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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Nancy A.S. Jecker
MHE 404
Seattle Campus

Metaethical Theory

Study of major ethical writings in the twentieth century, with principal emphasis on the Anglo-American tradition. Recommended: one introductory philosophy course. Offered: jointly with PHIL 413.

Class description

This course aims to familiarize students with some of the central concerns of moral philosophers of the twentieth century. These concerns focus on the nature and justification of moral judgments and the meaning of central terms in ethics.

Among the questions we shall explore are the following: If we call a state of affairs good or bad or an action right or wrong, are we expressing our personal feelings or tastes or are we asserting something about the way the world is independent of our feelings and tastes? Can basic moral and value judgments be justified in any objective way similar to the way in which factual judgments can be justified? What makes actions right? What does "good" mean? Are there "moral facts" to which our moral judgments refer? What is the relationship between reason and morality?

The first and second parts of the course examine cognitivist and non-cognitivist theories of ethics. We study important figures in moral philosophy during the first half of this century, including Moore, Ross, Ayer, and Stevenson.

The final section of the course investigates the contemporary revival of ethical cognitivism. We discuss the ethical rationalism of philosophers such as Gewirth, Gert, and Rawls. We conclude by taking a careful look at feminist and multicultural challenges to rationalist theories.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Students are required to take two examinations. Grades are determined by performance on these exams and by informed participation in class discussion.

Class participation can influence your grade in the following way: if your final grade as determined by examinations and paper is lower than seems appropriate based on what I have observed of your performance in class, I will raise your grade accordingly; no one's final grade will be dropped because of poor class performance.

Recommended preparation

Prerequisite: Prior courses in ethics or philosophy. Open to majors and to graduate students. No freshmen or sophomores.

Class assignments and grading

Course Syllabus

I. ETHICAL COGNITIVISM

A. Introduction Introduction

B. Ethical Realism G.E. Moore, "Preface to Principia Ethica" (M) G.E. Moore, "The Subject Matter of Ethics" (M)

G.E. Moore, "Hedonism" (M)

G.E. Moore, "Ethics in Relation to Conduct" (M) G.E. Moore, "The Ideal" (M)

C. Critiques of Realism J.R. Searle, "How to Derive `Ought' From Is'" (C) Frankena, The Naturalistic Fallacy (C)

Santayana, Hypostatic Ethics (C) Perry, Value as an Object of Any Interest(C)

II. ETHICAL NONCOGNITIVISM

A. Irrationalism Ayer, The Elimination of Metaphysics (O) Ayer, A Critique of Ethics (C) Ross, Critique of Ayer (O)

B. Emotivism Stevenson, The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms (C) Stevenson, The Nature of Ethical Disagreement (C)

Review Session

EXAMINATION 1

III. THE REVIVAL OF ETHICAL COGNITIVISM

A. Ethical Rationalism 1. Rationally Required Rules A. Gewirth, "The Normative Structure of Action" (O) A. Gewirth, "The Principle of Generic Consistency" (O)

B. Gert, "Justification of the Moral Rules--The First Five" (O) B. Gert, "Justification of the Moral Rules--The Second Five" (O)

2. Rational Choice Behind a Veil of Ignorance R. Firth, Ethical Absolutism and the Ideal Observer (C) J. Rawls, Outline of a Decision Procedure for Ethics (C)

Rawls, Theory of Justice (O sec. 1-4, 9, 11, 14, 20-22, 26-30)

Rawls, Theory of Justice (O sec. 23-25, 32-35, 39, 40, 82)

Rawls, Theory of Justice (O sec.60, 63-65, 68, 78-81)

B. Critiques of Rationalism Sterba, Traditional Ethics (S) Sterba, The Masculine Bias in Traditional Ethics (S) Sterba, The Western Bias in Traditional Ethics (S) Okin, Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? (O)

Exam Review

EXAMINATION 2 GRADUATE STUDENT PAPERS DUE

Students are required to take two examinations. Grades are determined by performance on these exams and by informed participation in class discussion.

Class participation can influence your grade in the following way: if your final grade as determined by examinations and paper is lower than seems appropriate based on what I have observed of your performance in class, I will raise your grade accordingly; no one's final grade will be dropped because of poor class performance.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Course Web Site
Last Update by Kelly J Canaday
Date: 03/01/2007