Topic Name Description
Course Introduction Page Course Syllabus
Page Course Terms of Use
1.1: Metaethics, Normative Ethics, and Applied Ethics Book Major Ethical Systems

This chapter outlines the three broad categories of ethical systems normative ethics, applied ethics, and meta-ethics. Use the navigation arrows on the right and left side of the page to move forward through the eleven sections in this chapter. By the end of this reading, you will be able to define the three broad ethical systems and describe several approaches to ethics. Be sure you have a good understanding of the important approaches for Unit 1: deontology, consequentialism, and natural law.

1.2: Investigating Our Moral Intuitions Page Ethics for Complete Beginners: Part 1

Watch this video beginning at the 32:14 time stamp. Compare the different theories of morality, including virtue ethics, non-cognitivism, deontology and utilitarianism. These are the different ethical systems described in this course, and the video discusses how the idea of a "moral fact" is problematic without a theory of specific sets of rules and values that interpret the fact.

1.3: From Moral Intuitions to Moral Principles and Back Again Page Reflective Equilibrium

Read this tutorial about the process of reflective equilibrium in moral reasoning. This account and the diagram that accompanies it represent a process of moral reasoning, in which we deliberate between principles and particular cases, revising each in the light of the other.

1.4: Consequentialist Ethics and Bentham's Utilitarianism Page Issues of Utilitarian Ethics

In this video, the idea of Utilitarianism as increasing good and decreasing suffering is addressed. Then a variety of scenarios are described that show the limits of utilitarianism regarding justice and rights for individuals.

Book R v Dudley and Stephens

Read this description of the famous Queen v. Dudley and Stephens case. As you read, consider whether you agree with the ruling in this case, and if you would rule differently, as well as why you would do so. This text discusses the famous lifeboat case, which established the legality of choosing to murder out of necessity. Although the details of the case are quite graphic, this fact itself may serve as a prompt for many of us to revise our initial intuitions about the moral status of killing one to save many others.

Page Utilitarianism

In this reading on Utilitarian ethical theory, Kemerling explains that utilitarians agree that the action with the best consequence is the morally correct action, but it is noteworthy that different utilitarians define "best consequences" in different ways. For Bentham, the best consequences are decided for each action, while for Mill, the best consequences can be achieved by following rules and pursuing higher orders of pleasure (like intellectual goals instead of base hedonism).

Page Jeremy Bentham: Of the Principle of Utility

Read the first chapter, "Of the Principle of Utility," from this 1780 text in which Bentham justifies the principle that the morality of our actions depends on the consequences produced. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham was the first to formalize the moral principle that whether our actions are right or wrong is a matter of the consequences they produce (i.e. how much happiness and how much unhappiness results from them). It is important to note that, although Bentham places a lot of emphasis on the pleasure and pain experienced by the individual person, he is not recommending that our laws should be guided purely by individual hedonism, but by a collective responsibility to improve the happiness of everyone in society.

Page Ethics for Complete Beginners: Part 6

Watch the first hour of this video. Notice how the different utilitarians may decide the best action based on numbers and quantities - for example, numbers of lives saved in a particular scenario. If that is the case, then utilitarians have to ask whether the best consequences are merely based on numbers or based on higher values, like the value of one individual life.

1.5: Pitfalls of Consequentialist Ethics and Mill's Utilitarianism Book Utilitarianism: The Greater Good

Read this article which presents difficulties with calculating benefits and various utilitarian responses to those difficulties. Be able to define hedonistic and idealistic utilitarianism, soft and hard utilitarianism, and the difference between act and rule.

Page Ethics for Complete Beginners: Part 6 con't

Finish watching the last half hour of this video. In this last section of Talbot's lecture on utilitarianism, the question of rule utilitarianism is explored in depth. One can ask whether following rules results in a strange variety of deontology instead of utilitarianism, and an ethical theory that is forced to reconcile specific kinds of rules with situations that require specific acts, with an example of legislators deciding on a law.

Book John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism

Read the first two chapters of Mill's Utilitarianism, "General Remarks" and "What Utilitarianism Is". After you are done reading, ask yourself if you are able to define the principle of utility, describe the difference between higher and lower pleasures according to Mill, and describe actions which are of a generally injurious class.

