Intro to Ethics

Fall 2019, University of Vermont

Tuesdays and Thursdays 10:05am-11:20am and 11:40am-12:55pm

Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays 4:05pm-5:00pm in Room 209, 70 S. Williams St., and by appointment

Note: This course contains a module on abortion. The course does not advocate any view on abortion, but instead focuses on identifying the logic of the arguments on both sides of the issue. If you are not comfortable with this, it will be easy for you to move to a different section of intro to philosophy that does not have such a module. Just let the instructor know right away after the first class meeting.


Course Description

This course provides an introduction to ethics, and to philosophy more generally. It also includes modules on: the ethics of living an affluent life while letting others die who are in need, consequentialism, the nature of rights, consumer ethics, and environmental ethics and sustainability. This course will explore the different ethical issues that arise in the context of our choices both at the level of personal decision-making and as a society. We will address questions such as: what sorts of ethical obligations do we have to others? Do we have to make large sacrifices to help others in need? Is it always wrong to violate a person's right to life? Are the choices we make ethically constrained by our obligations to preserve the environment or animal wellbeing, or to preserve our own health and, if so, how are they constrained? Is it ethically permissible to eat meat? What are the correct fundamental principles of ethics, and what makes them correct?


This course has two related educational aims (goals, objectives). The first is to prepare you to begin developing and defending your own answers to these and other questions in ethics. The second is to equip you with a certain set of skills. Both in preparing for class, in your writing, and through class discussion and group work, you will develop your ability to (1) communicate clearly and concisely, (2) reconstruct arguments for a position or view from a piece of text, (3) critically evaluate arguments, (3) construct persuasive arguments of your own in defense of a position or view, and (4) anticipate and address potential objections to arguments that you find persuasive. Although deploying these skills will be crucial in your effort to advance your own thinking about the questions in ethics that we will discuss in this class, developing these skills has independent value as they can also be usefully applied in a variety of different domains outside of philosophy.


Evaluation: 40% Short quizzes (numerous) and writing assignments; 15% Midterm exam; 25% Final exam; 20% Final paper (~6-8 pages, can build on previous writing assignments).


All readings are freely available online via the links below. You should print them all out on paper and read them before class (old school).


Device ban: No use of phones or computers (or AppleWatches or…) without explicit permission. You should print all readings out on paper and read them before class.




Readings (Numbered readings are required, subject to change throughout semester)

August 27 and 29: Commonsense Principles, Radical Implications? Singer's Argument



September 3 and 5: Objections to Singer's Argument, Singer's Replies to Objections

1. Peter Singer, pp. 23-41 and 129-150 of The Life You Can Save (note only 23-41 and 129-150 are required)



Background: Updating Our Beliefs about Human Development


Optional: Photos of families in the world by incomehttps://www.gapminder.org/dollar-street/




"Factfulness by Hans Rosling, an outstanding international public health expert, is a hopeful book about the potential for human progress when we work off facts rather than our inherent biases." - Former U.S. President Barack Obama; “One of the most important books I’ve ever read―an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world.” – Bill Gates; “Hans Rosling tells the story of ‘the secret silent miracle of human progress’ as only he can. But Factfulness does much more than that. It also explains why progress is so often secret and silent and teaches readers how to see it clearly.” ―Melinda Gates

September 10: Beneficence, Justice, and Kantian Ethics

1. Onora O'Neill, "Rights, Obligations, and World Hunger"

Optional: Marcia Baron, "Kantian Ethics" (especially pp. 12-25, 59-60, 70-71)


September 12: Beneficence, Justice, Associative Duties, and Different Reasons to Aid

1. Anne Barnhill et al., pp. 36-50 "Global Hunger" (note: only pp. 36-50 are required)

Optional: Angus Deaton, "Response to Effective Altruism"


September 17 and 19: Utilitarianism and Consequentialism; Deontology; Virtue Ethics

1. Krister Bykvist, "What is utilitarianism?"


September 24 and 26: The Trolley Problem, Challenges for Consequentialism and Deontology



October 1: Beyond Individual Ethics: Ethical Limits to Free Exchange? 


October 3: Beyond Individual Ethics: Social Structures, Oppression

1. Iris Marion Young, "Five Faces of Oppression"


October 8 and 10: The Nature of Rights, What Follows From Having a Right, The Ethics of Ending Life


October 15 and 17: Rights and the Ethics of Ending Life, Continued



Midterm Exam Due Sunday October 27th at noon

October 22 and 24: Wellbeing, Animal Ethics





October 29 and 31: The Ethics of Eating Animal Products

1. Tristram McPherson, "How to Argue for (and against) Ethical Veganism" (note that this provides an excellent model for how to write your own philosophy papers in this course)


November 5 and 7: Consumer Ethics: Consequentialism, Deontology, Virtue Ethics


2. "Barack Obama Challenges 'Woke' Culture", BBC News, 30 October 2019


November 12 and 14: Climate Change Ethics

1. John Broome, the individual ethics of climate change, chapters 4 and 5 of Climate Matters






November 19: Behavioral Ethics




November 21: Behavioral Ethics




4. Bounded Ethicality, UT Ethics Unwrapped




November 26 and 28: No class, Thanksgiving


December 3 and 5: Consequentialism, Aggregation, and Population Ethics








FINAL EXAM and FINAL PAPER: due via email at the end of the university-assigned final exam time:
90967  PHIL 010 D       GP    Intro Phil: Intro to Ethics      13-DEC-2019   1330   1615 DEWEY 314
90968  PHIL 010 E       GP    Intro Phil: Intro to Ethics      12-DEC-2019   0730   1015 LAFAYE L403