Introduction to Ethics (PHIL 160H, Section 001)

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Instructor: Douglas MacLean. This honors course meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 – 10:45 a.m. in Gardner 209.

This course is an introduction to philosophical ethics. We will examine philosophical problems that arise in thinking about ethics, the nature of ethical theories, and the use and assessment of reasons and arguments applied to ethical issues and problems.

The course begins with some issues first raised by Socrates about the relationship between ethics and religion and whether there is a moral obligation to obey laws, even when the laws appear to be unjust. We will also examine the idea implicit in Socrates, that we can reason objectively about ethical matters. The next section of the course will examine the role of consequences in determining our ethical responsibilities and the implications of the views developed by utilitarian philosophers. The third section will examine a different basis for ethical theories, associated with the view of Immanuel Kant, which argues that moral duties are grounded in the requirements of rationality and in the dignity and respect that is owed to rational creatures. The next section focuses on a number of different topics in philosophical ethics that illustrate a range of philosophical views. These topics include: the nature and justification of moral rights, the role of virtue, the moral status of non-human animals, and the role of loyalty and the difficulties involved in balancing our personal commitments with the impartial demands of moral reasoning. Finally, we will return to a Socratic theme and examine what it is to live a meaningful life and how this relates to our understanding of ethics.

The readings in this course will include a few philosophical classics (e.g., Plato and Kant), but we will focus especially on recent philosophical writings. We may also examine how ethical issues are treated in movies and fiction.

Douglas MacLean’s webpage