ETHICS
V83.0040-001
Mondays and Wednesdays 12:30pm-1:45pm in LC 1 Tisch
New York University
Spring 2001



Instructor: James Woodbridge
email address: jw79@nyu.edu
Course Webpage: http://homepages.nyu.edu/~jw79/nyuethics2.htm
(or use the link from the Philosophy Dept. Webpage)
Office Hours: Tues. 2:30pm-3:30pm and Wed. 11:30am-12:30pm
Office: Main Building 503-O
Office Phone: 998-8330
Dept. Phone: 998-8320

TA: Masahiro Yamada
email: my263@is.nyu.edu
Office Hours: Mon. 11:30am-12:30pm


I. COURSE DESCRIPTION

This is a course on ethical theory. Ethical theory is the study of the nature of morality--the fundamental basis of moral rightness and moral wrongness. The goal of this sort of inquiry is to gain a general or abstract understanding of morality, rather than to determine whether particular activities are morally permitted or prohibited. In pursuing this general understanding we will consider some of the most pressing questions regarding morality: does morality depend on religion? is morality objective or just a matter of opinion? are there universal moral principles, or only local (culture-relative) ones? is morality impartial, or do some people's interests (e.g., those of the agent) count more? can actions be motivated by anything other than self-interest? does the moral rightness or wrongness of an action depend on its consequences? do the agent's intentions matter? are they all that matter? what does an agent's character have to do with the moral status of his or her actions? should character be the basic concern of morality rather than actions?


II. REQUIRED CLASS MATERIALS

Book:

Cahn, Steven M. and Peter Markie. Ethics: History, Theory, and Contemporary Issues. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

The book for the course is available at Posman Books located at One University Place.

There are also several photocopied required readings available at New University Copies located at 11 Waverly Place.


III. CLASS REQUIREMENTS AND GRADING SCHEME

Requirements.............................................Percent of Final Grade

Class Participation......................................................10%
Short Essay................................................................10%
First Paper..................................................................30%
Second Paper..............................................................30%
Final Exam..................................................................20%

About the Requirements:

Class Participation--One thing this requirement covers is your class attendance (if you don't attend class you can't participate in it). However, to get an "A" for class participation you must do more than just show up; you have to contribute to class discussion. You are expected to show up having read the assignment for the day and ready to talk about it.

The Short Essay--There will be a 2 page paper due at the end of January. The topics will be distributed in the second week of class. Papers are due at the beginning of class on the due date. Late papers are subject to a substantial grade reduction (you really don't want to find out how much).

The First Paper--There will be a 5-8 page paper due around the beginning of March. Topics will be distributed about 2 weeks before the paper is due, and all papers are due at the beginning of class on the due date. Again, late submission is not a good idea.

The Second Paper--There will be a second 5-8 page paper due in late April. Again, topics will be handed out about 2 weeks before the paper is due, and all papers are due at the beginning of class on the due date. Late submission is still not a good idea.

The Final Exam--There will be a cumulative final exam given in class on our last meeting, Monday, April 30th. The exam will consist of short answer questions and essay questions based on the readings and lectures.


IV. CLASS FORMAT

The class will be a mixture of lecture and discussion, and I want to encourage discussion. I expect you all to show up having read the assignment for that meeting and ready to use it as a point of departure. It is the nature of the issues we will be considering that people's views will differ. You are encouraged to question your classmates (and me) when anyone says something you disagree with, but everyone should always keep in mind that disagreement is not a personal attack. Philosophical discussion thrives under this kind of interaction and often stems from disagreement. At the same time, philosophical discussion aims at reaching some sort of agreement. We probably won't reach agreement every time, but we should aspire toward it.


 



V. TOPICS AND READINGS

Most of the readings will be from the textbook. They are listed below by author with their chapter numbers in parentheses. Readings from other sources are labeled "photocopy" and are available at New University Copies located at 11 Waverly Place.

A note about the readings: Philosophical writing is often subtle and difficult. Do not be fooled by the shortness of an assignment into thinking that it will take little time. Most of these readings should be read at least twice. I recommend a first time straight through and then a second time slowly while taking notes.

The course is divided into four units. Those units and the readings for them are as follows.

1. God, Culture, and Self-Interest

Nagel, "Right and Wrong" (photocopy)
Plato, Euthyphro (1)
Rachels, "The Challenge of Cultural Relativism" (26)
Plato, from Republic (1)
Hobbes, from Leviathan (7)
Gauthier, "Why Contractarianism?" (33)
Feinberg, "Psychological Egoism" (27)

2. Consequentialism

Bentham, from An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (11)
Mill, from Utilitarianism (12)
Taylor, "The Diversity of Goods" (photocopy)
Williams, "A Critique of Utilitarianism" (28)

Ross, from The Right and the Good (21)
Brandt, "Some Merits of One Form of Rule Utilitarianism" (25)

3. Deontology

Kant, from Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals (10)
Korsgaard, "The Right to Lie: Kant on Dealing with Evil" (photocopy)
Foot, "Morality As a System of Hypothetical Imperatives" (31)
Nelson, "Kant's Moral Philosophy" (photocopy)
Wolf, "Moral Saints" (38)

4. Virtue Ethics

Aristotle, from Nicomachean Ethics (2)
MacIntyre, from After Virtue (34)
Nussbaum, "Non-Relative Virtues: An Aristotelian Approach" (photocopy)