Ethics

For Students

Philosophy is the traditional disciplinary home of courses dealing with ethical reasoning, but faculty across the university have developed such courses.  Below are just some of the many courses that have an ethical reasoning component.  Students interested in courses that engage ethical reasoning can search WesMaps for the Ethical Reasoning Key Capability.

Philosophy courses:

Introduction to Ethics (PHIL212)

The central question of ethics is "How should I live my life?" This question has two basic answers. One is "Make your OWN LIFE as good as you can make it." The other is "Make the WORLD as good as you can make it." Put another way, the first answer is "LIVE WELL" and the second answer is "DO RIGHT." These seem to be equally plausible answers to the central question of ethics. But what does one do in cases where living well conflicts with doing right? A standard way to deal with this problem is to deny it, by arguing that the good life, properly conceived, will always match up with the morally correct life (or vice versa). Plato and Aristotle argued in this way. But others in the philosophical tradition have maintained that the two answers are genuinely in conflict. Our inquiry will include a study of utilitarian, Kantian, and virtue ethical theories, and include readings from Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Mill, and some contemporary authors.

Being Good and Acting Well (PHIL331)

Contemporary ethical theory often focuses on identifying what makes actions right and wrong. But there are other dimensions of moral assessment than this. Not only acts, but also AGENTS may be good or bad; and both acts and agents may be MORALLY WORTHY or PRAISEWORTHY (or morally unworthy and blameworthy). The seminar will focus on this other dimension of moral assessment. Two general questions will guide our thinking about this dimension: (1) What is an account of moral worth or praiseworthiness for? What role has the notion of moral worth played in Aristotle, Kant, and consequentialism? (2) What are the factors that make agents and acts morally worthy or praiseworthy? Motives, effort, luck, attentiveness, and emotions, and character are some of the candidate factors. We'll look at each in some detail, with readings from contemporary authors.

Distant Suffering and the Needs of Strangers: The Ethics of Humanitarianism  (PHIL 350)

Contemporary humanitarianism is premised on the belief that acute human suffering demands a response reaching across international boundaries. What are the grounds for this belief, and what does it entail? This seminar explores what responses are owed to persons facing famine, natural disaster, ethnic conflict, or persecution by their national governments. In particular, we will consider ethical questions posed by recent crises in Rwanda, Bosnia, Sudan and elsewhere. Ideas such as cosmopolitanism, the sovereign nation-state, human rights and genocide are taking on radically new dimensions in the post-Cold War world. In the contemporary context of globalization, burgeoning ethnic conflicts and new kinds of warfare, how should we assess our ethical obligations with respect to the needs and suffering of distant strangers? Topics to be discussed include: theories of moral obligation to others; issues of patriotism versus cosmopolitanism; theories of state sovereignty, international right and the ethics of intervention; ethical dimensions of current types of response to humanitarian crises (i.e., armed intervention, war crimes tribunals, famine relief); the problem of "'dirty hands"' and unintended consequences in interventions; and the ways in which ethical responses are shaped by media depictions of distant suffering. These issues will be discussed with reference to case studies of recent humanitarian crises and interventions. Students will be expected to learn about and keep abreast of current international affairs and to read current on-line journalism as assigned.

Ethics in Practice  (PHIL 373)

The course will be designed to help students explore the ways that abstract ethical theories and philosophical discussions of justice apply to the world (if and when they do) and to see how an analysis of real world conflicts can contribute to the development of more workable moral and political theories. It will explore issues of contemporary moral concern including: environmental justice, healthcare, homelessness, global poverty, disability rights, and crime and punishment. The course will use the case study method to allow students to analyze particular social and moral problems and to develop a conceptual framework that can help solve these problems at a local, national, and international level. To this end, the course will draw on a variety of sources: theoretical work on justice and ethics; historical essays and videos; experiences and expertise of community organizers; social scientific writings. In addition to weekly class meetings students will also be required to participate in a number of activities outside of class.

