Practical Ethics (PHIL 163H.001)

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Instructor: Douglas MacLean. This class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 – 10:45 a.m. in Caldwell 103.

This course is an introduction to the nature of ethical reasoning and argument. It addresses questions like the following: Do ethical claims appeal to objective standards, or is any opinion as good as any other? What is the meaning of concepts like duty, rights, equality, or justice? What are the arguments for or against ethical relativism, egoism, altruism, and the role of religion in morality? We will examine contemporary ethical issues including: the demands of justice for helping the poor, moral duties to animals, morality and the law, abortion, euthanasia, war and torture, duties to oneself, and the relation between ethics and living a meaningful life.

Our aim is neither to try to answer all these questions definitively, nor to ensure that we discuss every position on every issue. Instead, our concern will be to gain an understanding of the kinds of reasons and arguments that are used to establish or support ethical claims. One of our goals will be to understand why some ethical issues are controversial (e.g., Is euthanasia permissible on human beings?) while others are not controversial (e.g., Is it all right to abandon one’s baby if she cries too much? Or: Is it a good thing that people volunteer to help others in need?) In this way we hope to achieve a better understanding of the nature of ethics and ethical claims.

Douglas MacLean’s webpage