Ethics GI Syllabus
Prerequisites: English 1010 or 1020
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates in Plato’s Apology, 38a
To examine one’s life is to examine one’s moral values. The moral values each individual holds guides how they interact with others throughout every aspect of their life be it in their familial, academic, volunteer, career or social relationships. In a world that is becoming increasingly globalized and interconnected, individuals are engaging with diversity more than ever before in history. The purpose of this course is to offer an introductory exploration of socially diverse aspects of ethical thought. If it is true that to have wisdom is to live a good life and the study of ethics is a study of how to live a good life, then this course will provide students with a solid foundational study of the most perennial of philosophical endeavors.
Course Aims and Outcomes:
The goal of this course is to provide students with a socially conscious introductory survey of a diverse array of ethical arguments and positions. The course is designed to give students a solid foundation for knowledgably engaging with the diversity of ethical positions they will encounter in various aspects of their lives.
Specific Learning Outcomes
By the end of this course, students will be able to:
- Describe and explain major thinkers’ ethical positions and arguments
- Analyze and critically examine major thinkers’ ethical positions and arguments
- Outline diverse historical trajectories of ethical thought
- Recognize and apply various ethical positions to modern day and real life examples
By the end of the course, students will firstly be able to describe and explain in detail each major thinker’s ethical position by reformulating each thinker’s argument, including all major points, premises, the ultimate conclusion or perspective advocated, and the normative guidelines that follow from the position. Secondly, students will demonstrate that they have analyzed and critically examined the thinker’s position by comparing and contrasting the position with other thinker’s positions. Students will be able to recognize and demonstrate how and on what points different thinkers’ arguments diverge. Students will demonstrate they have examined the position by reflecting upon if the position is tenable. Students will engage in a dialogue with the thinker’s position, questioning the thinker’s points and premises, if the conclusion or perspective necessarily follows from the premises or points, if the conclusion or perspective is applicable to lived experience and why or why not the position ought to be accepted. Thirdly, students will be able to outline how the history of ethical thought expanded and diversified throughout history by detailing the historical connections between all of the major thinkers’ positions. Fourthly, students will be able to recognize and apply the various ethical positions to modern day and real life examples by picking out issues in popular culture, news or other media that raise ethical questions and/or use variations of the various ethical theories as normative guides. In short, students will be able to demonstrate that they understand and have reflected upon each major thinker’s ethical position as well as have applied their understanding to real world examples.
Ultimately, our objective is to help you to develop greater knowledge and recognition of the complexities inherent in global and intercultural issues by focusing on their ethical and normative dimensions. We hope that you will be encouraged to engage in serious reflection on issues of ethics and values as they relate to your own lives as knowledgeable, thoughtful, reflective, responsible, and respectful citizens within a society of increasing intercultural connections.
Course Format and Procedures:
This course meets twice a week for lecture and in class discussion. Attendance for lectures and participation in discussions is crucial. Students are allowed up to three absences. Each additional absence beyond the third will result in a 5% deduction in the student’s final grade. In addition to in class discussions, students must engage with other students via online discussions at least three times a week, for at least ten of the twelve weeks of lectures. I will provide online discussion prompts which will be based on the readings and lectures for the week. One online discussion prompt will be provided for the first day of class for the week and the second will be provided for the second day of class for the week. Students must respond to each prompt for each lecture and then must respond to at least one other student’s response. Students are expected to remain respectful and thoughtful when engaging with other students, whether online or in class. Philosophical discourse is by its nature critical, but it need not be disrespectful, patronizing or demeaning.
The course is designed to engage with ethical theories that specifically address abstract social concepts such as justice, freedom and peace. The course begins with Socrates’ examination of what it means for something to be “good.” The Euthyphro Dilemma sets the trajectory for western ethical thought following from each horn of the dilemma. Following an examination of Socrates’ conceptions of justice and duty in the Republic and the Apology, the course will examine Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics along with his conceptions of justice and duty. Thomas Aquinas incorporates Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics into a conception of natural law theory that heavily influenced medieval conceptions of ethics and justice. From the Ancient Greeks and medieval ethics, the course will move on to the diversity of thought emerging during the Enlightenment. While Early Modern ethical theory was dominated by the opposing conceptions of duty (Immanuel Kant) and consequence (John Stuart Mill), the ethics of the burgeoning capitalist socio-economic system was being hailed by Adam Smith and critically examined by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
A critical examination of the ethical issues behind economic and social relations leads into an examination of the role of the individual to the collective society. Thomas Hobbes and Immanuel Kant offer conceptions of social contract theory closely tied to the ethical role of the individual to the collective society. Furthermore, Kant ties his ethical theory to a theory of sustainable peace. John Rawls offers a modern day and modified conception of social contract theory replete with ethical conceptions of justice and duty. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” utilizes conceptions of social contract theory and natural law theory while Michelle Alexander draws attention to ethics and racism. bell hooks examines the hierarchy of oppression based on race, sex and class. Notions of the primacy of reason in ethical discourse are dispelled by Carol Gilligan and Nel Noddings who advocate incorporating a conception of care into the discourse. The course then examines expanding the moral circle to include animals (Catharine MacKinnon, Peter Singer and Tom Regan) and nature (Aldo Leopold and Paul Taylor). In conclusion, the course examines a prominent eastern ethical theory, namely Buddhist Ethics.
