Philosophy 423/423

Course Outline

Mark van Roojen

1005 Oldfather Hall


Office Hours:

COURSE REQUIREMENTS: Two exams (one midterm and one final) consisting of both a take-home and an oral examination on the take-home. One paper the topic and scope of which should be negotiated with me.

SCHEDULE OF TOPICS AND READINGS: The class will concern itself with two broad areas within ethics, metaethics (defined below) and normative ethics. Students are responsible for having done the reading prior to the lectures on the topic in question, though they may wish to reread them afterward.

I. METAETHICS: Metaethics is the study of the nature and status of moral judgements. What does it mean to say that something is right or good? Are there "objective" answers to questions regarding moral values? Are such answers true? Might they be relative, and if so to what? How can our accounts of such judgements make sense of our claims to moral knowledge? The first half of the semester will be spent on such issues, and various responses to them.

A. Some Problems with Ethics: (Reduction, Epistemology, Internalism) - 8-29-96

G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica, Chapter 1 (Cambridge; Cambridge Univ. Press, 1903), in packet.

David Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature, Book II, Part III, Section III & Book III, Part I, Section I, (Oxford, OUP, 1888) pp. 413-418 & pp.455-470.

Harman, "Ethics and Observation," chapter one of The Nature of Morality, (Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1977).

B. Some "Solutions" to the Problems:

1. Noncognitivisms: 9-5-96

A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, (New York; Dover, 1952) introduction and chapter 6.

R. M. Hare, The Language of Morals, (Oxford: OUP, 1952) pp. 1-16, 137-150.

2. Criticism of Noncognitivism: 9-12-96

Geach, "Assertion," Philosophical Review, October 1965, p. 449-465, in packet.

Blackburn, Spreading the Word, (Oxford; OUP, 1984) chapter 6.

Gibbard, Wise Choices, Apt Feelings, (Cambridge; Harvard University press, 1990), chapter 5.

3. Error Theories: 9-19-96

J. L. Mackie, Ethics, (New York; Penguin, 1977) Chapter 1.

4. Externalist Reductions: 9-19-96

Philippa Foot, "Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives," in Virtues and Vices (Berkeley; U of Cal. Press, 1978).

David Brink, "Externalist Moral Realism," Southern Journal of Philosophy (1986, Supplement) pp. 23-40.


5. Internalist Reductions: 9-26-96

Firth, "Ethical Absolutism and the Ideal Observer," in Sellars & Hospers eds. Readings in Ethical Theory, 2nd ed. (NY:Merideth, 1970) pp. 200-221.

David K. Lewis, "Dispositional Theories of Value," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Suppl. Vol. (1988-89).

6. Relativism: 10-3-96

Gilbert Harman, "What is Moral Relativism?" in Goldman & Kim (eds.), Values and Morals (Dordrecht; Reidel, 1978) pp. 143-161.

James Dreier, "Internalism and Speaker Relativism," Ethics 101 (October 1990) pp. 6-26.

7. Non-reductive Realism: 10-10-96

John McDowell, "Values and Secondary Qualities," in Morality and Objectivity (London; Routledge and Kagen, Paul, 1985) pp. 110-129.

C. A Closer Look at:

1. Internalism and The Humean Theory of Motivation: 10-10-96

Williams, "Internal and External Reasons" in Moral Luck, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981) pp. 101-113.

Korsgaard, "Skepticism About Practical Reason," Journal of Philosophy, (January 1986) pp. 1-23.

1a. The Humean Theory Continued. 10-17-96

Michael Smith, "The Humean Theory of Motivation," Mind, (1987) pp. 36-61.

2. Supervenience and the relation between moral and natural properties. 10-17-96

Jaegwon Kim, "Supervenience As A Philosophical Concept," Metaphilosophy (January/April 1990) pp. 1-27.

Simon Blackburn "Supervenience Revisited," from Hacking, ed., Exercises in Analysis (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1985).

Nicholas Sturgeon, "Moral Explanations," in Copp and Zimmerman, eds. Morality, Reason and Truth,(Totawa, NJ: Rowman & Allanheld, 1985) pp.49-78.

II. NORMATIVE ETHICAL THEORIES: Normative ethics concerns what things are in fact right and wrong, and what makes them so. Over the course of our lives we make many decisions about what to do, and these decisions often effect others. We often believe that some of these decisions are better than others, that some are correct and others wrong. This raises the issue of what it is that makes such actions right or wrong, or what it is that they might have in common which makes them so. It turns out that the most obvious general answers to these questions seem to conflict with settled convictions about particular cases. We will examine various theoretical responses to the issues raised.

1. Introduction: 10-24-96

2. Utilitarianism: Simple and Complex: 10-24-96

a. Simple:

Excerpt from Jeremy Bentham's, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation.

b. Complex:

John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, chapter 2.

3. Utilitarianism, Consequentialism, Teleology and Their Critics: 10-31-96

a. Teleology and the right and the good:

John Rawls, excerpt from Theory of Justice, (Cambridge; Harvard University Press, 1971).

b. Consequentialism and Agent-neutral vs. Agent-relative value:

Bernard Williams, excerpt from Utilitarianism; For and Against, (Cambridge University Press; 1973 ) pp. 93-100.

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, (Basic Books; 1974) pp. 26-33.

4. Nonconsequentialist Alternative Approaches:

a. Kantian Theories: 11-7-96


b. Theories of prima facie duties: 11-7-96

W. D. Ross, The Right and the Good, Chapter 1.

c. Virtue Theories: 11-14-96

Assignment 27: Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics

Foot, "Utilitarianism and the Virtues," Mind 94 (1985) pp. 196-209.

5. The Doctrine of Double Effect: 11-21-96

Foot, "The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of Double Effect," in Virtues and Vices (Berkeley; U of Cal. Press, 1978) originally in Oxford Review, (Number 5 1967.)

Quinn, "Actions, Intentions and Consequences," Philosophy and Public Affairs (1988)

6. Consequentialist Responses to Criticisms: 12-5-96

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, chapter IV and Utilitarianism Chapter V.

Peter Railton, "Alienation, Consequentialism and the Demands of Morality," Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol 13, No 2. (Spring 1984).

7. Rule Utilitarianism: 12-5-96

Richard Brandt, "Some Merits of one form of Rule Utilitarianism," from Morality, Utilitarianism, and Rights (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1992) pp. 110-136.

1999 Mark van Roojen