Religious Studies | Problems in Social Ethics: Religion and the Quest for a Common Morality
R473 | 11213 | A. Stalnaker

COLL A&H distribution (Critical Issues Tradition for the Religious
Studies major)

This course explores debates over how far moral judgments reach
across cultures, religious traditions, and historical eras.  Are
such judgments inevitably relative to a local context of shared
practice and belief?  Or are at least some moral convictions truly
universal, applying anywhere and everywhere, to anyone?  The quest
for a common morality amid plurality is arguably the defining
intellectual and political problematic of the modern West.
Participants will examine a number of approaches to these questions
about relativism and universalism:  theories of “natural law;”
efforts to ground a universally binding morality in the intrinsic
structure of rational human agency, as well as various substitutes
for this grounding; accounts of the moral horrors of the 20th
century and resulting efforts to articulate “human rights” which
every society can recognize as binding.  We will also examine
various efforts to cope with moral and religious diversity, for
example through comparative ethical study, ethnography, and cross-
cultural critique of questionable practices.  And some time will be
devoted to “meta-ethical” inquiry into the nature and status of
moral claims in relation to culture and tradition, surveying some of
the most common approaches.  As a seminar the course will emphasize
Writing assignments: periodic short written responses to the
readings, two 5-6 page analytical papers, and a longer final essay.
Readings may include selections from the following: Schneewind, The
Invention of Autonomy; Outka and Reeder, Prospects for a Common
Morality; Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement; Donagan, The
Theory of Morality; Krausz, Relativism: Interpretation and
Confrontation; Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine; Stout, Ethics After
Babel; Darwall et al., eds., Moral Discourse and Practice; Rorty,
Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity; Nussbaum, Women and Human
Development; Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth
Century; Moody-Adams, Fieldwork in Familiar Places: Morality,
Culture, and Philosophy.  Meets with R571