1.6: Alternatives to Consequentialist Ethics Book Major Ethical Perspectives

Read this description of Utilitarianism in relation to other ethical theories. After reading, be sure you are able to define deontology, describe social contract theory, and discuss the role of virtue in ethical matters.

Book Deontological Ethics

We will look at deontology in more depth in Unit 3, but for now, read this basic introduction and notice the basic contrast between deontology and consequentialism. Note: Utilitarianism is a type or a subset of consequentialism. Do you think there are duties apart from consequences?

Page Joseph M. Magee's "St. Thomas Aquinas on the Natural Law"

Saint Thomas Aquinas offers a theory of natural law that is rooted in eternal and divine law. Notice again how Aquinas' natural law differs from consequentialism. Do you think there are any eternal natural laws?

Book Saint Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica: Part I-II (Pars Prima Secundae), Question 94, Articles 4-6

Read Articles 4, 5, and 6 of Question 94. Be able to explain the following concepts: speculative reason, practical reason, natural law, whether the natural law is the same for all, whether the natural law can be changed, and whether the natural law can be abolished from the hearts of us as human beings. Do you agree with Aquinas' description of a natural law? How does it relate to deontology and consequentialism?

Page Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham City Jail"

In this famous letter, King makes a distinction between just laws and unjust laws and refers to the moral law, or the eternal law, as the basis for distinguishing between just and unjust laws. Notice how Martin Luther King draws upon the idea of a natural law to defend civil rights for all in this famous letter. Would you agree that segregation laws violate the natural law?

2.1: Individual and the State: Plato's Crito Page Socratic Citizenship: Plato and Crito

Watch this lecture, which gives a background for the social and political theory given by Plato in the dialogue between Socrates and Crito. Socrates explains to Crito why he feels that he must remain in prison and carry out the death sentence of the court of Athens. Crito hopes that Socrates will simply leave Athens and go to live in another Greek city-state like Sparta. Socrates feels this would be wrong; above all, Socrates respects the law (the government and the courts of Athens). To disobey the law is wrong, even if he feels the death sentence they gave him is unfair.

Book Theory of Forms

Read this description of Plato's theory of the forms. What does Plato mean by "forms"?; How does this relate to justice? What does the ideal state have to do with justice?

Book Republic (Plato)

Read this summary of Plato's Republic. Pay particular attention to the summary of Books 6,7, and 8; the Theory of Universals; to the definition of justice; and to the Ideal City. What are the four types of government which Plato rejects, and why does he reject them?

Book Plato's Republic

Read Book V through Book VIII from this edition of Plato's Republic. For this and the following reading, pay attention to how both the translator of Republic and Mr. Kemerling treat the following concepts: justice, ideal forms, and the ideal city. Notice also the concept of the Ideal Form of the Good. What would a perfect city look like? Is this part of understanding justice and right in our own world?

Page Plato: The State and the Soul

In this reading Kemerling discusses how moral decision making is often concerned with issues of self-interest and justice. The ring of Gyges is used as a thought device to show the temptation to do what is in one's self interest when no negative consequences will occur. Then Socrates describes an ideal society in which citizens are given specific roles, in hopes that this will enable each individual to fulfill their proper function without self-interest and temptation.

Page Plato: Education and the Value of Justice

In this reading the ideal society of The Republic is discussed in more detail. The role of women in the ideal society is changed, in exchange for giving up raising of their own children the women are given equal status. The role of the philosopher kings and queens is described, noting that those who rule in The Republic do not own private property so as to limit their tempation. Then the Allegory of the Cave is described, noting that the realm of the senses (inside the cave) is often misleading, and that the significant values and concepts of ethics reside in the realm of the intelligible (outside the cave.)

2.2: Libertarianism as an Alternative Approach to the Question of Rights Page Introduction to Adam Smith

Adam Smith notes the foundation of economic and business relationships, and describes how division of labor benefits the economy. Supply and demand create an economy that allows good products to succeed through the "invisible hand" of consumer choice and social benefits.

