Thursday, 11 October 2007


An introduction to and outline of my ethics course this term.

We can only learn to philosophize, that is, to exercise the talent of reason, in accordance with its universal principles, on certain actually existing attempts at philosophy, always, however, reserving the right of reason to investigate, to confirm, or to reject these principles in their very sources. – Immanuel Kant

One pretty good definition of college is that it’s a place where people are made to read difficult books. – Jonathan Franzen
We will use close readings of three classic texts to investigate some central issues in moral philosophy, including whether it’s rational to be moral, the nature and source of morality, disputes between consequentialists and deontologists, and what it is for someone’s life to go well. Our project is to engage with the attempts of three very different geniuses to answer an obvious, pressing, difficult question: how should one live?

Our texts are:

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)
Immanuel Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (1785)
John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (1861)


1 - Introduction

2 - Overview of Leviathan; Human nature & human action (Leviathan introduction & chapters i-xi)
3 - The state of nature (Leviathan chapters xii-xiii)
4 - Artificial morality (Leviathan chapters xiv-xxi)

5 - Kant vs Hobbes; Overview of Groundwork; The categorical imperative (Groundwork preface & chapter 1)
6 - The laws of freedom (Groundwork chapters 2 & 3)

7 - Mill vs Kant; Mill vs Hobbes; Overview of Utilitarianism; Welfare (Utilitarianism chapters 1 & 2)
8 - Rational action & self-development (Utilitarianism chapters 3 & 4)
9 - Kinds of utilitarianism; Justice, integrity, & rights (Utilitarianism chapter 5)

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