Below is a sampling of undergraduate courses in ethics and moral philosophy offered by the Department of Philosophy. For specific information on individual courses and when they’re offered, please visit the course schedule.
PHIL 160.001, Introduction to Ethics
This course will provide an introduction to some important questions of ethics. The first part of the course will focus on the content of moral theory: how should we live and why? First, we will ask: why should I be moral at all? We will consider arguments for why we should—or shouldn’t—be moral. But if we do have good reason to be moral, we will want to describe how morality characterizes how we should live. Throughout the course, we will read our textbook with the assistance of a few historical ‘great works’: Mill’sUtilitarianism, Kant’s Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals, and Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. We will consider why the authors answered our guiding question in the way they did, and consider more modern versions and criticisms of their views. We will also examine the status of moral theory: what characteristics does a good moral theory have, and what problems do all moral theories have to contend with? This part of the course will focus on three major questions. 1) Are moral facts objective in a special way, or is ethics based only on how we feel or our social conventions? 2) If we know what is right or wrong, how can we explain how we acquired such knowledge? 3) How does what we think about morality translate into good action? Students will learn to assess, compare, and argue for various stances through writing and discussion. No previous philosophical or ethical background is expected or required.
PHIL 163.001, Practical Ethics
The goal of this course is to equip you with the philosophical methodology and the information you will need in order to make productive contributions to public debates about moral issues. We will begin with some basic logic and some of the fundamental concepts in moral theory. We will then critically examine a variety of issues including abortion, animal rights, punishment, exploitation, and environmental justice. This course has no prerequisites, and it satisfies both the PH general education requirement and the philosophy requirement for the philosophy, politics, and economics minor.
PHIL 165.001, Bioethics
Few things raise more pressing and more difficult ethical questions than health care, and the related biological sciences. This course is intended to prepare students to think critically about the numerous questions in these areas that are likely to confront them in their lives, whether as patients, care-takers, and citizens, or as professionals in medical or related fields. Throughout the semester, we will consider a number of practical issues which raise important ethical questions: Issues such as doctor/patient confidentiality, involuntary medical treatment, and research ethics lead us to examine the purpose of medicine and, more specifically, the potential conflict between the value of benefiting individuals and/or society and the value of respecting individuals’ rights to decide how to live their lives. Issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and cloning lead us to consider the nature and value of personhood, and the extent and nature of our obligations to others. In many cases, we will also look at what happens when an issue is viewed from an individualistic vs. a societal perspective, and will also discuss some issues which fit more squarely into the “societal” category, such as whether there is a right to health care.
PHI 261.001, Ethics in Practice
This course provides students with an opportunity to practice applying moral theories and principles of argument that they learn in their ethics classes in the interactive format of the Ethics Bowl. The Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl (IEB) combines a competitive tournament with a valuable educational experience. We will receive 15 case studies around Sept. 15th involving ethical issues in practical contexts, including engineering, law, medicine, personal relationships, education, and both domestic and international politics. Specific questions may concern a wide range of ethically salient topics, including but not limited to plagiarism, dating and friendship, gun control, environmental policy, civilian casualties, and globalization.
During the course students will discuss and prepare arguments about several cases. Preparation involves significant research, writing, understanding ethical theories, and oral presentation. The day hours of the class are designed to assist in these tasks. The team sent to the Ethics Bowl competition will be selected from those registered in the course. During recitations students will give presentations in mock Ethics Bowl competitions.
PHIL 266H.001, Ethics of Sport
Sports play a significant role in the lives of millions of people throughout the world, as participants, fans, spectators, and critics. Sport provides a unique model for understanding our own society. Even those who are uninvolved, bored or critical of sports are often affected by them. Because sports are significant forms of social activities, they raise a wide range of issues, some factual, some explanatory. E.g. sociologists may be concerned with whether or not sports affect society; psychologists may be concerned with personality features which contribute to success or failure in sport. In addition to these questions, sports also raise philosophical issues that are conceptual and ethical in nature. Conceptual questions ask how we understand the concepts and ideas that apply to the world of sports. What are sports? What is involved in competition? Ethical questions raise moral concerns many of us have about sports. Is there too much emphasis on winning and competition? Are college sports getting out of hand? Indeed do competitive athletics belong on campus? Has commercialization of sports undermined their integrity? This course will examine these and other ethical issues in American sports, including, but not limited to, Title IX, gender equity, racism, sexism, cheating, violence, and drug use. My concern will be to gain an understanding of the moral significance of sport through readings and class discussion. We may not be able to resolve the issues, but we should at least gain a greater understanding of the issues, which should serve as beginnings to resolutions.
PHIL/POLI/PWAD 272.001, Ethics of Peace, War, and Defense
This course will explore major ethical questions that arise in the context of international relations. First, we will explore the moral questions that arise in the context of conflict between states. Is the international sphere a place where ethical judgments apply at all? Could it ever be morally justified to go to war and if so under what conditions? Are there any moral limits to what means one might rightfully use in warfare?
