Introduction to Ethics (PHIL 160, SECTION 003)

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Instructor: Luke Elson. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10:00 – 10:50.

This will be an intensive philosophical introduction to two questions in ethics:

  1. what makes actions right or wrong?
  2. are our values objective?

Philosophers have tried to answer these questions in many ways.

We’ll look at two extremely influential ways of answering the first question, utilitarianism (where an action is right if it produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people), and Kantianism (where an action is right if it is done for the right sort of reason–very roughly!). We’ll go back to the original sources, but also look at some more recent debates about utilitarianism in particular.

In the second part of the course, we’ll try to answer the second question. Many people have been tempted to think that there must be no objective moral values: what would such things be? and if there are objective moral truths, how do we explain the differences between cultures? We’ll look at arguments for and against this position.

Since this is a small course (no more than 20 students), I hope to cover the material in some depth, with a lot of discussion. A short presentation on one of the readings will be given by everyone enrolled in the course.

For more info, and a syllabus, see the course webpage.

Luke Elson’s departmental webpage.