The Dennes Room

Philosophy 2

Summer 2020 2nd 6wks

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
2 Individual Morality & Social Justice Strelau MTuWTh 10-12 200 Wheeler

An introduction to fundamental issues in moral and political philosophy. This course will focus on three interconnected topics: C1. What determines whether a particular action is morally good? What are the most fundamental sources of right and wrong? Is moral correctness, a matter of objective truth? C2. What is it to be a morally good, or virtuous, person; and how does one become such a person? C3. And what is the optimum political and economic structure of a society?

We will examine several standard classic accounts, and the reasons that have been given for their correctness, as well as some influential contemporary theories; each spans C1-3 but they differ in emphasis. These include: Aristotle on virtues, practical reason, and human flourishing; Confucius on ritual and ‘the ideal moral agent’ = junzi; the ‘Exodus’ chapter in the Bible on the moral law; Locke on basic rights, the state of nature, and the social contract; Kant on pure reason as the source of moral principles, and on free will; Mill on utilitarianism and liberty. The contemporary theories include John Rawls’ broadly egalitarian view arrived at from ‘the original position’; individual rights-centered approaches such as Nozick’s; and recent work on virtue ethics.

We will apply these general accounts to prominent real-life issues of the present day, eg: law enforcement agencies some of whose members have developed biases (racism) and therefore do not treat all citizens equally; and massive unexpected economic disruptions caused by disasters such as pandemics. Throughout we’ll apply the accounts to a range of ordinary life examples, including difficult borderline cases.

Other readings will include Plato, Marcus Aurelius, and Hannah Arendt. Issues we’ll examine include: The nature of universal human rights (eg freedom of speech); what grounds them? A variety of definitions of equality, and the arguments given for them. Accounts of the transition from a state of nature to a civil government, especially the role of ‘protective associations’.