2019-2020 Courses

Fall 2019

PHL 244: Human Nature

[last year’s syllabus - subject to change!]

In this course, we will investigate three central questions about our nature as human beings. First, what are we? Are we immaterial souls, collections of memories and other psychological states, physical bodies, or something else? Second, are we good or evil? Are human beings innately selfish, or are we capable of genuine moral virtue? Third, do we have free will? Can we be held responsible for our actions if they are the inevitable result of the laws of nature?

PHL 2132: Seminar in Ethics (open to graduate students only)

Morality and Accountability

I ought to floss every night – so my dentist tells me. Is this a moral ought? Plausibly not: my dentist would seem strangely overzealous if she told me that I’m morally obligated to floss, or that neglecting my flossing routine would be morally wrong. This raises this seminar’s central question: what distinguishes moral normative notions such as moral obligation, moral wrongness, and moral reasons from other practical normative notions, such as the “ought” used by my dentist? We’ll investigate this question, with particular attention to the hypothesis that what makes morality distinctive is how we hold each other accountable to moral obligations with demands and blame. Potential sub-topics include, but are not limited to: supererogation and moral options; the nature and justification of blame and other reactive attitudes; forgiveness; the idea that some obligations are owed to particular persons (‘directed’ or ‘bipolar’ obligations); the semantics of ‘ought’ and ‘must’; whether morality is ‘overriding’; the idea that morality is inherently relational or second-personal.

Spring 2020

PHL 375: Ethics

Doing Good: Consequentialism in Ethics

[last year’s syllabus - subject to change!]

Here’s a simple ethical theory: you should always do whatever will produce the most good. This view, called consequentialism, is both one of the most influential theories in moral philosophy and one of the most reviled. This course will undertake a sustained investigation of consequentialism. Topics include: the extent of our obligations to help strangers in need; whether it is ever permissible to kill in the name of the greater good; whether we can know the long-term consequences of our actions; whether goodness is objective or subjective; whether all moral theories are consequentialist theories in disguise; and more.

PHL 407: Seminar in Ethics

Ethics in Personal Relationships

Moral philosophers are fond of talking about our obligations to strangers. But in everyday life, we spend a lot more time thinking about our obligations to people we already know: our friends, roommates, parents, siblings, cousins, romantic partners, and others with whom we have personal relationships.

This class will investigate the ethical significance of these personal relationships. We will begin with foundational questions: what is it to love someone? When and why is it morally okay to prioritize the happiness of our loved ones over the welfare of strangers? Then we will turn our attention to the moral nuances of particular relationships: friendship, romantic love and marriage, parent-child relationships, professional role relationships (such as doctor/patient or lawyer/client), membership in a community or country, and maybe even our relationships with our pets.

Previously Taught Courses

Spring 2019

PHL 407: Seminar in Ethics, Lying

PHL 376: Topics in Moral Philosophy, Doing Good: Consequentialism in Ethics

Fall 2018

PHL 244: Human Nature

PHL 1111: PhD Proseminar, Values, Rules, and Beyond (with Thomas Hurka)