Ethics and the Blues: Thinking Deep about Feeling Low

Abrol Fairweather

PHIL 195
Core D3

Course Description:

"Blues is the roots, everything else is the fruits". -Willie Dixon

This course will apply readings in the tradition of Philosophical Ethics to the music, history, and emotion of the Blues. Moral philosophy aims to identify the fundamental principles of moral judgement and to illuminate problems concerning the nature of equality, justice, and rights. In 12 bar chord progressions, scattered with bent minor 3rd notes and compelling lyricism, the Blues beautifully expresses the deep injustices faced by African Americans throughout our history, including slavery, sharecropping and Jim Crow laws, segregation, and other forms of injustice that continue to shape the moral landscape of America. The music of Son House, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and many others provides an enduring vehicle for naming and understanding this very specific experience of injustice, and thus constitutes a rich source of moral knowledge. But, Blues also has a universal appeal and value because it gives us a powerful way to understand and cope with our emotions. Our class will examine the Blues as a rich moral landscape relevant to traditional moral philosophy (Mill, Kant, Aristotle, Locke, Rawls) and as a powerful psychological tool that enables catharsis and healing of emotional trauma, pain and suffering. The Bay Area has a rich Blues tradition. We will visit nationally renowned blues venues in and host lectures and performances from local blues artists.

Faculty Bio:

Abrol Fairweather (PhD) has been an Instructor in the Department of Philosophy since 1998. His primary research is in the area of Virtue Epistemology (Naturalized Virtue Epistemology, Oxford University Press , forthcoming, but also has very strong personal and academic interests in the Blues. He is the co-editor of Blues: Philosophy For Everyone and his courses on Ethics and The Blues received the Keeping The Blues Alive award by the West Coast Blues Hall of Fame in 2012.