PHIL 163.002 – Practical Ethics

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Instructor: Douglas MacLean. This course meets W 5:00 – 7:30 p.m. in GM 038, with a recitation on Mondays.

This course is reserved for first-year Robertson Scholars.  This course will meet at Duke the first half of the semester, and at UNC the second half of the semester.

This course satisfies the PH general education requirement.

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?  What is the meaning of concepts like duty, rights, and equality?  What are the arguments for or against ethical relativism, egoism, and the role of religion in morality?  The practical issues we will examine include: the demands of justice for helping the poor, moral duties to animals, morality and the law, abortion, euthanasia, war and terrorism, duties to oneself, and the relation between ethics and living a meaningful life.

Our aim is neither to try to resolve our society’s deepest moral controversies, 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 reasoning.