PHIL 66.001 – FYS: Ethics: Theoretical and Practical

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Instructor: TBA. This course meets TR 11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. in MT 205.

In this seminar, we will consider some foundational questions of moral philosophy and their relevance for concrete practical issues that we face today. Topics to be discussed include the following:

Does every human agent have a conclusive reason to do what morality requires, regardless of what her individual preferences and desires happen to be? Does God determine what is morally right or good? Are moral values relative to particular societies or cultural traditions? Are we morally required to produce the greatest total amount of happiness (as ‘utilitarians’ argue)? Or are there absolute moral constraints, such as respecting the rights of persons, that we must never disregard even if doing so would produce more happiness (as ‘deontologists’ argue)? More concretely: Is it morally permissible in warfare to sacrifice civilians? Are well-off people morally required to forego luxuries such as smartphones and fancy cars in order to help the poor and starving? Is abortion morally permissible? What, exactly, is wrong with exploitation and oppression, and what are the different forms that these moral evils can take?

We will explore these issues through open, respectful class discussion and careful study of influential (both classical and contemporary) philosophical texts. In later parts of the course, students will lead the discussion through their own presentations. There will be several shorter papers and a longer final paper.

The seminar will incorporate a workshop where we explore strategies for doing class presentations and writing college-level papers. For the long paper, students will have the opportunity to work with the instructor on a draft before submitting the final version.