Feminist Practical Ethics (PHIL 280)

This course focuses on issues at the intersection of feminist theory, practical ethics, and public policy. We will be exploring a number of contemporary issues that are important within feminist scholarship and practical ethics generally. It is my hope that exposures to these issues will help provide students with a starting point from which to pursue these topics in greater depth. During the beginning of the course we will examine the nature of equality. Does equality require equal treatment? Equal Opportunity? Equal access to resources and power? Can equality be achieved while important differences are preserved? We will see that there are a number of answers to these questions and different answers to these questions affect the way particular policy issues are addressed. For the remainder of the course we will explore the controversies that have emerged among feminists, and between feminists and non-feminists, over such issues as sexual harassment, prostitution and other forms of sex work, pornography, hate speech, motherhood, reproductive technology, and perhaps others.

Moral Psychology: Care of the Soul  (PHIL 217)

Moral psychology is the study of our minds that is aimed at an understanding of how we develop, grow, and flourish as moral beings. In this course we will examine historical and contemporary texts from philosophy, psychology, and spiritual writings that deal with the nature of the good life for human beings, the development of virtues, and the cultivation of ethical understanding and moral sensibilities. Emphasis will be both on careful understanding of the texts and on the attempt to relate the theories discussed to our own moral lives.

Humans, Animals, and Nature (PHIL 215)

This course will explore the scope, strength, and nature of moral and political obligations to nonhumans and other humans by examining specific contemporary problems. Topics may include our treatment on nonhuman animals in industrial societies; global environmental problems, such as greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and garbage accumulation; and the distribution of environmental risks and toxic burdens.

 

Other courses:

The Moral Basis Of Politics (GOVT 159)

An introduction to upper-division courses in political theory, the course considers the basic moral issues that hedge government and politics: Under what, if any, circumstances ought one to obey the laws and orders of those in power? Is there ever a duty to resist political authority? By what values and principles can we evaluate political arrangements? What are the meanings of terms like freedom, justice, equality, law, community, interests and rights? How is our vision of the good society to be related to our strategies of political action? What is the role of organization, leadership, violence, etc., in bringing about social change? Readings will include political philosophy, plays, contemporary social criticism, and modern social science.

Justice, Forgiveness and Reconciliation (GOVT 396/LAST 396)

This course will investigate the possibilties and limitations of justice and forgiveness in societies emerging from a recent history of mass political violence. What are the moral and practical tools available for reconciliation, and how should reconciliation be understood? We will look at the uses of truth commissions and trials in transitional societies, as well as the roles of civil society and political elites, and consider how transitional political constraints affect ethical demands for accountability, victim recognition, truth-telling, the establishment of the rule of law and the fostering of reciprocal norms of respect and tolerance.

Global Justice (GOVT 340)

This course examines the moral and political issues that arise in the context of international politics. Is the use of violence by states limited by moral rules, and is there such a thing as a just war? Are there human  rights that all states must respect? Should violation of those rights be adjudicated in the international courts? Are states justified in enforcing such rights beyond their own borders? Is a system of independent states morally legitimate? What, if any, are the grounds on which states can claim freedom from interference by other states and actors in their "internal" affairs? Must all legitimate states be democracies? Do states and or  individuals have an obligation to provide assistance to foreign states and citizens? Are there any requirements of international distributive justice?

 

Roman Self-Fashioning: Poets and Philosophers, Lovers and Friends (CCIV271)

With the descent into chaos of the Roman Republic and the emergence of the emperor as autocratic ruler at the head of the state, Roman social order and its system of personal relationships experienced a crisis. These circumstances are reflected in the literature of the period, which shows a fascination with unconventional styles of life and codes of behavior and a constant recourse to those locations in public and private life where the individual's relationship to the social order was negotiated and exhibited. Among the topics we will examine in the writings of some of the major authors of the period will be: the literature of love and the role of the lover; parasites, patronage, and friendship; banquets and dining; the good life and personal contentment (and discontent); the struggle for individual integrity.

