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Ethics Syllabus



Odysseus Makridis

Spring 2002

Mondays and Thursdays 12:45-2:00


1) N. Rosenstand, The Moral of the Story: An Introduction to Ethics 3rd edition, (Mayfield Publishing Co.) {hereafter, referred to as Rosenstand}

2) P. Singer, ed., Ethics; An Oxford Reader (Oxford University Press). {hereafter, referred to as Singer}

Course Description

Human life is beset by agonizing moral dilemmas. Especially in moments of crisis, our moral obligations may come into mutual conflict: For instance, I might think that I have a moral duty to always speak the truth, and, yet, at the same time, I see that I may also have a moral duty to spare a dying person from the horrifying truth about his terminal illness. How should I act in such moments?

Works of popular culture – for instance, movies – also depict harrowing moments of moral uncertainty. You could even say that stories with a pronounced moral theme are more interesting than less sophisticated – morally obtuse – dramas: For instance, we expect even “B movies” to dress the protagonists in the morally interesting garbs of “hero,” “victim,” or “the evil one.” An even more interesting plot would actually allow for some ambivalence in the depiction of the moral qualities of the characters: The presumptive good person might have flaws, the supposed evil one might have a more benign side to him, and so on.

What are we to infer from all this? Even when we entertain ourselves, we cannot escape the specter of moral questions hovering over us. Indeed, we sometimes even ask if it is morally right to seek entertainment – or pursue pleasure.

Even on a more basic level, moral philosophy seeks to answer questions like the following: What is a moral duty? Why is it that we, human beings, are capable of conceiving of moral duties and rights? Why do different cultures impose different moral obligations on their members? Does this mean that there are no universally valid moral codes? Are there any methods, rules, or procedures that can help us figure out what out duties are in given situations? Are there any theories that can assist us with determining our moral obligations? Why are there more than one theories? – after all, it sounds plausible that there should be a ‘right’ answer to questions concerning moral duties. What is it that makes a theory ‘good’ – or ‘bad’?

Ethics deals with questions of this nature. All of us are familiar with the notions of ‘right,’ ‘duty,’ ‘justice,’ and so on. Even when we fail to do the ‘right thing’ – and even when we doubt whether it matters that we didn’t do the ‘right thing’ – we might still, perhaps, experience ‘guilt.’ And, why do most people react guardedly toward persons who have no moral scruples?

Societies too – in addition to individuals – confront trying moral choices. Issues like abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and the right to own a gun – to mention only a few headline-makers – cannot be addressed without attention to moral-philosophical issues and theories.

In this course, we study theories and reflect on stories with a moral theme. The stories are engaging – they come from novels you might have read and films you might have enjoyed. Here is your chance to develop skills, acquire reasoning tools, and equip yourself with the theoretical means, which will allow you to “make sense” of life’s problems and hopefully prepare you to deal with real-life situations.


[Read only the pages indicated below, in the order suggested. Occasionally, I will hand out photocopied material to supplement our readings. Come to class prepared. 10% of your grade depends on class participation.]

Mo, Jan 28

Introductory meeting.

Thurs, Jan 31

Ethical Egoism.

Rosenstand, chapter 4; read pp. 127-147. Read only Boxes 4.3, 4.4, 4.5, 4.7, 4.11.

Mo, Feb 4

Ethical Egoism - continued

Rosenstand, chapter 4, read pp. 152-160. Singer pp. 43-47, 60-61, 61-63, 67-69, 78-88. Rosenstand, chapter 4, 160-167.

Thurs, Feb 7

Ethical Relativism

Rosenstand, chapter 3; read pp. 87-90, 95-104, 107-111. Read only Boxes 3.1, 3.3, 3.4. Rosenstand, chapter 3; read pp. 111-117.

Mo, Feb 11

Ethical Relativism - continued

Singer, pp. 134-137. A. Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, selection on moral relativism, xerox. Rosenstand, chapter 3, pp. 117-125.

Thurs, Feb 14

Why Care About Ethics?

Singer, pp. 294-305. Rosenstand, chapter 2; read pp. 68-71, 73-83.

Mo, Feb 18

Origins and Nature of Ethics

Singer, pp. 21-29, 41-49, 140-147, 152-155, 219, 220, 224-228, 294-305.

