David M. Nixon
Examination of major ethical alternatives (egoism, utilitarianism, hedonism, virtue ethics, relativism, emotivism) along with competing visions of the good society (libertarian, communitarian, feminist). Analyzes several contemporary problems, such as legal moralism, affirmative action, euthanasia, capital punishment, corporate responsibility.
First we'll discuss various ethical theories -- that is, theories that try to explain what MAKES a particular action or policy morally right or wrong. For example, we all know that slavery (or stealing for no reason, or arson, etc.) are morally wrong. But it's harder to explain exactly WHY. Then we'll do some applied ethics -- that is, we'll try to figure out, with regard to some particular contemporary moral issues (like abortion, death penalty, drug legalization, gay rights, etc.) what the morally correct course of action in fact is: We'll look at arguments from several competing perspectives, and employ our knowledge of ethical theory to help guide us.
Student learning goals
Students will have a better understanding of some of the major ethical theories.
Students will be able to be more articulate when they argue for their own ethical positions.
Students will be able to be more understanding and empathetic to people whose ethical positions are different from their own.
I hope that after taking this class, when students get into a discussion with someone who has a different ethical perspective, the discussion will be more sophisticated and open, less judgmental and close-minded.
General method of instruction
reading & discussion.
Class assignments and grading
Some short writing assignments, a midterm and a final exam.