The Dennes Room

Philosophy 108

Spring 2014

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
108 Contemporary Ethical Issues Kolodny TuTh 9:30-11 289 Cory

Note: As taught this semester, Philosophy 108 will satisfy the Ethics requirement.

As a thoughtful person, living in this country, at this time, you have at some point asked yourself some of the following questions. Should torture be allowed? Is there any difference between terrorism and “collateral damage”? May we kill enemy soldiers or even civilians to protect ourselves? Is capital punishment moral? Is abortion? Whether or not it’s moral, should it be legal? Should we let the majority or the courts decide? Is the government allowed to take your money and use it in ways you don’t want? If you have better grades and higher test scores, do you deserve a spot at UC more? Are you allowed to buy yourself an iPod when you could use the money to save people from starving? Should you buy a hybrid, rather than an SUV, when your individual choice is just “a drop in the bucket” and won’t really affect global warming?

These questions can be difficult for many different reasons. Self- interest, prejudice, and fear can cloud our judgment. Religious authorities that we accept on faith, such as the Bible, can give unclear or conflicting directions. Finally, it can be hard to be sure of relevant facts: for example, whether information gained through torture tends to be reliable, whether the justice system applies the death penalty consistently, or whether burning fossil fuels leads to climate change.

This course, however, is about another set of difficulties, which persist when we set aside our personal feelings, we see how far we can get without relying on faith, and we assume that we know the relevant facts. We may not be able to decide, by our own reflection and reasoning, which answers are correct, and even when we are sure that certain answers are correct, we may not be able to justify them. Our ethical ideas may seem not up to the task. Our aim in this course is to come to terms with these difficulties and to see to what extent they can be overcome.

Previously taught: FL12, SU10D, SP09, SP08.