Thurs, Feb 21


Rosenstand, chapter 5; read pp. 169-170, 173-190. Read only Boxes 5.1, 5.3, 5.5.

Mo, Feb 25

Utilitarianism - continued.

Singer, pp. 306-312, 312-313, 313-317, 317-319, 332, 339-345, 199-200, 201-205. Rosenstand, box 5. 5.

Thurs, Feb 28

Utilitarianism - continued

Rosenstand, chapter 5, pp. 190-209.

Mo, March 4

Kantian Deontology

Rosenstand, chapter 6; read pp. 211-222. Read only box 6.2. Singer, pp. 39-40.

Thurs., March 7

Kantian Deontology - continued.

Rosenstand, chapter 6, pp. 222-227, 232-237. Singer, pp. 274-294.

Mo, March 11

Kantian Deontology - continued.

Singer, pp. 118-123, 123-132, 132-137. Rosenstand, chapter 6, pp. 237-248.

Thurs, March 14

Natural Rights and Social Contract Ethics

Rosenstand, chapter 7; read pp. 249-263, 267-268. Read only boxes 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4.

Mo, March 18 & Thurs, March 21

Spring Recess

Mo, March 25

Natural Rights and Social Contract Ethics – continued

Rosenstand, chapter 7, pp. 267-268. Singer, pp. 247-258, 265-273. Rosenstand, boxes 7.5, 7.6.

Thurs, March 28

Mid-term Exam [in class]

Mo, April 1

Animal Ethics

Rosenstand, ch. 6; read pp. 227-232. Read boxes 6.4. Rosenstand, ch. 7, read pp. 273-277. Singer, pp. 362-387.

Thurs, April 4

Virtue, Vice, and ‘Virtue Ethics’

Rosenstand, chapter 8; read pp. 307-327. Read box 8.2. Rosenstand, ch. 8, pp. 327-340.

Mo, April 8

Aristotle’s Virtue Theory

Rosenstand, chapter 9; read pp. 343-359. Read boxes 9.1, 9.2, 9.4. Rosenstand, ch. 9, pp. 365-374.

Thurs, April 11

Modern Perspectives on Virtue

Rosenstand, chapter 10; read pp. 375-379, 387-393, 397-403. 10.2, 10.6, 10.8, 10.9, 10.11. Rosenstand, ch. 10, pp. 409-419.

Mo, April 15

Gender and Ethics

Rosenstand, chapter 11; read pp. 421-425, 430-448. Read boxes 11.4, 11.7. Rosenstand, ch. 11, pp. 449-459, 462-463.

Thurs, April 18

Case Studies Criminal Justice

Rosenstand, chapter 7, pp. 277-284, 288-294. Read box 7.7. Rosenstand, ch. 7, pp. 295-304.

Mo, April 22

Case Studies / Specific Virtues

Rosenstand, chapter 12; read pp. 465-490.

Thurs, April 25

Specific Virtues - continued

Rosenstand, ch. 12; read boxes 12.1, 12.2, 12.3, 12.4, 12.5, 12.6, 12.7, 12.8, 12.9, 12.10, 12.11, 12.12.

Rosenstand, ch. 12; pp. 497, 499-503, 506-509, 512-514.

Mo, April 29

Case Studies

Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” xerox. Singer, read only pp. 345-352. Onora O’Neill, “Kantian Approaches to Some Famine Problems,” xerox.

Thurs, May 2

Case Studies

Bernard Williams, “Utilitarianism and Integrity,” xerox. F. Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, selection, xerox.

Mo, May 6

Case Studies

Debra Satz, “Markets in Women’s Reproductive Labor,” xerox. Judith Jarvis Thompson, “Abortion,” xerox.

Thurs, May 9

Comprehensive Review Session

Course Assignments

There will be two in-class exams – one mid-term and one final. There will be two reaction take-home papers. Class participation will be counted toward computation of the final grade. There will be no surprise quizzes. You are allowed a maximum of two absences without permission.

Grade Computation

Mid-term Exam [in class]: 40%

Final Exam [in class]: 35%

Reaction Papers: 15%

Class Participation: 10%

Statement on Disabilities

If you have any special needs – physical, health-related, or learning-related – contact me, so we can make appropriate arrangements.

Please do not hesitate to contact me at any time. I will let you know when my office hours will be held. I will be also available to meet you by appointment. Good luck.