the storm, and reaches a kind of climax with Lear’s vision of anarchy in the “mad scene” on the heath. Of course, it is involved in Lear’s remark about giving away the power of the king and yet keeping “the additions” and in the great speech beginning “O reason not the need”, which talks about giving nature (that is, human nature) more than nature needs.
6. Often, certain words in poetic texts are “key words”-they relate particularly, although not always directly, to the central concerns of the text. In Lear, one of these words is “nature”, taken together with its relatives, “natural” and “unnatural”. What idea of “nature” lies behind the play? Another such word is “patience”-the characters are tested in patience at enduring distress, and there are several moments when they link the notion of patience to a certain view of the nature of fortune (i.e., chance or luck) and of fortune’s wheel, which rotates vertically and on which human beings are strapped, so that, as we might say, “what goes around, comes around”. Explain the linkage in the case of the major characters and their responses to the events of the play.
7. If fortune rules the world, where is justice to be found? The characters have much to say about this as well, most famously in Lear’s “mad” speech upon the heath. What view do the various characters take of this subject?
Lecture #7 - LEVIATHAN by Thomas Hobbes (1651)
Topics for Discussion:
Hobbes put certain ideas at the forefront of attention in ethical philosophy. He was not the first to entertain these ideas, but he was the first to express them as elements in a systematic view of the world. As a result, even though some of his contemporaries and successors thought them disreputable, nevertheless it became increasingly difficult to think of them as unworthy of important consideration. The basic idea was to take a materialistic view of human nature.
In this view, each human being is an array of appetites and aversions, continuously stimulated into existence by sensory events, and continually changing in character, so that there is no overall aim for human action over the course of a lifetime - no such thing as a summum bonum or “highest good”, no condition of being that mankind tries to achieve in order to suit its nature. The value of anything is determined just by what we happen to want at one moment or another, and the idea of a permanent goal or an enduring satisfaction is just an illusion. Appetites and aversions, moreover, are not simple qualities but composites.
At any given moment, they are the overall resolution of innumerable differing responses to stimuli, in which so much of each response is traded off against so much of every other to produce the collective result - an impulse to motion.
1. Hobbes says that everything we do is done for the sake of some good for ourselves - even when we appear to sacrifice our interest for another’s, as in acts of charity. How does this compare with the Utopian doctrine that everything we do is for the sake of pleasure?
2. What we call “good”, says Hobbes, is always determined by the strength of our appetites and our aversions and these change remarkably from moment to moment, day to day. How adequate is this view of human character? What implications follow from it when it comes to deciding upon one course of conduct or another? What does Hobbes think about “the pursuit of happiness” as the goal of human life?
3. How does Hobbes describe the state of nature? He says that he does not believe that it ever existed “generally”, but something like it exists now in the relation between nations. What use is the concept, if it describes a state that never existed generally as a matter of historical fact? Does “something like it” arise in our lives today? Never? Sometimes? Often?
4. Hobbes says that all reasoning is calculation and that proper reasoning comes down to establishing definitions, using words properly to record established facts and deducing other facts by following the rules that govern the relation between statements. What benefit does he believe will follow from recognizing this principle?
5. Explain how all morality, and not just politics, may be understood as an agreement for mutual advantage.
6. How good is the argument that Hobbes levels against “the fool” who has said in his heart that there is no such thing as justice and that a reasonable person will not practice justice when it seems likely that he can get away with it?
7. What is Hobbes’s view of freedom? Does he believe in the existence of free will?
8. What is the source of all obligation in Hobbes? Can you think of any other sources of obligation, other than the one(s) that Hobbes recognizes?
9. What is the role of government in Hobbes? If Hobbes were alive today, would he vote Democrat or vote Republican?
Lecture #8 - GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, IV by Jonathan Swift
Topics for Discussion:
1. It is sometimes said that Utopias are places where human beings live reasonably. The Houyhnhnms appear to be exemplifications of some kind of rationality. They are perfectly impartial in their regard for the interests of any members of their kind. How successfully has Swift drawn the image of the perfectly ethical being? Would you wish to live among them? In what ways do the features of life that make this utopia seem inhospitable to you differ from the inhospitable features of More’s Utopia.
