A Life-Changing Class

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Individual Morality & Social Justice

I enrolled in the FPF (Fall Program for First Semester) program’s Philosophy 2: Individual Morality & Social Justice course for the sole purpose of fulfilling my philosophy breadth requirement. As an intended film major and Japanese minor, I didn’t have much interest in learning about the mind’s driving forces; I simply wanted to get into the class and get out of it as quickly as possible. I never expected that I’d be arriving early to every lecture, claiming a spot in the front row of the room, and talking late into the night with my roommates about moral culpability.

The Phenomenal Professor

My Individual Morality & Social Justice instructor was Professor Richie Kim. I attribute much of my love for philosophy to him. Professor Richie’s teaching style is simply bewitching. He’s down-to-earth in a way I didn’t realize professors could be, with plenty of anecdotes to ground abstract material and make your ribs ache from laughing, too. He treats his students as equals. He listens. He let me doodle on the whiteboard every afternoon before class started, and even incorporated my sketches into his lectures!

Nina Takahashi posing with one of over twenty whiteboard drawings they did in Philosophy 2: Individual Morality & Social Justice.

Nina Takahashi posing with one of over twenty whiteboard drawings they did in Philosophy 2: Individual Morality & Social Justice.

As an aspiring writer, I have a habit of scratching down beautiful phrases I hear from the people around me. Professor Richie Kim had me worrying I’d run out of space in the margins of my spiral notebook. There are dozens of moving, memorable sentences he spoke during Philosophy 2, but one that’s truly stuck with me is, “It’s hard to think about the things that really matter.” This was in reference to Ronald Dworkin’s work on the dominion of death, one of the first topics we studied in the class.

The Concepts Covered

Philosophy 2: Individual Morality & Social Justice investigates the motivations behind human behavior, aiming to unpack why we have moral compasses in the first place. The first half of the course is a broad summary of virtue ethics, utilitarianism, and Kantian ethics — all classic philosophical frameworks — whereas the second half delves into specific ethical phenomena and scenarios, such as The Trolley Problem.

One overarching theme in Philosophy 2 is moral permissibility. This refers to whether a person is allowed to do something, rather than whether they should or shouldn’t do it. Morally speaking, are you allowed to save one person’s life over five peoples’ lives? Are you allowed to get cosmetic surgery enhancements? What about an abortion? I’d never heard of moral permissibility before this course, and it changed my perspective on many ethical issues. Suddenly moral stances weren’t black and white; they were an infinite value scale of grays. Suddenly, they felt more human.

The Why

Philosophy 2: Individual Morality & Social Justice is a course that urges you to critically examine the principles you’ve lived by for ages, to poke holes in seemingly impenetrable truths. It encourages compassion, wisdom, and reflection. Above all else, though, it asks you the following question: How can I be a better person? I think there are few questions that are more worth answering.

Choosing classes can be an intimidating task, but when the time comes, try to keep your mind and options open. Take a chance! You might just be surprised with what you get.


Nina Takahashi is a first-year at UC Berkeley majoring in film and minoring in Japanese.