Page Adam Smith: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

Read Chapter II of Book IV: "Of Restraints Upon Importation from Foreign Countries of Such Goods as Can Be Produced At Home," from Adam Smith's "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations". In this chapter, Smith describes his concept of "The Invisible Hand". His economic theory focuses on "laissez-faire" economics, the free market, self-interest, and competition in which the best quality goods are the ones that will be successfully sold. This creates an "invisible hand" that, according to his theory, keeps the economy healthy and benefits everyone.

Page Foundations of Libertarian Ethics

This video describes how libertarianism (as a philosophical, ethical view rather than a political party in the United States) involves a strong belief in self-ownership, freedom to acquire property, and freedom to pursue external goods and status. The video describes how libertarians would find government intervention on individual choice to be inappropriate and a disadvantage to social and economic progress.

Book Milton Friedman

Read this article, which provides an overview of Milton Friedman's life, his economic theory, and his political positions.

Page Milton Friedman and Human Flourishing

Read this article, which also shows the relation between Milton Friedman's economic theories and broader ethical matters.

Page Taxes in American History

In this video, a variety of examples of taxation are discussed. The potential for taxation to lead to a variety of social problems (for example, taxation of molasses leading to smuggling and other illegal activities, at specific times in history) are discussed. Capitalism is contrasted with merchantilism, and the history of tariffs and government intervention in economics is discussed.

Page Robert Nozick

Robert Nozick offered philosophical arguments defending the same type of freedom Friedman advocates. Notice that he is critical of utilitarianism.

Page Anarchy, State, and Utopia

Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Nozick's most influential work, offers his suggestion of the best type of government. List the ways Nozick's ideal government would differ from Plato's.

2.3: John Locke and Fundamental Individual Rights Page Excerpts from Locke's Second Treatise on Government

In this video, the personal rights discussed in Locke's Second Treatise of Government are described. People have the right to life, liberty, and property but they do not have the right to destroy other's property or to destroy themself by taking their own life. Locke refers to the Law of Nature and Law of Reason.

Page Democratic Values: Liberty, Equality, Justice

As you read, consider the European movement laid the groundwork for the ideals of American governments. From where did John Locke think governments derive their authority to rule?

Page Locke: Social Order

Read this overview of Locke's political theory. What is the role of government with regards to property?

Book John Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government: Chapters 1-5

Read Chapters 1-5 of Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government. How does Locke describe the state of nature in Chapter 2, Section 4? Look to Chapter 2, Section 6, for a discussion of limitations on the state of nature. In Chapter 5, Sections 26-30 attempt to answer how it is that Locke thinks we claim ownership of the goods of the earth.

Page Why Do We Obey the Law?

In this video starting at 2:13, the government theory of Locke is discussed. For Locke, taxation is acceptable as long as it suits the greater aims of society, but the role of individual natural rights must be preserved.

Book John Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government: "Chapters 8-11"

Read Chapters 8-11 of Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government. In Chapter 8, sections 95-99, how is it that Locke thinks a community or a government is formed? Why does Locke think human beings would agree to this in Chapter 9?

Book John Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government: "Chapters 18 and 19"

Read Chapters 18 and 19 of Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government. In what ways does Locke explain that a government might be dissolved?

Unit 2 Discussion URL Unit 2 Discussion

Post and respond to the following topics on the course discussion board, and respond to other students' posts.

  1. One of the most controversial areas of government power in recent years is eminent domain law. In eminent domain cases, a family may find themselves without their home, because their local government decides it is needed for a new building project or oil pipeline. Given what you now know about Locke's theory of property, is this a legitimate power of the government? Why, or why not? Explain your response.
  2. Is the theory of property advanced by Locke the only possible theory of property? Consider how Locke's theory relates to Native American conceptions of man's relationship to the land. Is it possible that Locke's theory can be misused to justify inappropriate policies?
  3. A complicated area of international law involves intellectual property rights. Some argue that with the advent of the internet, material should be made more widely available and intellectual property should become an outdated concept. Do you agree or disagree, given the theories of property and labor in this unit?
3.1: The Morality of the Market Page How Economists Helped End the Military Draft
Watch this video starting at 1:52, which gives an argument regarding the concept of individual consent as it relates to military conscription and giving up aspects of one's own liberties in service to one's country.
Page Michael Sandel on Markets and Morals
This article is a reaction to Michael Sandel's ideas on the moral limits of markets. What things do you think money should not buy? What principle should legislators use to write laws about these matters?
3.2: The Morality of Surrogate Motherhood: The Case of Baby M Page International Surrogacy Forum: The Free Market Approach
In this video, Erika Fuchs explains the process of surrogacy and the argument that from a free market perspective these relationships are ethical with proper legal representation and the involvment of agencies.
Page Kyle R. Wood's "In the Matter of Baby M., 109 N.J. 396 (1988)"