2. Why do you think that Swift chose to make horses the embodiments of impartial reason? How successful is Gulliver in explaining to the horses the ways of human? How would you go about explaining our social institutions to anyone, from Mars, let us say, who did not understand them? What is the line between explaining and justifying a mode of behavior, a course of action, a way of life? Could you successfully explain a way of life that you found unjustifiable? How would you deal in such a case with the charge that your explanation cannot be right, that you must not have understood the point of the behavior characteristic of that way of life?
3. It has been observed (most notably by the character “More” at the end of Utopia) that utopia is not a place for human beings as we know them. At the end of the tale, however, Gulliver becomes “infatuated” with the Houyhnhnms way of life; he wants to live as the Houyhnhnms do. Does this invalidate the view of human beings that he expresses in the last chapter of the book?
4. How would a Houyhnhnm might view Cordelia’s reply to Lear’s desire for an expression of exclusive, all-consuming love: “I love you according to my bond, no more nor less”?
5. What “nature teaches” is an underlying subject of some of the texts that we have read. Gulliver’s master in Houyhnhnm-land tells Gulliver that his kind have an equal affection for all young houyhnhnms and that Nature teaches them to love the whole of their species. Is this an ethical ideal? What about “family values”? The word “houyhnhnm” means “the perfection of nature” in Houyhnhnm-speak. The Utopians in More’s book also lay claim to living “naturally”. How valid is the application of the word “nature” and its derivatives in these cases?
6. Are the Yahoos an adequate representation of certain features of mankind? What features do they represent and how central are they to a notion of what counts as a human being? Do the Yahoos have an intelligible “way of life”? Can you explain why they behave as they do? Does Gulliver do any better in trying to explain the conduct of lawyers to his Houyhnhnm master?
7. How close does Gulliver come to representing Swift? Do you think that Gulliver’s rejection of humankind at the end of the book–his loathing of even so humane a person as Don Pedro–is taken to express Swift’s own feelings?
Lecture #10 - ON THE INEQUALITY AMONG MANKIND by Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
Topics for Discussion:
1. Describe the state of nature as Rousseau conceives it. How does it differ from the state of nature in Hobbes.
2. Hobbes’s says that the state of nature probably never existed “generally”. Rousseau describes it as a general condition of humanity but also that it may never have existed. Does this make a difference between the two philosophers? Why does it not matter to Rousseau’s argument (or so he seems to think) that the state of nature as he describes it never existed?
3. What does “perfectibility” mean to Rousseau? (He actually invented the word for the sake of this argument.) Is it adequate to the task of indicating the decisive feature of humanity?
4. Rousseau accuses Hobbes (and all other philosophers before himself) of attributing to mankind in the state of nature only characteristics of mankind in a state of civilization. How adequate is the accusation? Can it be leveled at Rousseau as well?
5. At the end of his text, Rousseau poses the same problem that confronted Gulliver in talking to his horses. He says that it would be impossible to explain the life of minister or a modern public official to a Caribbean (a typical image in Rousseau’s day of someone who lives naturally), who would simply not understand how anyone could come to live in that way. What does Rousseau have in mind here? Does the difficultyBassuming that we admit it - invalidate the life of the minister or official?
6. At length, says Rousseau, “man becomes a tyrant over himself and nature”. Can you explain this phrase? Can one tryrannize over oneself? Can one tyrannize over nature?
7. How does Rousseau describe the course of history, during which humanity became progressively more civilized? What are its main stages? Rousseau describes the invention of law as a trick played by those possessing much property upon those possessing none. Is this account intelligible?
8. Is Rousseau a partisan of the idea of progress? Do you believe in a course of progress marking the growth of civilized institutions?
Lecture #15 - FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF THE METAPHYSIC OF MORALS by Immanuel Kant (1785)
Topics for Discussion:
1. What does Kant mean by a maxim? What is the difference between a categorical and a hypothetical imperative?
2. Kant gives three versions of the categorical imperative. How would you distinguish the first two? Why does Kant believe that they come down to the same thing?
