Intro to ethics

  

Course Description

What is the value in being moral and acting ethically? In virtue of what are ethical judgments true or false? Are any true at all? And if so, are there general moral principles, which apply to any situation, or must any ethical judgment ultimately rely, unaided by general principles, on the context in which the judgment is made? These, and related questions, are examined in this course. We begin by addressing challenges to the possibility of ethics (relativism, subjectivism, the view that it all comes from God). We go on to survey the key ethical theories (Contractualism, Utilitarianism, Kantianism, ethics of care). And we finish by applying ethics to a number of pressing ethical issues, such as world poverty, abortion, and the rights of animals.

 

Readings

You will need to purchase:

James Rachels, and Stuart Rachels (ed.), The Elements of Moral Philosophy (Sixth Edition), New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2010.

Further readings will be distributed through the main course website.

 

Assessment

The majority of your grade for this course will be determined by a final exam, which will ask a number of questions based on the course content, which you must respond to with essays. During the course you will write two essays, each of which will be 1500 words long and will constitute 15% of your final mark. Finally, each tutorial requires not only your attendance, but also that you bring to the tutorial a piece of writing, no more than a paragraph, answering the tutorial question for that week. Your tutor will give you half a mark for attendance and half a mark for writing down an answer for the tutorial task. You must be prepared to present this to the tutorial group. To receive any of the potential 10% for this part of the assessment, you must have attended, and contributed to, at least ten tutorials.

Tutorial attendance and task completion                                  10%

Two essays                                                                         30%

Final exam                                                                          60%

 

Schedule

Week 1:

What is morality?

Required reading: EMP, chapter 1: “What is Morality?” (pp. 1-13).

Tutorial task: Rachels discusses three examples: Baby Theresa, Jodie and Mary, and Tracy Latimer. Try to come to a conclusion about what was the right thing to do in each case, and say why.

Optional additional reading: Mary Midgley’s “The Origin of Ethics” in P. Singer (ed.) A Companion to Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

Week 2:

Cultural relativism

Required reading: EMP chapter 2: “Cultural Relativism” (pp. 14-29).

Tutorial task: Rachels describes motivations for accepting cultural relativism, but ultimately rejects the theory as a whole. Decide how plausible you think cultural relativism is, and state the greatest factor that led you to this conclusion.

Optional additional reading: (i) George Silberbauer, “Ethics in Small-Scale Societies” in P. Singer (ed.) A Companion to Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991; (ii) Ija Lazari-Pawlowska, “On Cultural Relativism”, The Journal of Philosophy, 67:17, 1970, pp.577-84.

Week 3:

Subjectivism in Ethics

Required reading: EMP chapter 3: “Subjectivism in Ethics” (pp.32-47).

Tutorial task: Consider the view that Rachels’ calls Emotivism. Try to come to a conclusion about how plausible you think it is and say why.

Optional additional reading: (i) Stephen Satris, “Is Moral Relativism Correct?” Part 1, Issue 1 of Taking Sides, McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, 2006; (ii) J.L. Mackie, “The Subjectivity of Values” in Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, London: Penguin Books, 1991.

Week 4:

Morality and Religion

Required reading: EMP chapter 4: “Does Morality Depend on Religion” (pp.48-61).

Tutorial task: Rachels argues that morality is independent from religion even if some particular religion is true. Think about whether this seems right to you and state the major reason for why you accept or reject this claim.

Optional additional reading: (i) Stephen Satris, “Does Morality Need Religion?” Part 1, Issue 2 of Taking Sides, McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, 2006; (ii) Jonathan Berg, “How Could Ethics Depend on Religion?” in P. Singer (ed.) A Companion to Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991; (iii) Philip L. Quinn, “Devine Command Theory” in H. LaFollette (ed.) The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, Blackwell Publishing.

Week 5:

Contractualism

Required reading: EMP chapter 6: “The Idea of a Social Contract” (pp.80-96).

Tutorial task: At the end of the chapter, Rachel finishes with an objection to The Social Contract Theory. Try to think of the best thing that an advocate of The Social Contract Theory can say in response.

Optional additional reading: (i) Will Kymlicka, “The Social Contract Tradition” in P. Singer (ed.) A Companion to Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991; (ii) Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, “Contractarianism” in H. LaFollette (ed.) The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, Blackwell Publishing.

Week 6:

Utilitarianism

Required reading: EMP chapter 7: “The Utilitarian Approach” (pp.97-108).

Tutorial task: Rachels discusses three examples to illustrate the radical implications of Utilitarianism: Euthanasia, Marijuana, and nonhuman animals. State whether you think any aspects of these examples suggest limitations or problems for Utilitarianism and why.

