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Dowling College Philosophy and Religious Studies

PHL 125 Twentieth Century Philosophy

Fall 1999

Ethical Theory in the Twentieth Century

Dr. Christian Perring

Course Description

In this course we will examine some of the major strands of twentieth century thought concerning the nature of morality. The debates reflect some of the main trends of this century’s philosophy, including positivism, existentialism, pragmatism, the influence of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and most recently, feminist and communitarian theories. We will focus on large questions such as: is morality relative to one’s culture or whether it should be fundamentally the same for everyone?; if morality is relative to culture, can it be anything more than mere personal opinion and preference?; and if there are moral facts, then how do we know them? This will be an abstact and challenging course that deals with large questions. Students will be encouraged to investigate how these issues are relevant to modern controversies in society today, such as animal rights, abortion, our duty to help starving people in other counties, and our right to interfere with other cultures whose practices we see as wrong.

EthicsEthics: History, Theory, and Contemporary Issues edited by Steven Cahn and Peter Markie. Oxford University Press, 1998.

Work: Class participation, a midterm exam, one 8 page paper, and one 15 page paper.

Midterm: Takehome exam, given October 21, due October 28
8 page paper: Your choice of topic, but it can be simple, such as comparing and contrasting two of the philosophers we have discussed.  Due November 4.

Week 1 Introduction
Week 2 Comtempoary Ethical Problems 45: Peter Singer: Famine, Affluence, and Morality
46: John Arthur: Famine Relief and the Ideal Moral Code
Michael Specter: The Dangerous Philosopher, New Yorker, Sept 6, 1999
Week 3 47: Tom Regan: The Case for Animal Rights
48: Carl Cohen: The Case for the Use of Animals in Biomedical Research
Week 4 Background to 20th Century Moral Philosophy: Kant, Utilitarianism, Nietzsche 12: John Stuart Mill: Utilitarianism, pp. 343-366
15: Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil, pp. 405-412
Week 5 Pragmatism 16: William James: The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life
17: John Dewey: The Quest for Certainty
Week 6 Existentialism 18: Albert Camus: The Myth of Sisyphus
19: Jean-Paul Sartre: Existentialism Is a Humanism
Week 7 Philosophy of Language 21: W. D. Ross: The Right and The Good
22: C. L. Stevenson: The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms
Week 8 Utilitarianism Revisited 23: R. M. Hare: Freedom and Reason
29: Richard B. Brandt: Some Merits of One Form of Rule Utilitarianism
Week 9 Criticisms of Utilitarianism 28: Bernard Williams: A Critique of Utilitarianism
38: Susan Wolf: Moral Saints
Week 10 Relativism 25: Gilbert Harman: The Nature of Morality
26: James Rachels: The Challange of Cultural Relativism
Week 11 Right-based theories 27: Joel Feinberg: Psychological Egoism
31: Philippa Foot: Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives
Week 12 Contractarianism 32: John Rawls: A Theory of Justice
33: David Gauthier: Why Contractarianism?
Week 13 Virtue Theory 34: Alisdair MacIntyre: After Virtue
35: James Rachels: The Ethics of Virtue


  • Stephen Darwall's Philosophical Ethics Class
  • Hinmann's Ethics Updates
  • Christian Perring's Notes on articles in Moral Discourse and Practise

  • Peter Singer:
  • The Singer Solution to World Poverty
  • NYT on Singer's arrival at Princeton

  • Nietzsche:
  • Yahoo Nietzsche page
  • Existentialism and Freidrich Nietzsche
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

  • John Stuart Mill
  • Yahoo Mill page
  • Episteme John Stuart Mill links

  • William James
  • A Stroll With William James
  • Episteme links

  • John Dewey
  • Links to the World of John Dewey
  • Garth Kemerling "John Dewey Page"