Instructor: Geoffrey Sayre-McCord. This course meets MW 11:15 a.m. – 12:05 p.m. in GS G100, with a recitation on Fridays.
This course is an introduction to moral theory. We will be going straight to the classics — a few of the best books ever written on moral theory: Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and Mill’s Utilitarianism. We will be concerned primarily with two questions: (1) What really matters? and (2) What is involved in answering (1)? In general, worries about the second question arise from worries about the first; and answers to the second usually commit us to answers to the first. In fact, the questions are really far more entangled than they are distinct. So we won’t be taking the questions in order; instead we will jump back and forth between the two. In coming to grips with these two very general questions we will focus on three fundamental, but slightly more specific, questions: (i) What does morality demand? (ii) Under what conditions are we responsible for our success or failure in living up to these demands? and (iii) What connection is there between our being moral and our living a good (satisfying, fulfilling) life? The first calls for a theory of morality, the second requires a theory of moral responsibility, and the third asks for an answer to an age old question: why should I be moral? We will, pretty much, be taking them in reverse order.