Read this description of the Baby M case from the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Page Baby M
This reading includes specific facts and timeline describing the Baby M surrogacy case and the interactions between the Sterns (the couple seeking to be parents) and Mary Beth Whitehead (the surrogate).
3.3: Humans Organs as Commodities Book Ethical Controversies in Organ Transplantation
Read this article describing the ethical questions surrounding kidney transplants. List the ethical dilemmas which arise surrounding the donation and scarcity of kidneys. Write a one paragraph position paper about one of those issues, arguing for your position with concrete arguments.
3.4: Grounding Moral Action in Rational Principles: Immanuel Kant Page Ethics for Complete Beginners: Part 5
In this video Talbot discusses the role of emotions and reason in determining ethical decisions. The use of reason and rule following is related to the deontological ethics of Kant. Acting purely from duty is emphasized, and the idea that having good intentions is having a good will.
Page Deontology
Watch this lecture from 21:17. The lecture introduces Kant's moral theory and his conception of duty, maxims of action, and categorical imperatives. Kant holds that actions should be guided by principles.
Page Immanuel Kant's Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals: Preface and First Section
Read the Preface and First Section of Kant's 1785 text about morality. Attempt to answer the following questions in your own words:

What does Kant say is the only thing good without qualification? What types of actions does Kant reject as examples of pure duty? What are the three proposition of morality? What Kany argues here is that the only absolutely good thing in the world is good will, or the human desire to act morally, and that this desire is only possible for us because we are rational beings. According to Kant, we have an absolujte duty to act on the basis of the moral principles that are the result of our own rationality. This is, in fact, what separates us from the animals, and it is why Kant so opposes the utilitarian view, which seems to make human beings into the slaves of their desires for pleasure and to avoid pain.
Page Kantian Ethics
In this video on Kant's ethics, the ideal life is based on using reason to determine what one's duty is in any given context. Always acting from duty means following specific rules that are universal, that apply to anyone in a similar situation, and that are aligned with ceteris parabis rules in law. If one follows these rules and always acts from duty, then one is a Good Will, who always intends to do the right thing, with the right intentions and motivations.
3.5: Kant's Metaphysics of Morals Book Immanuel Kant's Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals: Second Section and Third Section

Read the Second Section from Immanuel Kant's Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals. Kant says five things are clear:

  1. The origin of moral concepts is entirely a priori in reason.
  2. Moral concepts cannot be abstracted from empirical knowledge.
  3. The non-empirical, pure, nature of moral concepts dignify them as being supreme practical principles.
  4. This value of moral concepts as pure and thus good practical principles is reduced if any empirical knowledge is added in.
  5. One must derive for oneself and apply these moral concepts also from pure reason ­– unmixed with empirical knowledge.

Do these claims seem as clear and correct to you as they do to Kant? What is Kant referring to in his concept of the categorial imperative? 

Kant gives a second version of the categorical imperative which he called the practical imperative. Interpreters sometimes call it the imperative of dignity or of human dignity. Can you describe that version of the categorical imperative?

Kant says these two versions of the categorical imperative ultimately say the same thing. Why do you think he believes this?

Unlike our study of hypothetical examples in this course, Kant believes that morality is not something that can be derived from examples. What he wants is to find universal principles of morality that spring wholly from reason and not from experience. This is why he calls his system metaphysics of morals. In the second section, Kant argues forcefully against utilitarian (or popular) moral theories, and he puts forward his own, absolutely binding moral principle: the categorical imperative.

In Kant's ethical theory, a categorical imperative is a universal command, a principle that should be followed by anyone in any situation. If a command like "always tell the truth" can be chosen and represents a moral rule we all should follow, then it has the status of a categorical imperative, and is therefore a duty. Kant's examples in this section are meant to show that actions can only be considered truly moral if they are motivated by the duty to follow this imperative.

