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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Stephen M. Gardiner
PHIL 240
Seattle Campus

Introduction to Ethics

Critical introduction to various philosophical views of the basis and presuppositions of morality and moral knowledge. Critical introduction to various types of normative ethical theory, including utilitarian, deontological, and virtue theories.

Class description

This course is an introductory overview of some central themes in contemporary ethical theory. It is structured around a discussion of one perennially popular theory of ethics, utilitarianism. Utilitarianism claims, roughly-speaking, that the morally right thing to do is that which brings about the maximum happiness for those affected. This doctrine has both shaped the twentieth-century debate in ethics and had an enduring influence on social policy (especially through contemporary economics and law). However, it has been criticized for, amongst other things, being too demanding, being unable to account for the importance of basic human rights, failing to take seriously the separateness of persons, and undermining personal integrity. We shall try to assess such criticisms, and utilitarian responses to them. We shall also introduce the two main alternatives to utilitarianism, Kantian ethics and virtue ethics. In the course of our discussion, we will consider questions such as the following. Does happiness consist in pleasure, in getting what one wants (or should want), or in living a good human life? Is welfare the only thing that matters morally? Are rights, duties and close personal relationships independently important, for reasons other than their connection to welfare? Are there any limits to what morality may ask of us?

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


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.
Last Update by Sara L. Caka
Date: 11/07/2008