Philosophy | Introduction to Ethics
P140 | 0489 | M. 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 to the practices of
a particular culture?  Is there anything more behind the idea that
murder is wrong than 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 unethical?  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 of the course will
then be dedicated to examining how two ethical theories -
utilitarianism and Kantian ethics - 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 three contemporary
issues: capital punishment, abortion, and euthanasia.  In addition to
homework and in class assignments, students will be evaluated on the
basis of two 3-5 page papers, a midterm examination, and a final
examination.