What does Kant mean by autonomy and heteronomy? Kant gives a third version of the categorical imperative in this section. What is this version? Here, Kant is concerned here that our principles of morality must come from ourselves and from our own rationality. However, he thinks of our rationality in universal terms, not as our own individual persuasion or opinion. Rationality and rational morality is always an objective science for Kant.

In the third section, Kant presents his view of what human freedom consists in, namely, following our rational principles rather than being guided by our appetite for please and our desire to avoid pain. Because Kant has based both freedom and morality on rationality, this means that to be free is to be moral. Or, in other words, to be free is to be bound by our duty to ourselves.

Page Lying to Ourselves
This video starting at 7:45 describes a variety of examples of lying and the problematic effects of lying within the military.
Book Immanuel Kant: The Duties of the Categorical Imperative
Read this section, which shows some of the difficulties of an objective, "categorical" approach. Do the circumstances affect the morality of lying, or is it always wrong to lie? Is it really lying if Weinstein chooses not to write the book? Is there conflict between telling the truth and the imperative of dignity in Weinstein's dilemma?
Unit 3 Discussion URL Unit 3 Discussion

Post and respond to the following topics on the course discussion board, and respond to other students' posts.

  1. Kant's critics complain that his theory often leaves us with two conflicting duties. Imagine a student who is finishing their college degree, who learns their mother has been diagnosed with cancer. The student's first instinct is to go home to take care of their mother. However, what if their mother asks them to stay in college to complete their degree program? How would Kant advise us to choose between these two conflicting duties (to their mother and to finish school)?

  2. In the past, doctors would often fail to tell a patient the truth about a diagnosis. For example, a doctor might decide to wait to tell a patient that they have a terminal illness until after the patient returns from a highly-anticipated vacation. Many communities would consider this decision to withhold medical information from a patient to be unethical and a violation of the patient's right to participate in their own treatment. Do doctors have a duty to tell their patients the truth, no matter what, even if the information might cause them great pain and suffering (or ruin a vacation)? Why, or why not?

  3. A famous Kantian example concerns two shopkeepers. One shopkeeper always gives correct change because they feel they should do so, even when they are tempted to do otherwise. Another shopkeeper always gives correct change because they want their customers to like them so they can receive their vote during an upcoming city council election. For Kant, the first shopkeeper, who lacks an external motivation to do the right thing, is more morally praiseworthy. Does this same distinction apply to companies? Should companies always act from the right intention even if doing so may decrease their profits or market share? Why, or why not?
4.1: Social Contract Theory in Historical Focus: Thomas Hobbes Book Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan: Chapters 13-15

Read Chapters 13, 14, and 15 from Hobbes' Leviathan. He describes what people are like in the absence of authority, especially government authority. Hobbes finds that life before a social contract is inherently negative but that people will tend to seek social contracts and peace. He finds that there are laws of nature, and these laws of nature will mitigate our destructive tendencies in the end.

Page The Sovereign State: Hobbes' Leviathan

Watch this lecture, which gives a background on Hobbes' view of the state of nature and human nature before the social contract.

Book Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan: Chapters 17-18

Read Chapters 17 and 18 from Hobbes' Leviathan. Hobbes describes the civil society and common wealth that results when people form a social contract with their government. Individuals in this relationship with their government give up some of their rights to the sovereign, or to the great leviathan made up of the citizens as a whole.

Page Contract & Commonwealth: Thomas Hobbes

Watch this lecture, which gives additional information about the transition from life in Hobbes' state of nature to life in the social contract.

Page Locke versus Hobbes

Read this article, which contrasts Hobbes' views with those of Locke. What is the difference between Locke's view of the state of nature and Hobbes' view? What is the difference between Locke's and Hobbes' conception of the social contract?

4.2: Social Contract Theory without the Contract: John Rawls Page Hobbes' Dilemma

This video explains how the difficulty of life in the "state of nature" inspires the Hobbesian state of nature and the foundation of contractarian government.

