Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ethics with Calvin and Hobbes

excerpted from Open Questions: Readings for Critical Thinking and Writing edited by Chris Anderson and Lex Runciman, copyright 2005, pages 413-414:

‘Today at school, I tried to decide whether to cheat on my test or not.’

“The creator of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, Bill Watterson (b. 1958) refused to merchandise his characters. Calvin and Hobbes appeared in more than 2,300 newspapers around the world, and ran from November 1985 through December 1995.

“Calvin: Today at school, I tried to decide whether to cheat on my test or not.
Calvin: I wondered, is it better to do the right thing and fail...or is it better to do the wrong thing and succeed?
Calvin: On the one hand, undeserved success gives no satisfaction. … But on the other hand, well-deserved failure gives no satisfaction either.
Calvin: Of course, most everybody cheats some time or other. People always bend the rules if they think they can get away with it. … Then again, that doesn't justify my cheating.
Calvin: Then I thought, look, cheating on one little test isn't such a big deal. It doesn't hurt anyone. … But then I wondered if I was just rationalizing my unwillingness to accept the consequence of not studying.
Calvin: Still, in the real world, people care about success, not principles. … Then again, maybe that's why the world is in such a mess. What a dilemma!
Hobbes: So what did you decide?
Calvin: Nothing. I ran out of time and I had to turn in a blank paper.
Hobbes: Anymore, simply acknowledging the issue is a moral victory.
Calvin: Well, it just seemed wrong to cheat on an ethics test.

“What does it say?
1. There are two figures in this comic strip, Calvin and his tiger, Hobbes. Track what each one says. Calvin obviously does most of the talking. What does Hobbes say and when does he say it? What is your reaction to Hobbes's final statement? How does Hobbes's body language—his facial expressions, his gestures—contribute to your understanding of what he says?
2. It doesn't take long to read a comic strip like this, and first reactions are usually quick, too. Describe yours. As soon as you stop reading, jot down a quick four sentence response. Did you laugh? Why? What made this funny? If you didn't laugh, what was your reaction and why?

“What do you think?
3. Bill Watterson, the cartoonist, doesn't come out and say what he wants this comic to mean. He is neither Calvin nor Hobbes. What do you think Watterson is getting at? Write a brief essay that presents your understanding of the thesis statement of this cartoon, and explain the evidence that supports your analysis.
4. Though Watterson is neither Calvin nor Hobbes, one of these characters may serve as his spokesperson. Which do you think does? Which of these characters comes closest to representing Watterson's own views, and how do you know? What details in the comic lead to this conclusion? Or do you think that neither character represents Watterson?
5. People often send their friends and families copies of cartoons they like. Who would you send this cartoon to, and why?
6. Hobbes says that ‘Anymore, simply acknowledging the issue is a moral victory.’ Write an essay agreeing or disagreeing with that statement, explaining your position.

“What would they say?
7. Read Lawrence Hinman's ‘Virtual Virtues: Reflections on Academic Integrity in the Age of the Internet.’ How would Watterson have to adapt this particular cartoon to reflect Hinman's analysis of ethical behavior and the Internet? Would the cartoon have to be any different? Is there something about cyberspace that changes the ethical dilemma that Calvin is describing?
8. Based on your reading of Hinman's ‘Virtual Virtues: Reflections on Academic Integrity in the Age of the Internet,’ do you think he would put a copy of this cartoon on his office door or on his syllabus for one of his courses? (Hinman is an ethicist who teaches courses in ethics and ethical reasoning.) Explain why or why not.
9. Write an essay explaining how you think Stephen L. Carter, in ‘The Best Student Ever,’ and Donald McCabe and Linda Klebe Trevino, in ‘Honesty and Honor Codes,’ would respond to this cartoon. What would they say? Would they agree with its premise? Why or why not?
10. Out of all the essays you've read in this book, which writer comes closest to embodying Calvin's position in this comic? Which writer comes closest to embodying Hobbes's position? Explain.”

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