Introduction to Ethics

Phil 21000, Spring 2006


The Notes were last updated at 11 AM on Wednesday, 14 January 2009.

  1. First, what the heck are you doing here? It’s summer! Go enjoy yourself. Second, as long as you’re here, Ally has a real experience that I simply must share. The reasons will be obvious.

    The other morning my friend and I were riding the 55 to work and I saw a dog standing perfectly still in Washington Park. Since it was standing perfectly still (which I found odd) I pointed it out to my friend who calmly told me that it was probably a horse.

    I just thought you’d like to know that your situation came to life. She was clearly wrong (What would a very small horse be doing standing in Washington Park after all?), but I laughed hysterically for a good while.

    Yup, that’s right. Real people can mistake a dog for a horse. It’s not just a product of my fevered brain. (1 July)
  2. Horns! Thanks for a lovely quarter. It was my last at the U of C and, I have to say, you all make leaving hard. Look for me at Pomona College if you’re interested. Do tell me what you’re doing. And, while I have your attention, take a peek at yourselves! You looked mahvelous! I know you’re wondering: no, I didn’t notice the horns at the time. But the camera does not lie. Well done! (13 June)
  3. Your second papers have almost all been graded and are available on the black shelves outside of Stuart 202. I say “almost all” because there are four or five that aren’t quite done. If your paper is not on the shelf, you should get an email from Aaron this evening summarizing his thoughts about your paper. Those four or five papers will be available on Monday, the rest, again, are on the shelves right now. I’m off to California, so don’t count on reaching me until next Thursday. Good luck on the exam! (1 June)
  4. Here’s the study sheet for the exam that I passed out in class. (30 May)
  5. Subjectivism notes … done! (30 May)
  6. I’m going to do two more sets of notes: one on moral relativism and one on subjectivism. The one on relativism is done. One more to go! (25 May)
  7. The early exam, for seniors and others, will be on Thursday, 1 May from 10 - 12 in 209 Stuart, the room where discussion sections are held. (23 May)
  8. Rob forwarded me an article from Scientific American on moral development in children. Given that we’ve been exchanging lots of armchair explanations of how this works, it’s probably a good idea to get some, uh, facts. The citation is: W. Damon, “The Moral Development of Children.” Scientific American. August 1999, Vol. 281 Issue 2, p. 72-79. Plus, you can get an electronic version, via a UC internet connection, of course. Thanks, Rob! (14 May)
  9. There will be a meeting for those interested in writing a BA essay next year on Friday, 19 May from noon to 1 pm. It will be in 209 Stuart, a.k.a. ‘the seminar room’. (14 May)
  10. Your papers have been graded (as of Friday, 5 May). They’re on the shelf outside of Stuart 202. (9 May)
  11. I’m putting together an early final exam schedule for graduating seniors. If you want to take the exam early with the seniors, let me know. (1 May)
  12. In addition to being an exceptional philosopher, Mill led a life of public service. And you can read all about it without leaving your chair. Thanks to Daniel G. for the link. (1 May)
  13. I thought today’s discussion (the first day on Thomson) was unusually good, even by your high standards. Well done! (25 April)
  14. For the second paper topic, the request that you “give what strikes you as the best reason for doubting that either version of the principle would work in his argument” means that you only have to discuss one version of the principle, not both. (20 April)
  15. The wording of the fourth paper topic is a little misleading. The third question is meant to lead into the fourth, fifth, and sixth questions. That is, the way to answer the question “Is there a distinction between higher and lower pleasures, such as he describes it?” is to answer the next three questions. It isn’t a question on its own, separate from the next three. As long as we’re on the subject, note that there are two ways of answering the question: you could consider those who think there is no distinction between higher and lower quality pleasures or you could consider those who think that there might be such a distinction but just not as Mill described it. (18 April)
  16. Daniel Groll can do much much more than schedule a discussion section. He’s a hide hitter who can really pound the tubs. You can see him do that right after class on Thursday, 13 April in Fulton Recital Hall.
  17. Discussion sections begin second week. The first will be on Thursday, 6 April. (6 April)
  18. We’ll set up discussion sections next Tuesday. So come with your schedules. (30 March)
  19. As with many things, Aristotle got there first. Here’s a nifty quote about one of the problems I tried to explain today, courtesy of Daniel: “Problems of what is noble and just, which politics examines, present so much variety and irregularity that some people believe that they exist only by convention and not by nature.” (Nicomachean Ethics, 1094b) (28 March)
  20. The syllabus is here. Otherwise, there isn’t much to see. (20 March)
  21. Concerning enrollment, there were over 80 bids for 52 seats. Some people who are currently registered will probably drop the class in the first week or two. But I’m not going to exceed the cap because conversation is difficult in large classes. So I can’t promise in advance to sign anyone’s pink slip. (20 March)


This course will cover two broad questions about ethics, drawing on contemporary and classical readings.

First, what do we think morality requires? What kinds of acts are right and wrong? How can we think systematically about that kind of question?

Second, what is the status of morality? Moral beliefs seem to be subjective in a way that more straightforwardly factual beliefs are not. What, exactly, is the difference between these two kinds of belief? How should we think and argue about morality if there does seem to be a subjective element to it? What should we think and do when confronted with a society whose members have very different moral beliefs than our own?


This course is only open to undergraduates. It is designed to be an introduction to the subject: there are no prerequisites.

The reading required is quite light, in the sense that it does not weigh much on a scale. However, it is difficult material that requires, and repays, re-reading. Really.


Thurs. 13 April: first paper topics distributed. [pdf]

Mon. 24 April: first paper due.

Thurs. 11 May: second paper topics distributed. [pdf]

Mon. 22 May: second paper due.

Thurs. 1 June: Senior exam, 10-12, Stuart 209 [map].

Tues. 6 June: Final exam, 10:30-12:30.


Tues, Thurs 10:30 - 12
Pick 16 [map]

Discussion Sects.

Tues., 9:30-10:30, Stuart 209 [map]

Thurs., 5-6, Stuart 209 [map]


Philosophy Department

Regenstein Reserve