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Introduction to Ethics

PHIL 212
Spring 2009
Section: 01  
Certificates: Environmental Studies

We will begin with some ancient questions about values. We find that two ancient approaches to right living (Platonic-Stoic and Aristotelian) differ radically over how much experience or society can teach us about what is good. Yet both insist that moral life is essentially connected to individual happiness. Turning to modern ideas of moral action (Kantian and utilitarian), we find that they both emphasize a potential gulf between individual happiness and moral rightness. Yet like the ancients, they disagree over whether morality's basic insights derive from experience. The last third of the course explores more recent preoccupations with ideas about moral difference and moral change. Especially since Marx and Nietzsche, moral theory faces a sustained challenge from social theorists who allege moral norms and judgments serve hidden ideological purposes.
Some have sought to repair universal ethics by giving an account of progress or the overcoming of bias, while others have argued for plural or relative ethics. Our challenge will be to understand the arguments behind all of these positions, and to respond to them by developing a more nuanced appreciation of moral wisdom.

One goal of all introductory philosophy courses at Wesleyan is to familiarize students with vocabulary and skills that characterize philosophy as a methodical discipline. In this course, central concepts of philosophical reasoning will be discussed and used frequently, and these will need to be handled confidently on exam and essay work. For practice, participants will write one "micro-essay"
per unit, where the basic task is (1) to interpret an important concern in our reading, (2) reconstruct key inferences connecting the author's premises and conclusion(s), (3) articulate a potential objection to the resulting argument, and (4) anticipate likely replies. The fine-grained reconstruction of premises and conclusions will be modeled in detail during class on several occasions, and much of our class discussion will be devoted to objections and potential responses. More specific reasoning concepts and patterns will be introduced alongside specific readings. See the course website for an overview of concepts and some examples of argument reconstruction.

Essential Capabilities: Ethical Reasoning
This course's core focus is understanding and critically comparing several systematic approaches to moral values.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: HA PHIL
Course Format: Lecture / DiscussionGrading Mode: Graded
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: (CIVI-MN)(CSCT)(ENVS-MN)(ENVS)(PHIL)(PHIL-Philosophy)(PHIL-Social Jus)(SISP-Phil Ethic)(SISP-Phil Mind)
Past Enrollment Probability: Not Available

Last Updated on OCT-05-2022
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