Next we will explore moral questions of international relations that arise outside the context of conflict between states. Are such things as universal human rights? Are nations morally obligated to limit their pollution or the destruction of the natural environment? In a global economy what, if anything, is owed to the world’s poor?
PHIL 280.001, Morality and Law
It seems plausible that there is a moral obligation to obey the law. At the same time, it also seems easy to identify cases in which the law was or is unjust. How do we resolve this apparent tension between what is morally required and what is legally required? In this course, we will attempt to answer this and other questions at the intersection of law and morality. We will begin by considering what it is that morality requires of us, how to distinguish the rules of morality from laws, and why a society ought to be governed by laws and not merely by moral rules. We will then consider what general criteria a system of laws must meet in order to be just. We will also consider the moral dimensions of particular aspects of the law, including criminal law, punishment, property law, and torts. Finally, we will return to the opening question about what we ought to do when the laws do not appear to meet moral standards: when, if ever, should we obey immoral laws? This course has no prerequisites, and it satisfies the philosophy requirement for the philosophy, politics, and economics minor.
PHIL 364.001, Ethics and Economics
In this course, we’ll philosophically engage with concepts that lie along the seams of economics, ethics, and political thought: concepts like labor, property, freedom, contract, and value. What is labor, and how does it earn for us property rights in material goods? What sorts of property rights do we have? Are they best respected in a free market environment, or do they allow (or even require) a redistributive state? What is the relationship between our freedom to use our property as we like—our economic freedom—and our political freedom to involve ourselves in the state’s decision-making processes? Under what conditions are contracts exploitative, and what ought to be done to protect vulnerable persons from such exploitation? What is value, and how do we best identify what is valuable?
Starting at an abstract level, we’ll draw on the work of historically influential thinkers (in particular, John Locke, Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, and Karl Marx) work to develop the theoretical frameworks with which to make sense of and begin to address concrete and pressing issues facing us today. We’ll look at cases in which courts have decided to strike down exploitative contracts, at arguments in favor of raising minimum wage laws, at critiques of persistent racial, religious, and gender inequalities in the job market, and at ways in which the market shapes us as individuals and as a society.
PHIL 462.001, Contemporary Moral Philosophy
Morality seems to be a universal feature of human thinking. People across time, place, and culture have a strong sense of right and wrong. Where does this moral sense come from? Is it innate? Is it a product of socialization? Why do some people disagree so strongly about what is right and wrong? Are there any universally agreed upon moral rules?
Although morality was once of primary interest to psychologists, interest in the topic saw a sharp decline. In recent years, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in the science of morality. Recently, scientists across a wide range of disciplines have made discoveries that bear on the question of how and why humans have a sense of morality.
The goals of this course are to offer an introduction to the science behind our moral sense. In order to achieve this goal, we will read articles on religion, philosophy, and almost every area of scientific psychology (social psychology, developmental psychology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive psychology). By the end of the course you should be well versed in the primary issues and debates involved in the scientific study of morality.
PHIL 463.001, Contemporary Moral and Social Problems
Republican theorists like Philip Pettit and Quentin Skinner tell us that domination in certain circumstances violates a most important kind of liberty and also tends to make the dominated servile. It is also generally supposed that those treated unjustly naturally resent those who treated them unjustly. In this course we will explore the meanings and various relations between these claims. For example what is domination; what is the kind of liberty it violates and why this kind of liberty is so important; what are the circumstances in which domination breeds servility in the dominated; what is servility; what is resentment and other related negative attitudes; what is forgiveness; what does it mean to say that injustice arouses resentment; are resentment and servility related in some interesting way; and so on. We will start off reading some essays by the best known of the republicans like Pettit, Skinner, Lovett and others; also of course the best of the many responses to those essays. There are a great many to choose from and I think it will be better for our purposes to read the essays rather than the book. Then we will do some essays on injustice and resentment, especially those of Strawson, Jeffrie Murphy, Jean Hampton, and others. On servility the best of course is Hill’s. There seems to be no good reason to have you buy a text since the articles are available electronically in the journals.
PHIL 78.001, Death as a Problem for Philosophy: Metaphysical & Ethical
This course will explore the nature and significance of death by drawing on works in philosophy, literature, and film. The questions we will consider include: Do we survive our bodily deaths, and if not, should we fear death? Do our lives have meaning? Does our mortality have any implications for the way we should live? Beginning with Plato’s account of the trial and death of Socrates and ending with Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, the course will also include readings by Joan Didion, Viktor Frankl, and C.S. Lewis.
PHIL/ENEC 368.001, Environmental Ethics
This course will explore the nature of environmental values as well as some topics in moral philosophy that are relevant to environmental ethics. The questions we will discuss include: What and how much ought we to consume? Does nature or the environment have value beyond being a resource for humans to use? What is the moral status of animals, species, and ecosystems? What are the important ethical issues involved in thinking about environmental policies and, in particular, the prospect of global warming?