PHIL 160.001 – Introduction to Ethics

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Instructor: Cole Mitchell. This course meets MWF 12:00 p.m. – 12:50 p.m. in CW 105.

This course will provide an introduction to some important questions of ethics. The first part of the course will focus on the content of moral theory: how should we live and why? First, we will ask: why should I be moral at all? We will consider arguments for why we should—or shouldn’t—be moral. But if we do have good reason to be moral, we will want to describe how morality characterizes how we should live. Throughout the course, we will read our textbook with the assistance of a few historical ‘great works’: Mill’s Utilitarianism, Kant’s Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals, and Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. We will consider why the authors answered our guiding question in the way they did, and consider more modern versions and criticisms of their views. We will also examine the status of moral theory: what characteristics does a good moral theory have, and what problems do all moral theories have to contend with? This part of the course will focus on three major questions. 1) Are moral facts objective in a special way, or is ethics based only on how we feel or our social conventions? 2) If we know what is right or wrong, how can we explain how we acquired such knowledge? 3) How does what we think about morality translate into good action? Students will learn to assess, compare, and argue for various stances through writing and discussion. No previous philosophical or ethical background is expected or required.