Contemporary Moral Theory
14:00 - 15:30
Institute of English and American Studies
The course deals with the standard approaches—utilitarianism, Kantianism, virtue theory, and contractarianism as well as more recent ones such as pragmatism and feminism—and issues in moral theory, such as intrinsic value, subjectivity, realism, the role of principles and rules, and the very possibility of ethics. Readings for the course will be from a variety of authors, but many of them will be found in The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, edited by Hugh LaFollette (Blackwell Publishing, 2000). Although the instructor has endeavored to make readings readily available, students may want to purchase this useful volume. The schedule of classes, topics and readings is available online. Questions should be directed to Michael Eldridge firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Moral theory, particularly, Anglo-American moral theory, can be rather abstract, even technical. It is ironic that explanations of a pervasive feature of life can be quite remote from that life, but such is the nature of much philosophical discussion of morality in the twentieth century. Students should be prepared to read material that is often dense and closely argued. Enjoying this sort of reading is an acquired taste; those who have not acquired this facility and interest often react to it as boring and irrelevant.
Readings: Students are expected to read the assigned reading prior to the class for which it is assigned. The lectures will assume familiarity with the assigned reading.
Paper on one of the following topics:
A Moral Issue: Definition and Explanation (what makes it a moral issue)
Standard Moral Theory: Utilitarianism, Kantianism, Contractualism, Virtue Ethics, Feminist Ethics or Pragmatic Ethics
A Major Figure in Twentieth Century Ethics: Moore, Ross, Dewey, Hare, Anscombe or Rawls
A Moral or Ethical Concept: Justification, Obligation, Intuition, Realism or Relativism
Ethical Theories: What They Are and What They Do
The exact focus of the paper is to be worked out with the instructor, and ideas, drafts and notes are to be shared with the instructor during the course of the semester. The instructor will not accept a final version if there have not been preliminary versions and discussions. The final version is due December 1.
Length: 5 to 8 pages for second and third year students; 10 to 15 pages for fourth and fifth year students.
Final Exam: Oral; two questions: one concerning the paper and one to be chosen at random from the list that will be announced at the end of the course. If the student does not like his or her first choice, s/he may choose again with a reduction in grade penalty.
Week 1 (September 8): Moral Theory and Its History
Week 2 (September 15): Utilitarianism and Moral Theory
Week 3 (September 22): Kantian Ethics
Week 4 (September 29): Contractualism & Constructivism
Week 5 (October 6): Virtue Theory
Week 6 (October 13): Feminist Ethics
Week 7 (October 20): Pragmatic Ethics
Week 8 (October 27): Moore's Wrong Turn
Week 9 (November 11): Intuitionism
Week 10 (November 18): Hare's Universal Prescriptivism
Week 11 (November 25): Anscombe and Mackie
Week 12 (December 1): Continental/European Ethics
Week 13 (December 8): Anti-Ethics
Week 14 (December 15): Ethical Theory