3. Compare the view of freedom expressed by Kant with the treatment of it by Hobbes. The two philosophers each make the claim that being ethical mean much the same as being rational (recall Hobbes saying that to behave unjustly was akin to a contradiction, in that it was absurd) i.e., without the possibility of calculation. And yet there views of reasonable conduct are different. How would you describe some of the differences? Kant has harsh words for the notion of the “pursuit of happiness”. Would Hobbes have agreed with him?
4. What does Kant mean by “autonomy”. Are human beings autonomous?
5. Kant offers four examples of the application of his notion of the categorical imperative. How do they illustrate his argument? Are they well-chosen?
6. Kant distinguishes between duties to oneself and duties to others. How important is this distinction to Kant’s argument? Can you have duties to yourself, or is the phrase just a colorful manner of speaking? Isn’t it rather like owing yourself some money to owe yourself to do something or to behave towards yourself in a certain way?
7. Kant does not believe in the authority of “role-models”. He says, in effect, that you cannot “imitate Christ” until you recognize his perfection and this recognition depends upon your already knowing what it means to be perfect. Jesus, it would appear (although Kant does not say this), cannot teach us anything that we do not already know. What do you think of this argument? What would More’s Utopians say to it?
Lecture #16 - PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen
Topics for Discussion:
1. What is pride in the book? Which characters have it? Recall the state of mind characterized as “Pride” at the end of More’s Utopia. Is it the same state of mind as the pride active in this book. Darcy clearly takes pride to be no bad thing: does the book endorse his view on this point?
2. Again, what is prejudice? Which characters have it? Elizabeth is prejudiced against Darcy because he is apparently disdainful at the ball of Netherfield society where Elizabeth and her family have a measure of social importance. Here is Pride and Prejudice--the title justified–at one blow! What exactly is the nature of Elizabeth’s prejudice and can it be justified? What is the nature of Darcy’s pride (in relation to Elizabeth) and can it be justified? Could the story have been written the other way about, with the woman proud and the man prejudiced?
3. Certain words might be called “key-words” in this novel. One of them is “society”: what does this word mean within the context of the novel? Pride and Prejudice is often called a “social novel”; it is also called “a novel of manners”, and the phrase “happy manners” is very important in the book. Bingham has happy manners; but so does the scoundrel Wickham. What does the phrase signify in the context of the book? What is the ethical value of happy manners?
4. Another important word is “sensible.” Mr. Bennet says that he hopes Mr. Collins will not be a sensible man. What does he mean by this? The characters in the book can be arranged in a spectrum of sensibleness, with Mr. Collins at one end and Elizabeth at the other. Somewhere in between are Darcy, Mr. Bennet, Wickham, Jane. What is the measure of their good sense in each case?
5. It is sometimes said that the real heroine of Pride and Prejudice is the narrative voice, which tells the story and belongs to no one in the novel. How would you characterize that voice. Consider the first sentence of the book: who among the characters in the book would be most apt to understand it?
6. The narrative voice mocks Mrs. Bennet, when it says that her chief business was getting her daughters married. And yet getting Elizabeth married is the chief business of the book. In what way is marriage the great prize in the book, an apt narrative fulfillment to the story? Why is it so important? Do the characters all agree on its importance or is it valued differently among them?
7. Elizabeth, we might say, is the most perceptive character in the book; she is regularly aware of the absurdity of other people and can even make fun of herself. The book depends for much of its charm on the notion that the ability to laugh at others without mocking them to their faces is connected with perceptiveness. Do you accept this notion?
8. But midway through the book, Elizabeth is led to exclaim: “Until this moment I never knew myself!” Laughing at oneself does not give access to self-knowledge, then. What does the phrase mean here? What would Montaigne say of it?
Lecture #19 - PÈRE GORIOT by Balzac
Topics for Discussion:
1. Balzac begins his novel by calling the reader insensitive to human misery and insisting that his book is not a novel but a record of the truth. How does this introduction function rhetorically?
