Ethics

Below are readings and essay questions for tutorials in Ethics. Many of the readings are available online, and all are easily obtained from the college or other libraries in Oxford, but if you are struggling to get hold of anything, email me, as I have PDF copies of nearly everything.

I have divided the reading for each topic into CORE READING and FURTHER READING, with more introductory texts marked with a star (*). Focus on the Core Reading suggestions in writing tutorial essays, and use the Further Reading suggestions as starting points for exploring topics in more depth during vacations. You will find more suggestions in the Faculty Reading List.

The default plan is to cover the following TUTORIAL TOPICS. Only the first six weeks are fixed, leaving us two weeks to pursue topics in meta-ethics of your choosing.

TUTORIAL TOPICS

  1. Egoism and Altruism
  2. Hume
  3. Kant I: Duty
  4. Kant II: Universalizability
  5. Consequentialism
  6. Virtue Ethics
  7. TBA
  8. TBA

ANTHOLOGIES and TEXTBOOKS

There are no set texts for this paper, but we will mainly be focusing on early modern debates, particularly Hume and Kant. The key works are Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature (1738/1740) and An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals (1751) and Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (1785). I recommend the Oxford Philosophical Texts editions of these, though most other scholarly editions will do just as well. The order and choice of topics is loosely based on David Wiggins’ excellent Ethics: Twelve Lectures on the Philosophy of Morality (Penguin, 2006). Chapters of this are suggested in connection with certain topics below, and it will also be helpful to read it all when you look back over the material at the end of term. For more introductory discussion of many of the topics we’ll cover — and more besides — try:

Many of the readings suggested below can be found in this anthology, referred to as SL below:

TUTORIAL TOPICS

1. WHY BE MORAL? EGOISM and ALTRUISM

TOP

ESSAY QUESTION
Do morality and self-interest necessarily coincide? Why might the issue be thought to be important? Is it?

CORE READING
*John Deigh (2010) An Introduction to Ethics (CUP), Ch. 1 and 2.

Plato The Republic, Bk II, 357a-367e. Various editions, inc. Grube trans. revised by Reeve (Hackett, 1992). Reprinted in SL.
H. A. Prichard (1912) ‘Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?’ in Mind 21, pp. 21-37. Reprinted in his (1949) Moral Obligation (OUP).
Bernard Williams (1973) ‘Egoism and Altruism’ in his Problems of the Self (CUP).

FURTHER READING
Philippa Foot (1972) ‘Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives’ in The Philosophical Review 81(3), pp. 305–316. Reprinted in SL and, with a ‘Recantation,’ in Stephen Darwall, Allan Gibbard, and Peter Railton, eds. Moral Discourse and Practice: Some Philosophical Approaches (OUP).
Joseph Raz (1997) ‘The Amoralist’ in G. Cullity & B. Gaut, eds. Ethics and Practical Reason (OUP). Reprinted as Ch. 12 of his (2002) Engaging Reason (OUP).
Elliot Sober (2001) ‘Psychological Egoism’ in H. LaFollette, ed. The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory (Blackwell).
David Wiggins (2006) Ethics: Twelve Lectures on the Philosophy of Morality (Penguin), Ch. 1.

See also the other papers in Part III of SL, for which Russ Shafer-Landau provides a short introduction.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS
How much turns on the possibility of persuading the amoralist to be moral? (2016)

‘[I]n all ingenuous natures, the antipathy to treachery and roguery is too strong to be counter-balanced by any views of profit or pecuniary advantage. Inward peace of mind, consciousness of integrity, a satisfactory review of our own conduct; these are circumstances, very requisite to happiness, and will be cherished and cultivated by every honest man, who feels the importance of them.’ (HUME) How good a response is this to the amoralist? (2015)

What is the best response to the amoralist? (2014)

2. HUME

TOP

ESSAY QUESTION
What does Hume mean when he says that moral distinctions are not derived from reason? Is he right? Does his sentimentalist account of moral judgement commit him to an unacceptable relativism?

CORE READING
*James Baillie (2000) Hume on Morality (Routledge), esp. Chs. 5 and 7.

David Hume (1738/1740) A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk 2, Pt 3, §3; Bk 3, Pt 1, §§1 and 2, and Pt 3, §§1 and 6.
J. L. Mackie (1980) Hume’s Moral Theory (Routledge), esp. Chs. III to V.
Rachel Cohon (2008) Hume’s Morality (OUP), esp. Chs. 3 to 5.

