Today's post isn't about 3254, though. It's about 1101 and what happened when I inserted a heavy dose of science fiction into an educational environment. Here's the recap:
What my students were reading:
An essay called "Ethics for Extraterrestrials" by Joel J. Kupperman, published in American Philosophical Quarterly in 1991 (Vol. 28, No. 4). Kupperman posits a scenario in which an alien species known as the Throgs, who are technologically (and, perhaps, intellectually) superior, have taken to flaying humans for unstated (or unclear) reasons. What follows is a brief exploration of several moral/ethical positions, from which Kupperman tries to determine whether any human ethical models would have a reasonable chance of convincing the Throgs not to flay us.
What I did:
I created a detailed (though brief) scenario involving two imaginary species of alien who have been in conflict for hundreds of years. The class would divide into two groups (representing each side) and debate in the form of speeches to a small number of their peers (representing the Interstellar United Nations). The purpose of the exercise was to put the students in two unique positions, in which the moral and ethical ground from which each species could argue was by no means absolute (i.e., there was no pure right and wrong response).
What was on the agenda:
- A quiz on Kupperman's essay.
- A thought experiment in which two alien species had to present ethical arguments in favor of their particular position (group Y wants to be granted planethood in the Interstellar United Nations; group X believes allowing planethood for group Y would be a bad thing -- basically).
- A small group of students (and the person evaluating me during class, as happens once a year) were tasked with determining which group made the better argument.