PHIL 280.001 – Morality and Law

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Instructor: Steven Swartzer. This course meets MTWRF 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. in CW 103.

In this course we will explore the relationship between law and morality.  During the first part of the course we will examine abstract questions about the nature of law. When your community tells you that you may not leave your car parked on a city street for more than twenty-four hours or it will be impounded, this command has the force of law.  But what makes this command any different from when the mafia warns that if your car is still there twenty-four hours from now it will be “impounded”?  What makes the first a law and the second a mere threat?  In short, what makes a law a law?  In the second part of the course, we will examine the ethics of punishment.  Typically, it’s wrong to make bad things happen to other people.  Yet punishment seems … different.  But why?  What makes it ok to cause others to suffer, in response to their criminal wrongdoing?  Is it because offenders deserve to be treated badly because of what they did?  Is it because treating them badly in this way would help prevent that kind of action from happening again in the future?  Or, might punishment itself actually be immoral?  In order to get a fuller understanding ethical questions related to criminal justice, we will also discuss the influence of race, class, and gender on the current system of mass incarceration in the United States.

This course is designed for students who have an interest in ethics, political philosophy, political science, or law.  Phil 280 satisfies the Philosophy Core requirement for UNC’s PPE program.