PHIL 160H.001 – Honors: Virtue, Value, and Happiness: An Introduction to Moral Theory

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Instructor: Simone Gubler. This course meets MWF 12:20 – 1:10 p.m. in GM 210.

What is the good life? If I want to live well, should I pursue happiness, wealth, fast cars, love, lust, religious devotion, learning… and/or should I get a dog*?

How should I act? When faced with morally significant choices, what should I do? Is moral practice about obeying rules, generating good outcomes, or cultivating character?

In this class, we will tackle these questions—questions about how we should live, and what we should do—systematically. We will begin by familiarizing ourselves with the major theoretical traditions in ethics: utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics (as well as with one anti-theoretical tradition: particularism). Then, we will move to engage with recent philosophical debates that both highlight differences among the competing ethical theories and provoke worries about their ability to account for the complexity of moral experience. Thorny issues for discussion include:

  • What should people do in situations in which it appears that they morally ought to do one thing, andanother thing, but cannot do both?
  • Should we render moral judgment on someone for acting where they were not in full control of the action or its outcomes? Is there such a thing as moral luck, and how should it condition our attitudes to each other?
  • Are some actions “supererogatory”—that is, morally good to perform, but not morally required of us?
  • When my own life is in danger, what sort of actions can morality demand of me?

*Yes.