Life presents us with many questions and choices with moral dimensions, and coming to grips with these questions requires understanding as well as motivation or feeling. Moral philosophy is an area of inquiry dedicated to promoting such understanding. Moral philosophers seek to develop the concepts and principles needed to understand the nature and the origin of our fundamental values, how (if at all) these values might be justified, and what implications they might have for how we should live our lives — as individuals, as groups or societies, and as co-inhabitants of the earth. The lecture portion of this course provides a systematic introduction to the concepts and principles of moral philosophy, and also to the dominant traditions in Western moral thought. The discussion sections will each have a sustained focus on a particular domain of contemporary moral concern. The overarching goal of the lecture and sections, taken together, is to give students the resources they need to analyze difficult and controversial moral issues, to think about these issues in clear and critical ways, and to challenge and develop their own moral views. Throughout, an effort will be made to tie theoretical questions to the actual questions we face in daily life, and to draw upon insights about morality arising from research done in other disciplines, such as psychology, social and political theory, anthropology, and decision theory and game theory.
Individual Discussion Topics by Section:
Sections 002 & 004: Coercion
This section will focus on what moral theory has to say about state action. Specifically, we will be asking whether and when the state is morally justified in using force to compel citizens to follow its directives. In the course of this investigation, several questions will come up.
- When is a state legitimate?
- When does a state lose legitimacy?
- Is the state justified in enforcing paternalistic laws?
- Is the state justified in enforcing moralistic laws?
- Do we have an obligation to follow the law? Do we have an obligation to follow unjust laws?
Our goal will be to examine potential answers to these questions, using theoretical tools acquired in class readings and lectures, with the aim of it formulating informed answers of our own.
Sections 003 & 005: Collective Action and Social Justice
In our increasingly complex social world, many of the pressing moral problems we face — environmental, economic, political, and social — cannot be solved by individual action. Responding to such issues as climate change, poverty, exploitation, and social prejudice will require us to engage in some form of shared or collective action. This section will examine moral principles and problems with an eye to understanding the special challenges and promise of collective action with respect to issues of social justice.
- What are my obligations to those in need, or those less well-off?
- How can I be an "ethical consumer" or an "ethical eater"?
- When is it morally wrong for me to do things that contribute to environmental degradation, or to global and social inequality?
In exploring and evaluating answers to these questions, we will draw on the philosophical concepts and tools introduced in the course lectures and readings.
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Freshmen and Sophomores from all academic areas.
Lecture/Discussion. The discussion sections will each have a sustained focus on a particular domain of contemporary moral concern.