Philosophy 920 Fall 1998

Preliminary Course Outline

Mark van Roojen

1005 Oldfather Hall


Office Hours:

TOPIC: I am interested in looking in somewhat more depth than I have in the past at the dispute at issue in the debate between consequentialists and non-consequentialists. We'll spend more time on consequentialist than on non-consequentialists because I'm interested in assessing the arguments for consequentialism. A major focus will be work of Derek Parfit's presented in his Reasons and Persons, but we will also spend some time on John Broome's arguments regarding equality, which while not strictly speaking consequentialist are broadly sympathetic to consequentialism.

COURSE REQUIREMENTS: Students are required to do the reading, participate as an informed participant in the discussions, lead at least one class discussion (depending on how many of you there are), and write a semester paper of the sort one might submit as a journal article. Presentations by class-leaders will go beyond merely explaining the readings, to at least comment critically upon them, and (better yet) to make extended arguments disagreeing with or extending the arguments and positions in the readings. I expect most of these to focus on readings from Reading Parfit, which we will read selected portions of in the latter part of the class.

GRADING: Once again, I will use no formula for computing the grades, beyond looking at the coursework as a whole and relating it to the department's definitions for what the grades "mean." I find that this is fairer and better tracks overall performance than rigidly committing myself to some weighting for grades in advance. If you are uncomfortable with this, you may come talk to me about it and we may find some way of more rigidly fixing expectations in advance.



Session 1. Introduction and overview of class:

Session 2. Utilitarianism: Simple and Complex:

a. Simple:

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

b. Complex:

John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, chapter 2.

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

Session 3. Utilitarianism, Consequentialism, Teleology and Their Critics:

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.

Session 4. Indirection and Consequentialism.

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

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

McNaughton & Rawling, "On Defending Deontology," Ratio (April 1998)pp. 37-54.


Session 5. Parfit and Self-defeat:

Reasons and Persons, Part One.

Session 6. Parfit and Time-relativity:

Reasons and Persons, Part Two.

Session 7 & 8. Parfit and Personal Identity Arguments:

Reasons and Persons, Part Three.

Christine Korsgaard, "Personal Identity and the Unity of Agency," available for copying.

Session 9. Parfit and Future Generations:

Reasons and Persons, Part Four.


Session 10. Background.

Chapters 1, 2, and 4.

Session 11. The argument.

Chapters 5, 6, and 7

Session 12. The argument continued.

Chapters 8, 9 and 10 (11 optional)


Students will choose a reading from Reading Parfit and do a presentation using that article as a taking off point.

1999 Mark van Roojen