Stephen M. Gardiner
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.
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?
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