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PHL 212

ETHICS

Instructor:

Dr. Bob Zunjic



Office Hours:
Fr 10:00 to 11:00am (Chafee 185) and by appointment

Phone: (401) 874-5499
E-mail: szunjic@uri.edu


Course Description:

This course is conceived primarily as an introduction to major ethical theories and ideas although it provides some guidelines about the main issues of applied Ethics as well. Being a theoretical inquiry into the standards of right and wrong (or good and bad), Ethics deals with morality insofar as it embodies a set of rules already accepted or formulated for potential acceptance. In studying morality Ethics primarily describes, analyzes and criticizes different moral codes as to their consistency, viability and legitimacy. But it also envisions better norms based on human ability to learn and get a better insight into the nature of our own conduct.

In keeping with the philosophical character of ethical investigations this course will outline some of the ways how philosophers tend to answer the most fundamental questions about the nature, source and purpose of morality in their continual effort to analyze and explain human conduct.
While moral relativism does not seem to be a viable ethical position in general, it is important to grasp how and to which extent particular morals and standards are conditioned upon different historical, social, cultural and religious circumstances. Rather than refuting the universality of moral judgments this conditioning upon 'external' factors helps better understand the historical variety of moral practices and norms.

The range of scrutinized ethical theories (from the Divine Command theory and Contractualism all the way to Utilitarianism and Deontology) purports to provide a historical backing for various levels of moral consciousness as described in Kohlberg's scale of moral development.
While examining the respective strengths and shortcomings of different moral theories we shall be discussing predominantly ethical concepts and ideas of morality rather than ideas of good life in general. However, the course will also cover those aspects of good life and striving for happiness that have moral implications in terms of what is right or wrong. We cannot entirely avoid some questions of classical virtue ethics insofar as they reveal the interrelatedness of morality and the respective social setting. Nonetheless, our focus will be more on individual moral concerns for the right and wrong than on the social, economic or psychological determinants of moral acts.

The course includes the following four areas of study:

  1. The notion of morality and the problem of ethical justification.
  2. Representative ethical theories purporting to explain various aspects of morality (Virtue ethics, Contractual ethics, Utilitarianism, Deontological ethics).
  3. Major ethical issues and concepts (free will, moral norms, duty, obligation, responsibility, virtues, vices, egoism, altruism, moral sanctions, etc.).
  4. Selected applications to contemporary controversies (religious versus autonomous morality, sexual behavior/orientation, abortion/free choice, animal rights, etc.).

Course Text:

Louis P. Pojman, The Moral Life, An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature, Oxford University Press, 2007, 3rd edition.

The course draws on this single reader. All readings will be taken from this anthology and our weekly schedule, with some adjustments, will roughly follow its division into sections. We cannot cover all the included topics in class nor do we intend to. All the participants in the course are expected to use the book as a wider resource for different approaches, ongoing debates and literary transpositions of major ethical issues.

Format:

Classes combine lectures, interpretive exercises in the assigned texts, classroom discussions and small research work. No matter what the form of a particular class may be, we shall be doing basically one and the same thing: close reading of the texts and careful analysis of their arguments.

Objectives:

To get acquainted with the most important concepts and ideas of morality, to recognize both the need and the complexity of moral reasoning, to learn how to deal with moral dilemmas and the ambiguity of human condition, to relate practical moral experience with great theoretical elaborations of moral conduct, and finally, to provide intellectual tools for more profound self-reflection and critical assessment of personal moral convictions.

Requirements:

(a) Reading and Interpreting: Students are expected to do all weekly assigned readings on time and as thorough as they can. We shall read and comment upon many critical passages in class, but always as a continuation of your individual reading, not as a substitute! Therefore, prepare for classes and always bring your book! Our focus will be on the complexity of formulations that require an appropriate analytical approach and increased sensitivity for divergent interpretations.

(b) Using Qualitative Data: In accord with the most recent revision of the University's General Education Program, this course includes assignments (home or class) that require "analysis, interpretation, and/or use of qualitative data to test a hypothesis, build a theory, or illustrate and describe patterns". Consequently, we'll try to interpret ethical assertions as accurately as possible in order to be able to assess their argumentative force or analyze evidence provided as support for a given position. Practically this means that I will ask you to do a small research on a specific issue by going on-line or to the library and then evaluate the obtained data as to their aptness to corroborate or refute certain ethical claims.

(c) Writing: Writing is an area of philosophical training which has an equal importance as oral teaching and argumentative exercising in class. Putting down your thoughts in written form gives you an invaluable opportunity to scrutinize once again your ideas and to better assess the validity of your initial arguments. Hence we'll pay a special attention to the improvement of your writing skills. I strongly encourage participants of the class to contact me to get clarification about written assignments as well as feedback on the submitted papers.

Ideally students are expected to write papers simultaneously with doing their readings. There will be two papers based on the course texts (either philosophical or literary). The papers should strictly draw on the course texts, but the method of discussing the topic and your approach are a matter of choice. The papers are due for the Midterm and Final exam respectively. I'll be glad to review your first draft beforehand and to discuss your final version. The suggested scope is 2 to 5 pages. I'll be assessing your writing skills and your progress in writing primarily based on your papers and home assignments while using short essay questions mostly for evaluation of other skills such as understanding of the intricate questions and protracted arguments.