Page John Rawls on Just War

The following remarks were delivered by Bill Soderberg at the Peace and Justice Studies Association Annual Conference on October 16, 2015. Professor Soderberg describes John Rawls' overall approach to justice and his views on just war in particular. There are two principles to notice from Rawls' Theory of Justice: the veil of ignorance and the difference principle. What do each of these mean? What does ius ad bellum mean? What is ius in bello? Notice Rawls' eight principles on whether to go to war and his six principles on conduct within war. List three of each and comment on whether or not you think these principles concerning war are right.

URL John Rawls' A Theory of Justice

Read pages 1-7 of these excerpts from John Rawls' 1971 text. Stop when you reach the subheading on page 7, "Two Principles of Justice." Rawls aims to provide a theory of justice that is even more general than that of Locke or Kant, since it is based on purely hypothetical original position. How would we choose to organize society, if we had no idea what position we would have in it? Rawls' idea is that we should try to make it as fair as possible so that no matter what position we ended up in, we would have the same resources and chances as everyone else.

Page What is Justice?

This video describes the importance of justice in terms of how individuals treat each other in society and how the rule of law manages relations between individuals and their government.

URL John Rawls' A Theory of Justice

Read pages 7-14 of these excerpts, beginning with the subheading on page 7, "Two Principles of Justice." In these selections, Rawls presents his two principles of justice. Firstly, everyone should have an equal right to basic freedoms. Secondly, resources and institutions should be arranged to benefit the least well-off to create equality of opportunity. These principles are a far cry from the minimal government intervention libertarians advocate.

4.3: The Question of Distributive Justice Page The Economics of Inequality and Childhood Education

This video explains the different roles of society that have existed since the industrial revolution, and considers whether or not concepts like intelligence or social opportunities matter more in distribution of wealth and status in society.

Book Restorative Justice
Read this article, which describes the key differences between retributive and restorative justice. In social and political philosophy, there are traditionally two major types of justice: distributive justice describes how the status, wealth, and goods in society will be portioned out from the beginning, and retributive justice describes punishments, penalties, and restitution for situations where someone wrongs someone else and breaks a social contract. In recent years, retributive justice theory has been contrasted with restorative justice: retributive justice focuses on punishment and penalty, while restorative justice focuses on restitution and restoring community relationships.
Page The Restorative Justice System: An Alternative to the Official Criminal System
Read this article which describes restorative justice. What are the benefits of this approach over retributive justice? What are some of the pitfalls or risks?
Page Journalist's Resource: "U.S. Income Inequality Highest Since the Great Depression"

The income gap between the highest earning and the lowest earning Americans has increased. Read this article and respond to the following questions: To which era of modern American history is the current level of income inequality frequently compared? What events tend to precipitate the widening of income inequality? What percentage of the wealth in the United States do the top 20% earners own? The bottom 20% earners?

Page Affirmative Action 'In Action': The Case of Northern Ireland

This video addresses the specific changes in affirmative action that have occured in Northern Ireland, and the shift from forced inclusion to institutional change. This is an interesting example because the affirmative action legislation in Northern Ireland involved Catholics and Protestants imbalanced in the workplace, rather than race imbalances in the workplace. 

Page United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit: Cheryl J. Hopwood v. State of Texas

Read the following segments from the US Court of Appeals' decision in the case of Hopwood v. Texas: sections I, II, and III (A). on pages 1-34. Then, skip ahead and read part VI on pages 67-70. This US Court of Appeals decision involved a group of white students who sued the University of Texas School of Law on the grounds that the school selected several minority students instead of them despite the fact that they had superior academic qualifications. Thus, the plaintiffs argued that they had been discriminated against based on their race. The court decided in their favor, and although the decision was later overturned, the court's statement provides a reasoned argument for the idea that affirmative action constitutes racial discrimination.

Page The Supreme Court of the United States: Grutter v. Bollinger

Read the syllabus of Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decision handed down in Hopwood. What did Grutter argue in the case? Did the Court uphold her argument or reject it? Who must analyze government racial qualifications? Is student body diversity a compelling state interest? What is a narrowly tailored plan?

Page Race, Racism and the Law: Fran Lisa Buntman's "Race, Reputation, and the Supreme Court"

The following article is excerpted from Race, Reputation, and the Supreme Court: Valuing Blackness and Whiteness by Fran Lisa Buntman. What is the impact of blackness and whiteness on reputation and in the legal system?