2. The central character in Père Goriot is Eugène de Rastignac. Why is the book named after someone else? How sympathetic a character is Eugène? His ambition, we are told near the outset, is to succeed - “success, success at any cost.” What is the meaning of success in this novel?
3. Most of what Rousseau condemns in his Discourse on Inequality can be summed up by the phrase “social identity” - our way of thinking about who we are and what we ought to do in terms of our birth, our ancestry, our social position, and the kinds of manners, body-language, and habits of speech that goes with membership in a particular class of society. How do the characters in Père Goriot think about the importance of social identity? How do their ways differ from the ways of the characters in Pride and Prejudice?
4. How would you describe the social identity of Père Goriot? Why is his name unmentionable in his daughter’s household?
5. Eugène gets advice on how to succeed from two people, his cousin, Mme de Beauséant and the mysterious Vautrin. Is the advice the same? Vautrin identifies himself as a follower of the doctrines of Rousseau. What does Rousseau stand for here?
6. Money is very important to the characters in both Pride and Prejudice and Père Goriot, but Jane Austen is more precise in her text about the specific sums involved. “Mixing money with love,” says one of the characters in Père Goriot; “It’s awful!” Is it awful? Why do the various characters need so much money? And why are the sums involved left so unspecific, when Jane Austen’s characters tell us just how much income will do very nicely to sustain a decent position in society.
7. Vautrin proposes a scheme to Eugène. What is it and why does Eugène hesitate to denounce it?
8. The book identifies at one point three alternative that confront Eugène: The Family, Society, and Revolt. What are these three alternatives and why does Eugène find it impossible to choose among them?
9. Eugène explains to his friend Bianchon that he has been struggling with Rousseau’s “problem of the mandarin”. What is the problem of the mandarin? Is it representative, as Bianchon says, of the problem confronting everyone at the outset of one’s career? Is there any sense in which one might say of you that you have killed one or two mandarins already?
10. At the very end of the book, Eugène chooses among the alternatives confronting him. What choice does he make? And what enables him at last to make it?
Lecture #22 - ON THE GENEALOGY OF MORALS (1887) by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Topics for Discussion:
1. Nietzsche begins by referring to “the problem of evil”. What does this phrase signify? What is the meaning of Nietzsche’s solution?
2. A genealogy is a table showing the lines of one’s ancestry; a family tree, in short. Why does Nietzsche call this work a genealogy? We have met with a similar study of origin and descent - Rousseau’s account of the origin of inequality. What similarities and differences do you see in the treatment of the two topics?
3. The first essay is concerned with an ambiguity in the word “Good”, which, Nietzsche claims means something different when opposed to “Evil” from what it means when opposed to “Bad”. Explain the difference. Does Nietzsche approve of the use of the term “evil” in any connection?
4. Does Nietzsche’s project of examining the value of values make sense? Is it like asking why some accepted value or other is really valuable? Or is Nietzsche trying to examine the value of the idea of “value” itself? In that case, how is this possible? (In the realm of morality, it may be like asking why we ought to do what we ought to do.) In other hands, the skeptical version of the question “What’s the good of being good?” implied straightaway that there was much to be gained from being bad and no reason not to be bad except the risk of being found out by one’s fellows. (Hobbes puts the matter in this way.) Nietzsche has often been accused of licensing this kind of thinking. Does the accusation stick?
5. Nietzsche describes his project in other ways - among them, as attempt to explain “the existence on earth of an animal soul turned against itself, taking sides against itself.” What does he mean by this phrase?
6. Nietzsche begins the first essay with an attack upon “English psychologists”, who attempt to explain altruism by appealing to its utility. What is his argument?
7. Nietzsche speaks often of resentment but uses the French for ressentiment, in an effort to turn it into a term of art - that is, a technical term, a piece of jargon. What does he mean by ressentiment and what role does it play in the history of morality?
