Introduction to Ethics (PHIL 160.001)

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Instructor: Luke Maring. This class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:00 a.m – 12:15 p.m. in Caldwell 105.

Is it morally permissible to have an abortion? May we take people’s money—in the form of taxes, for example—to provide universal health care? Is it right for us to execute those convicted of serious crimes like murder?

Different people answer these questions differently. Those with a devout Catholic upbringing are likely to condemn abortion; people who grew up in politically conservative circles probably oppose universal health care; and odds are that the children of social progressives will oppose capital punishment. What we believe about morality is profoundly impacted by our own personal history. Given that we’re biased by our respective upbringings, how can we make moral judgments that are anything but a blind repetition of the ideas we’ve been raised with?

One promising answer is that we can use ethical theories to call our own moral views into question. By studying ethical theory with an open mind, we can evaluate moral issues from a new angle. We can, so to speak, see things from the perspective of a plausible theory rather from than the perspective of our upbringing. In this way, we can hope to recognize our biases and make better moral judgments.

In this course, we’ll study the most prominent ethical theories that philosophers have devised: Consequentialism, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics. Readings will include both classic and contemporary selections, including pieces from Mill, Kant, Aristotle, and others.

Luke Maring’s webpage