PHIL 462.001 – Contemporary Moral Philosophy

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Instructor: Ryan Preston-Roedder. This course meets T 1:00 – 3:30 p.m. in CW 213.

This course will draw on philosophy and literature in order to consider the significance of death for the way we live our lives. The course will be divided into four parts. (1) First, we will ask whether death is bad for the person who dies. Readings in this section may include Thomas Nagel’s “Death”, Bernard Williams’ “The Makropulos Case”, and selections from Derek Parfit’s Reasons and Persons and Frances Kamm’s Morality, Mortality. (2) Second, we will ask whether the fact that we will die undermines the meaning of our lives or renders our lives absurd. Readings may include selections from Nagel’s The View from Nowhere and from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, The Death of Ivan Ilych, and My Confession. (3) Third, we will consider the nature and significance of grief, asking whether someone’s grief over the loss of a person she loves – for example, her spouse or her child – helps determine the significance of her relationship with that person. Readings may include selections from Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, selections from Martha Nussbaum’s Upheavals of Thought, Dan Moller’s “Love and Death”, and selected poetry of Robert Frost. (4) Fourth, we will ask whether and how our values are shaped by the assumption that other people will live on after we die. Here we will read selections from Samuel Scheffler’s recent book Death and the Afterlife, with commentaries by Susan Wolf and Seana Shiffrin.

Prerequisite: 2 courses in philosophy other than PHIL 155, including PHIL 362.