Introduction 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

1. Peter Singer, pp. xi-22 of The Life You Can Save (note only xi-22 is required)

Optional: "Philanthropy In Silicon Valley"

Optional: Review of Arguments, Objections, Replies, Validity and Soundness

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)

Optional: Fiona Woollard, pp. 146-150+ of Doing and Allowing Harm

Optional: 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics, Popular Science Background

Optional: Larry Temkin, "Being Good in a World of Need: Some Empirical Worries and an Uncomfortable Philosophical Possibility"

Optional: Mark Budolfson and Dean Spears, "The Hidden Zero Problem: Effective Altruism and Barriers to Marginal Impact"

Optional: Review of Singer On Altruism

Background: Updating Our Beliefs about Human Development

Optional: Hans Rosling, "Population Facts (or: Why Saving Poor Children Does Not Lead to Overpopulation)", , in Factfulness, Flatiron (2018)

Optional: Photos of families in the world by income,

Optional: Hans Rosling, "Development Facts (or: Why it No Longer Makes Sense to Frame Development in Terms of a Gap Between Developed and Developing Nations)"

Optional: Hans Rosling, "Cost-Effectiveness and Saving Lives (or: How to Think About Opportunity Cost Given Urgent Needs Across an Entire Population)"

Optional: Hans Rosling, "Unintended Side Effects (or: How Urgency and a Desire to Help Sometimes Leads us to Make Things Worse)"

"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)

Optional: Review of Kantian Ethics

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"

Optional: Bill Gates, "The Great Escape is an Excellent Book With One Big Flaw"

Optional: Kimiko de Freytas Tamura, "For Dignity and Development, East Africa Curbs Used Clothes Imports"

Optional: Review of Different Reasons to Aid

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

1. Krister Bykvist, "What is utilitarianism?"

Optional: Doug Portmore, "Quiz on Hedonistic Act-Utilitarianism"

Optional: Doug Portmore, "Utilitarianism and Consequentialism: The Basics"

Optional: Review of Big Three Ethical Theories

First Short Paper Assignment: Due at 11:59pm Sunday September 29

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

1. Judith Jarvis Thomson, "The Trolley Problem"

Optional: Krister Bykvist, "Is Utilitarianism too Demanding?", "Is Utilitarianism too Permissive?", and "The Way Outcomes are Brought About"

Review of Trolley Problem

September 29: First Short Paper Assignment Due at 11:59pm

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

1. Debra Satz, selections from Some Things Should Not Be For Sale

Optional: Hausman, McPherson, and Satz, selections on Summers memo in Economic Analysis and Moral Philosophy

Optional: Helena de Bres, "Local Food: The Moral Case"

Review of Satz

October 3: Beyond Individual Ethics: Social Structures, Oppression

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

Optional: Hallie Liberto, "Exploitation and the Vulnerability Clause"

Review of Young and Political Philosophy

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

1. Judith Jarvis Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion"

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

1. Michael Tooley, "Thomson on Abortion"

2. Don Marquis, "An Argument that Abortion is Impermissible"

Review of Thomson, Tooley, Marquis

Midterm Exam Due Sunday October 27th at noon

October 22 and 24: Wellbeing, Animal Ethics

1. Peter Singer, "All Animals are Equal"

Optional: Krister Bykvist, "Wellbeing"

Review of Singer on Animals

October 27th: Midterm Exam Due Sunday at noon

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)

Review of McPherson

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

1. Anne Barnhill et al., "Consumer Ethics"

2. "Barack Obama Challenges 'Woke' Culture"

November 12 and 14: Climate Change Ethics

1. John Broome, "The individual ethics of climate change"

Optional: Julia Nefsky, "Climate Change and Inefficacy: A Dilemma for the Expected Utility Approach, and The Need for an Imperfect View"

Review of Broome on Climate Ethics

Paper 2 Due November 24th at 11:59pm

November 19: Behavioral Ethics

1. Max Bazerman, "Becoming a First Class Noticer"

2. Behavioral ethics, Part 1: Moral Awareness

November 21: Behavioral Ethics

1. Behavioral ethics, Part 2: Moral Decisionmaking

2. Behavioral ethics, Part 3: Moral Intent

3. Behavioral ethics, Part 4: Moral Action

4. Bounded Ethicality

November 24th: Second Short Paper Due at 11:59pm

November 26 and 28: No class, Thanksgiving

Final Exam and Final Paper due at the end of the university-assigned final exam time

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

1. population ethics cartoon

2. Torbjorn Tannsjo, "It's getting better all the time"

3. Krister Bykvist, "Utilitarian Aggregation"

Optional: Derek Parfit, Part IV of Reasons and Persons

Optional: Melinda Roberts, "The Non-identity Problem"

FINAL EXAM and FINAL PAPER: due via blackboard 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