Philosophy | Introduction to Ethics
P140 | 0473 | Seymour

What does it mean to be moral?

Is murder morally wrong?  If we think that murder is morally wrong
is this just because we have been successfully educated by our
culture to have this "correct" opinion about murder?  Are moral
judgments like "murder is wrong" merely opinions that are relative
ti the practices of a particular culture?  Is there anything more
behing the idea that murder is wrong besides the fact that many of
us "happen to believe" that it is wrong?  What kind of argument
could we make to a person who did not hold the opinion that murder
is an unethical action?  Does our prohibition against murder
represent an "objectively valid moral principle" that holds for all
people at all times?

We all have ideas about right and wrong action.  These ideas are
generally so basic, such as the idea that murder is unethical, that
we rarely question them.  This course will examine the question:
what does it mean to be moral?  The guiding idea behind this course
is that it is not sufficient to simply HAVE opinions about ethical
issues.  If these issues are truly important to us, we ought to be
able to CRITICALLY EXAMINE AND DEFEND our opinions as well.

We will begin the course by examining the controversy between
ethical relativism and moral objectivism.  The greater part if the
course will then by dedicated to examining how two ethical theories -
utilitarianism and Kantian ethice - attempt to answer the
question, "What does it mean to be moral?"  We will look carefully
at the ethical theories of Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill and
evaluate their respective strengths and weaknesses.  Finally in the
latter part of the course we will apply these ethical theories to
the following contemporary issues: abortion, capital punishment,
economic and social justice, and the legitimate use of violence.
Students will be evaluated on the basis of 4-5 short papers, a
midterm examination, and a final examination.