Optional additional reading: (i) R. G. Frey, “Act-Utilitarianism” in H. LaFollette (ed.) The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, Blackwell Publishing, 2000; (ii) Philip Pettit, “Consequentialism” in P. Singer (ed.) A Companion to Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

Week 7:

Utilitarianism

Required reading: EMP chapter 8: “The Debate over Utilitarianism” (pp.109-122).

Tutorial task: Rachels considers a number of objections to Utilitarianism. Identify the objection that seems to you to pose the greatest difficulty for Utilitarianism. State whether you think Rachels’ response on behalf of Utilitarianism is adequate and why.

Optional additional reading: (i) R. M. Hare, “What is Wrong with Slavery”, Philosophy & Public Affairs vol. 8, no. 2, 1979, pp. 103-121; (ii) Robert E. Goodin, “Utility and the Good” in P. Singer (ed.) A Companion to Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

Week 8:

Moral Absolutes

Required reading: EMP chapter 9: “Are There Absolute Moral Rules?” (pp.124-135).

Tutorial task: Try to think of an absolute, universal law of morality—one not discussed by Rachels. If that’s too hard, state the most universal law of morality you can think of.

Optional additional reading: (i) Nancy Davis, “Contemporary Deontology” in P. Singer (ed.) A Companion to Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

Week 9:

Kant and the Categorical Imperative

Required reading: EMP chapter 10: “Kant and Respect for Persons” (pp.136-145).

Tutorial task: Rachels discusses how Utilitarian Ethics and Kantian Ethics each take different approaches to punishment. State which ethical theory you think provides the best approach to punishment and why.

Optional additional reading: (i) Onora O’Neill, “Kantian Ethics” in P. Singer (ed.) A Companion to Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991; (ii) Thomas E. Hill, Jr., “Kantianism” in H. LaFollette (ed.) The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, Blackwell Publishing, 2000.

Week 10:

Feminism and the Ethics of Care

Required reading: EMP chapter 11: “Feminism and the Ethics of Care” (pp.146-157).

Tutorial task: Rachels discusses three examples that are intended to illustrate the idea that an ethic of care has different implications than a “male” approach to ethics: Family and friends, Children with HIV, and animals. Focusing on one (or more) of these three examples, state whether you think an ethic of care does have distinct implications and state whether you think those implications are morally better and why.

Optional additional reading: (i) Jean Grimshaw, “The Idea of a Female Ethic” in P. Singer (ed.) A Companion to Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991; (ii) Alison M. Jaggar, “Feminist Ethics” in H. LaFollette (ed.) The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, Blackwell Publishing, 2000.

Week 11:

Virtue Ethics

Required reading: EMP chapter 12: “The Ethics of Virtue” (pp.158-172).

Tutorial task: Rachels argues that Virtue Ethics can only be part of the story. State whether you agree and why. If you agree, state how think an ethical theory involving Virtue Ethics is best completed.

Optional additional reading: (i) Michael Slote, “Virtue Ethics” in H. LaFollette (ed.) The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, Blackwell Publishing, 2000; (ii) Greg Pence, “Virtue Theory” in P. Singer (ed.) A Companion to Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991; (iii) Rosalind Hursthouse, “On Virtue Ethics”, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Week 12:

Abortion

Required reading: Jacques P. Thiroux, “Abortion” Chapter 10 of Ethics, Theory and Practice, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004.

Tutorial task: State what you take to be the most persuasive argument for or against abortion, and why.

Optional additional reading: (i) Mary Anne Warren, “Abortion” in P. Singer (ed.) A Companion to Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991; (ii) Stephen Satris, “Is Abortion Immoral?” Part 2, Issue 4 of Taking Sides, McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, 2006; (iii) Rosalind Hursthouse, “Virtue Theory and Abortion, in Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 20, 1990-91.

Week 13:

Animal rights

Required reading: Stephen Satris, “Is it Morally Permissible to Eat Meat” Part 4, Issue 18 of Taking Sides, McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, 2006.

Tutorial task: Consider both Rolston’s argument for the permissibility of meat eating and Mizzoni’s argument against the permissibility of meat eating. State who you think has the more persuasive argument and why.

Optional additional reading: (i) Lori Gruen, “Animals” in P. Singer (ed.) A Companion to Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991; (ii) Elizabeth Anderson, “Animal Rights and the Values of Nonhuman Life,” in Martha Nussbaum and Cass Sunstein (eds.) Rights For Animals? Law and Policy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Week 14:

World poverty

Required reading: Nigel Dower, “World Poverty” in P. Singer (ed.) A Companion to Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

Tutorial task: Consider the arguments that Dower discusses regarding whether we do or do not have a duty to alleviate poverty in developing countries. State which argument you find most compelling and why.

Optional additional reading: (i) Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”, in Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 1 (Spring 1972), pp. 229-243; (ii) Thomas Pogge, “Are We Violating the Human Rights of the World’s Poor?”, in Yale Human Rights & Development Law Journal 14:2 (2011), 1–33.

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