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.
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
Optional: "Philanthropy In Silicon Valley"
September 3 and 5: Objections to Singer's Argument, Singer's Replies to Objections
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, https://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
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: Review of Different Reasons to Aid
September 17 and 19: Utilitarianism and Consequentialism; Deontology; Virtue Ethics
Optional: Review of Big Three Ethical Theories
September 24 and 26: The Trolley Problem, Challenges for Consequentialism and Deontology
September 29: First Short Paper Assignment Due at 11:59pm
October 1: Beyond Individual Ethics: Ethical Limits to Free Exchange?
October 3: Beyond Individual Ethics: Social Structures, 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
Optional: Krister Bykvist, "Wellbeing"
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
November 12 and 14: Climate Change Ethics
November 19: Behavioral Ethics
November 21: Behavioral Ethics
November 26 and 28: No class, Thanksgiving
December 3 and 5: Consequentialism, Aggregation, and Population Ethics
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