- 40 points or 40% of the final grade will be based on online discussion prompts. There will be two online discussion prompts every week, for twelve weeks. Each week a student responds to both discussion prompts as well as to at least one other student’s response, the student will receive four points. To receive full credit for this portion of the final grade, the student must respond to both discussion prompts and at least one other student’s response for each week for at least ten of the twelve weeks discussion prompts are offered. Responses should be 500-750 words and should include the student’s critical analysis of the thinker’s position.
- 15 points or 15% of the final grade will be based on a midterm in class exam. For the midterm, students are to compare and contrast ethical positions from two of the thinkers we have discussed up to that point. The thinkers to be compared and contrasted will be chosen on the day of the exam.
- 15 points or 15% of the final grade will be based on a final in class exam. For the final, students are to compare and contrast the ethical positions from two of the thinkers we have discussed since the midterm. The thinkers to be compared and contrasted will be chosen on the day of the exam.
- 30 points or 30% of the final grade will be based on a final paper. The final paper should have standard formatting, 12 point font, Times New Roman, double spaced, with MLA citations and a works cited page. The final paper needs to incorporate four things specifically: (1) a detailed explanation and breakdown of one of the thinkers’ ethical positions, (2) how the thinker’s ethical position fits into the wider social ethical discussion, (3) critical examination of the thinker’s ethical position, and (4) application of the thinker’s ethical position to modern day examples.
Just don’t cheat. Don’t get other people to do your work for you. Don’t appropriate others’ work as your own. Don’t copy and paste another’s work from the internet. Don’t do anything else that would entail passing off something that someone else has done as your own. You can quote others and you can put another person’s work in your own words, but you must cite your source. If you have any questions whatsoever on what plagiarism is, please talk to me. Otherwise, I will assume you know what plagiarism is and if you do plagiarize then you will be subject to disciplinary action ranging from failing the assignment to failing the course.
Required Texts and Tentative Schedule:
Week One – The Beginning of the Western Ethical Discourse:
Plato, Republic, Book I
Week Two – The Beginning (cont.):
Plato, Republic, Book II
Week Three – Virtue Ethics and Medieval Ethics:
Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, Book II
Aristotle, Politics, Book I
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, “Treatise on Law,” Questions 90-96
Week Four – Early Modern Ethics (Deontology and Utilitarianism: The Big Two):
Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, “First Section: Transition from the Ordinary Rational Knowledge of Morality to the Philosophical”
Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, “Second Section: Transition from Popular Moral Philosophy to a Metaphysics of Morals”
John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, Chapter I: “General Remarks,” and Chapter II: “What Utilitarianism Is”
Week Five – Capitalism and Ethics:
Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part I, Section 3: “How Prosperity and Adversity Affect our Judgments About the Rightness of Actions; and Why it is Easier to Win our Approval in Prosperity than in Adversity”
Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part II, Section 2: “Justice and Beneficence”
Week Six – Capitalism and Ethics (cont.):
Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, “First Manuscript: Estranged Labor”
Friedrich Engels, Condition of the Working Class in England, “The Great Towns”
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto
Week Seven – Ethics, Social Contract Theory, Peace and Distributive Justice:
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Chapters 13-15
Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question: ‘What is Enlightenment?’”
Immanuel Kant, “Toward Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch”
John Rawls, Justice as Fairness, “The Main Idea of the Theory of Justice,” “The Original Position and Justification,” and “Two Principles of Justice”
Week Eight – Race, Feminism and Ethics:
Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Michelle Alexander, “The New Jim Crow”
bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, Chapter 2: “Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression”
bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, Chapter 3: “The Significance of the Feminist Movement”
Week Nine – Feminism and Feminist Ethic of Care:
bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, Chapter 4: “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Among Women”
bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, Chapter 5: “Men: Comrades in Struggle”
Carol Gilligan, “Hearing the Difference: Theorizing Connection”
Nel Noddings, “Care and Moral Education”
Week Ten – Non-Human Animal Ethics:
Catharine A. MacKinnon, “Of Mice and Men: A Feminist Fragment on Animal Rights”
Peter Singer, “All Animals are Equal”
Tom Regan, “The Case for Animal Rights”
Week Eleven – Environmental Ethics:
Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic”
Paul W. Taylor, “The Ethics of Respect for Nature”
Week Twelve – Buddhist Ethics:
Mark Siderits, Buddhism as Philosophy: An Introduction, Chapter 4, “Buddhist Ethics”
William Irwin, “Liberation through Compassion and Kindness: The Buddhist Eightfold Path as a Philosophy of Life”
Week Thirteen – Conclusion
Final Paper Due