Introduction to Environmental Studies (E&ES197BIOL197)

Interdisciplinary study of human interactions with the environment and the implications for the quality of life. Examines the technical and social causes of environmental degradation at local and global scales, along with the potential for developing policies and philosophies that are the basis of a sustainable society. This will include an introduction to ecosystems, climatic and geochemical cycles, and the use of biotic and abiotic resources over time. Includes the relationship of societies and the environment from prehistoric times to the present. Interrelationships, feedback loops, cycles, and linkages within and among social, economic, governmental, cultural and scientific components of environmental issues will be emphasized.

Culture and Cuisine (GOVT 105)

In a broad sense, cuisine--the culture of food--includes such things as the social institution of the restaurant and social practices of dining, the development of home economics and culinary professionalism, cookbooks and food writers (including MFK Fisher, Calvin Trillin, the Sterns, Paula Wolfert, and John Thorne) as a distinctive literary genre, attitudes and beliefs about health and diet, and many other things. Its breadth and impact on daily life makes cuisine an especially useful way of understanding popular culture and society. Food fashions and trends, for example, reflect larger social inclinations and changing understandings about such things as ethnic diversity, the role of women in society and at home, and assorted philosophies about health, diet (witness fear of food) and religion. Our exploration will range across a wide variety of materials, including scholarly books and articles, fiction good and bad, readings in popular journals and newspapers, films, and the Internet.

Feminist Theory (WMST 209/ENGL 282)

What is theory? What is the relation of feminism and theory? These large questions will be addressed in this course, which will focus on contemporary developments in feminist theory. We will consider how feminist theorists have understood the significance of sexual difference and will discuss how feminism is articulated with theories of representation, subjectivity, and history. In the process, we will attend to how difference and differences work, conceptually and politically, paying particular attention to the complex relations of gender, racial, and class difference

Human Biology (BIOL 103)

This course deals with the functional organization of the human body, and the origin and impact of humans in a global context. Different integrated systems such as the digestive, neuromuscular, reproductive and immunological systems will be studied from the anatomical level to the molecular level, and health issues related to each system will be identified. Certain health issues such as Cancer, AIDS and Alzheimer's Disease will be considered in greater detail. The course will explore issues at the interface of biological research, personal ethics, and public policy; issues such as use of genetically modified agricultural products, potential of gene therapy, new reproductive technologies including cloning, and government support of stem cell research.

Topics in Native Studies (AMST 260 /ANTH 261)

This semester, the topic in Native Studies will be Sovereignty Politics. The course will survey selected historical moments, geographical and institution sites, cases and periods in order to explore the complexities of life for Native peoples in the United States-including American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians, Chamorros, and American Samoans. We will examine legal issues in relation to the recognition and assertion of collective rights; treaty rights, land title and claims, and variations of the federal trust relationship. Through a focus on contested issues of citizenship and self-governance, students will learn about self-determination, constitutional development, and indigenous politics vis-à-vis the states, the U.S. Congress, and the U.S. Supreme Court, the United Nations and the World Court.

Three Generals in the Lord's Army (RELI 283/ AFAM 239)

This course will investigate the specific ways in which religion was used by slaves as a political and revolutionary tool to combat their enslavement. Focus will be placed on the African slave trade phenomenon, the heritage of New World slaves, the historical roots of slavery in North America and the justifications advanced for its legalized institution. Special emphasis will be placed upon the lives and times of three black men--Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner--as key examples of the slaves' continued resistance to enslavement and of the ways the slaves' religion was incorporated into their liberation struggles.

Gender and Sport (WMST 177)

This course examines the comparisons and contrasts of men and women in sport. Concentration is directed to historical, philosophical, psychosocial, and biophysical aspects within a variety of sport environments. Topics include intercollegiate athletics, Olympic competition, youth sports, professional sports, global issues of a gender related nature, gender-equity issues, effects of the Title IX Education Amendment on American sports, violence in sports, heterosexism in sports, cross-gender coaching, body image and athletes, etc.