8. Nietzsche seems to have harsh words for the Jews in this text but he was in fact scornful of anti-Semitism. Is there a contradiction here? What does Nietzsche see as the contribution of the Jews to morality? What does he think of the Christianity which followed it?
9. Nietzsche has frequently been condemned as a dangerous thinker, a wrong-headed advocate of power and cruelty. In this connection, one should take careful note of his pronouncements in chapter eleven of the second essay. What is his position here? How does it find expression in the succeeding chapters when Nietzsche talks about innocence and about Acruelty?
10. In chapter twelve of the second essay, Nietzsche argues that it is a mistake to suppose that the present function of any human institution yields clues to its origin in history. Can you paraphrase his argument here? How does it tie in with his criticism of those who locate the origin of morality in its utility? If present functions do not offer clues about the origin of human institutions, what does?
Lecture #24, 25 - MAJOR BARBARA by George Bernard Shaw
Topics for Discussion:
The idea of opposing Money and Religion as rival allegiances is taken by Shaw from the Sermon on the Mount, particularly from the notion that “You cannot serve both God and Mammon [the god of wealth: the phrase is often translated. “You cannot serve both God and Money”.] But Shaw’s play, surprisingly, opts for Money. What justifies this hard-and-fast opposition? Is money a form of service? Undershaft, when asked about his religion, answers, “I am a millionaire. That is my religion.” What have money and religion in common? Barbara labors ceaselessly to extract donations from the poor, in order to fund the work of the Salvation Army, but she rejects Bill Walker’s pound note and the huge benefaction of Bodger, the whiskey-distiller.
What does she want from Bill? Why reject Bodger’s benefaction? Is money ever dirty money? What (exactly) is wrong with working for an arms manufacturer? A distiller? A narcotics dealer? A manufacturer of toothpaste? Does the product really matter? If not, why not? If so, why does it make a difference? Is there a point in Shaw’s making his representative of the Gospel of Money a munitions-manufacturer? If so, what is it? Could the play have equally well made Undershaft a distiller, a manufacturer or dental floss, of tobacco products? How would you justify (or excuse) your managerial role in such case, or would you draw the line at some of these employments?
Lady Britomart advises Stephen to accept his inheritance and then hire a manager to run it. Is this foolish advice? How would you go about hiring such a manager? What is the issue about succession in the play? Why is it necessary to choose a foundling - i.e., a bastard - to be CEO. How do you hire a CEO?
Consider Lady Britomart’s view that it is all right to manufacture and market munitions, provided that you sell them only to “the right sort of people”. We have something of the same opinion today, in the insistence of our government that only certain sorts of nations have a right to nuclear weapons. In contrast, Undershaft will sell armaments to anyone who wishes to buy and will arrange for generous loans for those who cannot afford it. What view of the world underlies his practice? Perhaps we should think of Undershaft’s munitions as the symbolic equivalent of power - power to do good or harm, power of aggression and of defense. In this light, we might consider the role of MIT professors, who sell managerial knowledge and arrange loans for those who cannot afford to buy. What would Lady Britomart think of this practice? Is the knowledge that Sloan sells a form of power? Should it be available only to the right sort of people?
From the Sermon on the Mount, in The Gospel according to St. Matthew: “Lead us not into temptation . . .”, which may also be translated as “Please do not test us . . . " and is frequently so translated. Is it a good thing to pray not to be tested? The passage comes from what has come to be known as “The Lord’s Prayer”, which also instructs us to pray for forgiveness, so that we may be forgiven in turn. What is the power of forgiveness? Is there any other motive for doing it? Can the world use more forgiveness? Cusins, in the play, rejects forgiveness. “Forgiveness is the beggar’s refuge. We must pay our debts.” Our watchword for this term is “accountability”; Bill Walker seems to agree with Cusins, when he says, “What I done, I’ll pay for”. Note in this connection that Barbara gives Bill Walker a hard time, refusing to let him pay off his offense against Jenny Hill by getting his own face bashed in. What does she want of him? Explain. Is the power to forgive, forget, and start anew always “a beggar’s refuge”?