Some useful tips for writing : Focus on one main question! First do your best to understand and explain the text as accurately as possible and only then start to comment on it and make your own critical remarks! Always give reasons for your opinion no matter whether you agree or disagree with the author! Try to consider different venues and the cogency of opposing arguments! Every genre of writing is good as any other: informative report, argumentative discussion, critical analysis, personal expression. But a genre itself does not guarantee a good paper. The paper needs to be executed in keeping with the requirements of the particular style and approach that were selected. The following rubrics list the criteria and the qualities that will be evaluated in writing assignments given in this class.

 

PARAMETERS OF EVALUATION

EXEMPLARY

SATISFACTORY

DEFICIENT

 

 

UNDERSTANDING AND INTERPRETATION

  • Excellent understanding of language and reasoning.
  • Precise interpretation of text and accurate rendering of content.
  • Apprehends entirely context and rationale of ideas.
  • General understanding of terminology and reasoning.
  • Roughly renders content and meaning of text.
  • Partially grasps context and intellectual motivation.
  • Inadequate understanding of terminology and reasoning.
  • Misinterprets ideas and assertions.
  • Lacks any apprehension of context and motivation.

 

 

ANALYSIS AND ARGUMENTATION

  • Thorough articulation of arguments.
  • Logic of assertions fully clarified.
  • Well argued critical points.
  • Main lines of arguments indicated.
  • An intuitive grasp of logical patterns demonstrated.
  • Certain critical argumentation attempted.
  • No analysis of argumentation offered.
  • No awareness of logical relations and structure.
  • No argumentation attempted.

 

 

CLAIM SUPPORT AND USE OF SOURCES

  • Relevant facts/examples adduced.
  • Various sources consulted and appraised.
  • Adequate applications identified and proper conclusions drawn.
  • Insufficient factual basis established.
  • Limited sources consulted .
  • Conclusions undeveloped or suggested by association.
  • No use of sources.
  • Sheer statements of agreement or disagreement. Guesswork w/out support.
  • Superficial or irrelevant conclusions or no conclusions at all.

 

 

STYLE AND CORRECTNESS

  • Penetrating insights and interesting observations.
  • Outstanding articulation and autonomous conceptualization of issues.
  • Clear and thoughtful exposition – sophisticated style.
  • Scattered comments and remarks .
  • Excessive dependency on original wording (direct quotes and paraphrasing).
  • “Normal” flat style and exposition.
  • Disorganized and shallow presentation.
  • No conceptualization, no use of theoretical tools.
  • Broken colloquial style – statements loosely connected.

 

(d) Speaking: Given the size of this class all participants will not have the opportunity for long oral presentations. Anyway, we shall be able to practice the skill of effective speaking as the ability of articulating our thoughts accurately and communicating them to others clearly. Formulating your ideas and exchanging arguments in class discussions serves that purpose and therefore requires an active involvement from the participants.

(e) Attendance and Participation: Regular attendance and doing reading on time are indispensable for being successful in this course (they will be reflected in the participation grade accordingly). What counts most, however, is not a mere physical presence, but productive participation in answering questions, in doing presentations and taking part in class discussions. Ultimately it is what you say and how do you say it that matters, not the sheer fact that you are talking. And remember: class discussion is not a battlefield wherein everyone fights everyone in order to establish personal superiority. Our objective is not to defeat others but to collaboratively find the right interpretation, the correct argument and possibly the true explanation of the problem. Therefore everybody's contribution should be phrased in accord with that objective.

Exams:

There will be two exams including one final. They will consist of multiple choice and short essay questions.

Grading:

First Exam: 25%
Second Exam: 25%
Papers: 15%
Assignments: 15%
Attendance and Class Participation: 20%

Regular attendance, doing readings on time and taking part in class discussions are included in the participation grade. Permission to be excused from a scheduled exam will be granted only for serious medical or personal reasons and must be properly documented.

Academic Support Services: The Academic Enhancement Center within University College houses the University's existing writing center and learning assistance program, as well as many other academic support services areas such as tutoring, study groups and multiple forms of academic workshops. The Center provides an interactive learning environment that allows students to both enjoy a cup of coffee and find individual assistance. The Center is located on the 4th floor of Roosevelt Hall.

Disabilities: Any student with a documented disability is welcome to approach me early in the semester so that we may work out reasonable accommodations to support your success in this course. One should also contact Disability Services for Students, Office of Student Life, 330 Memorial Union, 874-2098.

Sample Reading List:

The Book of Genesis, 2,3,4; Exodus 20; Decalogue, 3,4; Joshua 6,7,8. Week 1-2
Jesus of Nazareth, The Sermon on the Mount; The Good Samaritan. Week 3
Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, bk. 1, 2. Week 4-5
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, "On the State of Nature" . Week 6
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, bk. 5, ch. 4,"Why is there evil?" Week 7
Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principle of Morals and Legislation. Week 8-9
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil. The Genealogy of Morals. Week 10
Immanuel Kant, The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Week 11-12
Jean Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism.  

 

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