Jason D. Benchimol
Introduction to ethics through in-depth study of one or more selected topics (e.g., limits of moral community, animal rights, moral education, and freedom). Topics vary.
This is a topics course in ethical theory. The general subject matter of the course is moral evaluation. It is commonly thought that people are subject to moral evaluation on the basis of their actions. So, it is quite natural for us to praise people when they do good things and to blame those who commit moral wrongs. But our rather simple practice of moral evaluation raises several questions. First, what is the general purpose of moral evaluation? That is, why do we praise or blame people at all? Second, must an agent have direct control over an action in order for moral evaluation to be appropriate? If so, then it would appear to follow that we cannot subject people to moral evaluation on the basis of their attitudes, emotions or even their beliefs, because it is typically thought that people have no direct control over these things. But, this seems odd; it is quite common for us to praise people who are, for example, respectful, sympathetic and benevolent people, and to blame those who are mean-spirited, inappropriately irascible or overly jealous. We shall investigate whether direct control really is a precondition to justified moral evaluation of these aspects of persons. In the final section of the course, we shall consider whether people can be subject to moral evaluation for ignorance. Some people have claimed that, because Nazis and slave-owners could not have been expected to know that their actions were wrong (due to the widespread moral ignorance their culture induced in them) it is not fair to blame them for the actions they committed out of this moral ignorance. We shall consider whether ignorance really is an obstacle to justified moral evaluation.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
This course is suitable for majors, non-majors and newcomers to philosophy. The course also satisfies Writing Credit. There are no prerequisites. What is required is a willingness to patiently read and digest some rather dense philosophical material, to be prepared to defend your views with reasons and arguments, and to respectfully engage the views and arguments others offer.
Class assignments and grading
Assessment: The final grade shall be calculated from short writing assignments, in-class quizzes, a midterm examination and a medium length (5-7 page) final paper. Writing credit is available for this course.