Page Racial Profiling

Read Professor Chappell's remarks on the ethical difficulties with racial profiling. What is the difference in considering an individual versus a group?

Unit 4 Discussion URL Unit 4 Discussion

Post and respond to the following topics on the course discussion board, and respond to other students' posts.

  1. During times of financial crisis, some governments choose to use debtor's prisons to punish and deter those who default on their debts. Is this a legitimate use of the government's power to punish those who break social contracts, according to Hobbes and Rawls? Why, or why not?

  2. In the past, governments would deny fire department services to certain community members who had to purchase annual subscriptions from private fire departments as a form of fire insurance. Is this a legitimate form of social contract, or is fire protection such an important public good that government should always provide these services? Why or why not?

  3. Rawls' second principle of justice discusses the concept of social mobility, the idea that we should be able to move to a higher social class if we work hard and attain higher education. What do you think Rawls would say about recent lawsuits involving colleges and university policies on affirmative action?
5.1: Aristotle as a Champion of Merit-Based Justice Page Aristotle's Ethics Book II
This video discusses Aristotle's virtue ethics and how the differences between people affects what can be called good behavior for these people. We each have capacities that may not be under our own control, and we have states that relate to how we react to our circumstances and succeed in life.
Book Overview of Aristotle's "Politics"
Read this article for an overview of Aristotle's Politics. Aristotle describes how the ethically educated person, who has a proper character has an obligation to participate in their government (city-states in Aristotle's time). The moral health of one's city-state depends on the moral health of all the individuals who live in it and who participate in its political process. Because the city-state has such an interest in the moral health of each citizen, the government does have the right and the obligation to set laws that can be described as "paternalistic", laws that help people to control their own behavior even in private. In this sense Aristotle can be contrasted with modern day libertarian ethics.
Book Aristotle's Politics: Book One
Read Book One of Aristotle's Politics. Notice what Aristotle says about the family and politics in the first few chapters. Beginning with Part V, what does Aristotle say about slavery? Finally, notice Aristotle's comments about property, both in theory and in practice.
5.2: Justice Is Respect for Virtue Page A Romp Through Ethics for Complete Beginners: Part 3
This video describes Aristotle's ethical theory, which is based on the theory of each individual person's final cause or purpose. A person who behaves ethically, doing the right thing in the right situation in the right way, is a flourishing person who is enacting specific virtues. Doing this repeatedly brings about a good moral education and good moral character.
5.3: Virtue vs. Disability: The Case of Casey Martin Page The Supreme Court of the United States: PGA Tour, Inc. v. Casey Martin
Read this ruling by the Supreme Court on the case of PGA Tour, Inc. v. Casey Martin. The Aristotelian conception of justice as honoring an individual's virtues is called into question in the case of Casey Martin, who sued the PGA for refusing to allow him the use of a golf cart during the tour. In this case, the court decides in favor of Martin, or, in other words, against a purely virtue-based policy of distributive justice.
Page Two Kinds of Intellectual Virtue
This video explains the role of moral virtue and intellectual virtue in Aristotle's theory. The role of two kinds of intellectual virtues in creating a flourishing life is explained.
Book Aristotle's Politics: Book Three
Read Book Three of Aristotle's Politics. Aristotle begins by defining what the state is and what the conditions for citizenship are. The second half of the book is devoted to the topic of justice, and it is here that Aristotle makes his famous argument about equality. For Aristotle, justice is not simply a matter of respecting the equality of all citizens, but of determining in what specific ways people are said to be equal or unequal.
5.4: Constrained Freedom: Justice within the Bounds of a Community Page A Romp Through Ethics for Complete Beginners: Part 7
In this video Talbot compares the various ethical theories from Aristotle, Kant and Mill. She reviews the concepts that ground their view of good and bad choices and good and bad character, including duty in Kant, consequences in Mill, and virtue in Aristotle.
Book Alasdair MacIntyre
Read this article on Alasdair MacIntyre. MacIntyre has been influential in pointing to a retrieval of virtue ethics. What is the central question of virtue ethics as described in the article? What is one of the major points of his book, After Virtue, concerning the failure of the Enlightenment?
Book Virtue Ethics
Read this article describing virtue ethics. Define "eudaimonia". What were the four cardinal virtues in Ancient Greek ethical thought? Define "arete". What is meant by the contemporary aretaic turn?
Book The Igbo Indigenous Justice System
A specific variety of communitarian theory, African Communitarianism, requires specific obligations and interactions to provide just resolution after members of society have been harmed. In this reading, the justice system of the Igbbo people is described. Before colonialism, the Igbo people of northern Nigeria engaged in a form of governance that used concensus building, and participation (of primarily males) to resolve disputes. The theory also shares a belief in the preservation of human life, and individual rights, similar to the contractarianism of Locke. Consider how the Igbo justice system involves group membership in a way that can be compared and contrasted with other theories of justice we have studied.
5.5: Justice, the Good, and the Problem of Agreement Page Same Sex Marriage
In this video, gay marriage rights are analyzed from the point of view of legal rights. The distinction between legal marriage and civil unions is described. One participant is in favor of same-sex marriage rights, and the other participant is against such rights because of the definition of marriage as traditionally between one man and one woman, and as a way to protect women in a patriarchal culture.
Page The Supreme Court of the United States: Lawrence v. Texas
Read the syllabus from the 2003 Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas. In this decision, the Supreme Court struck down a previous ruling and affirmed that state laws against sodomy violate the constitutional right to due process. The decision was seen as a major advance for equal rights among the LGBT community. Arguments in the case centered on how we ought to understand the basic concept of liberty.
5.6: Cultural Relativism Book Theories Responding to the Challenge of Cultural Relativism
Read the first three sections of Chapter 4 and answer the following questions: 

    • What was Nietzsche's most famous quote? 
    • What is the definition of "cultural relativism"? 
    • How does Nietzsche's eternal return challenge traditional religious beliefs about rewards? 
    • Are Wallace Souza's actions immoral? Why or Why not? 
After you have answered these questions, continue on and read sections 4.4 through 4.6.

What three contemporary approaches to ethics offer alternatives to cultural relativism? Which of these alternatives is the best direction? Attempt the exercises at the end of each section.

5.7: Existentialist Ethics Page Nietzsche on Power, Knowledge, and Morality
Watch this lecture, from 10:23. This lecture gives an introduction to Nietzsche's critique of morality. Nietzsche finds that modern morality is dominated by a limited view of Christian ethics as a passive and subservient rather than powerful. He describes the will to power as a necessary part of living as a fully actualized noble soul.
Book The Ethics of Absolute Freedom
Read this lecture for a sense of Sartre's conception of existence. For Sartre, first we exist, and then we shape our essence through our choices in life.
5.8: The Relation between Morality and the Law Page Ethics vs Morals
In this video on ethics, the distinction between legal guidelines with external standards, and moral and ethical standards is discussed. For example, many professional organizations have Codes of Ethics that are based on principles and guidelines for good behavior, but these Codes of Ethics are usually not legally binding. The distinction between ethics and morals is also addressed, with attention to personal cultural norms and one's own internal beliefs about what choices are right and wrong.
Unit 5 Discussion URL Unit 5 Discussion

Post and respond to the following topics on the course discussion board, and respond to other students' posts.

  1. Consider someone with unusual opinions or unusual goals in life, for example, someone who chooses never to marry. How does this person's decision relate to existentialist ethics (as in Sartre's radical freedom and radical responsibility)? How should this person behave toward people he or she dates? Explain your response.
  2. How would you weigh economic arguments in favor of same-sex marriage? For example, consider the argument that when people pair up and take care of each other in old age, it decreases financial burdens on our society and government as a whole. Or, consider a student who is applying to college and filling out their financial aid paperwork. If the student is the child of a same-sex couple, then is that student only obligated to report the lower income of one parent, because both parents are not legally married? Is this fair to other students who must report the income of their opposite-sex married parents who need the same financial aid resources?
  3. Should the state be able to involve itself in cases where citizens, who are adults and who are able to give informed consent, choose to harm themselves? For example, note the different state policies on physician assisted suicide/euthanasia. Explain your response.
Study Guide Book PHIL103 Study Guide
Course Feedback Survey URL Course Feedback Survey