FURTHER READING
David Hume (1751) Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals.
Christine Korsgaard (1986) ‘Skepticism about Practical Reason’ in Journal of Philosophy 83(1), pp. 5-25.
R. Mark Sainsbury (1998) ‘Projections and Relations’ in The Monist 81(1), pp. 133–160.
Peter Railton (2006) ‘Humean Theory of Practical Rationality’ in D. Copp, ed. Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory (OUP).

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS
Can Hume’s sentimentalism adequately account for the normativity of moral assessment? (2016)

‘Since morals have an influence on the actions and affections, it follows that they cannot be derived from reason… Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason.’ (HUME) Discuss. (2014)

‘Just because reason alone “is not a motive to any action of the will” (HUME), it need not follow that moral attitudes cannot be beliefs.’ Discuss. (2012)

3. KANT I: DUTY

TOP

ESSAY QUESTION
What is Kant’s view on how an action must be motivated in order for that action to have “moral worth”? Is this view correct?

CORE READING
*Jerome B. Schneewind (1992) ‘Autonomy, Obligation, and Virtue: An Overview of Kant’s Moral Philosophy’ in P. Guyer, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Kant (CUP).

Immanuel Kant (1785) Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Preface and §I.
Christine Korsgaard (1989) ‘Kant’s Analysis of Obligation’ in The Monist 72(3), pp. 311-340. Reprinted as Ch. 2 of her (1996) Creating the Kingdom of Ends (CUP).
Marcia Baron (2002) ‘Acting from Duty’ in Allen Wood, ed. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (Yale UP).

FURTHER READING
Barbara Herman (1981) ‘On the Value of Acting from the Motive of Duty’ in The Philosophical Review 90(3), pp. 359–382.
David Wiggins (1995) ‘Categorical Requirements: Kant and Hume on the Idea of Duty’ in R. Hursthouse, G. Lawrence, & W. Quinn, eds. Virtues and Reasons (OUP).
Allen Wood (1999) Kant’s Ethical Thought (CUP), Ch. 1.
Nomy Arpaly (2002) ‘Moral Worth’ in The Journal of Philosophy 99(5), pp. 223–245.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS
‘Acting from duty seems to me to be crucial to morally good conduct.’ (MARCIA BARON) Is it? (2016)

What does Kant mean by the claim that it is impossible to conceive of anything which is good without qualification except a good will? Is he right? (2014)

Is moral worth specially related to the motive of duty? (2013)

4. KANT II: UNIVERSALIZABILITY

TOP

ESSAY QUESTION
What is the relationship between subsidiary moral principles (such as prohibitions on lying and suicide) and the “universal law” version of Kant’s categorical imperative? In particular, can the former soundly be derived from the latter? If not, what implications does this have for Kant’s moral philosophy?

CORE READING
*Richard Galvin (2009) ‘The Universal Law Formulas’ in Thomas E. Hill, Jr., ed. (2009) The Blackwell Guide to Kant’s Ethics (Blackwell)

Immanuel Kant (1785) Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, §§I and II.
Christine Korsgaard (1985) ‘Kant’s Formula of Universal Law’ in Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 66(1-2), pp. 24-47. Reprinted as Ch. 3 of her (1996) Creating the Kingdom of Ends (CUP) and in SL.
Allen Wood (1999) Kant’s Ethical Thought (CUP), Ch. 3.

FURTHER READING
Onora O’Neill (1985) ‘Consistency in Action’ reprinted in her (1997) Constructions of Reason (CUP).
Bernard Williams (1985/2006) Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Routledge), Ch. 4.
John Rawls (2000) Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, edited by B. Herman (Harvard UP), Kant I and (especially) II.
Derek Parfit (2011) On What Matters (OUP), Vol. 1, Ch. 12.

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS
‘Even if the Categorical Imperative gets the moral prescriptions right, Kant doesn’t have a satisfactory account of why these are the prescriptions.’ Discuss. (2016)

How much of a problem is it for Kant’s argument in the Groundwork that a person can intend an action under a variety of different descriptions? (2015)

Could I rationally will it to be a universal law that no one ever helps anyone else? (2013)

5. CONSEQUENTIALISM

TOP

ESSAY QUESTION
What are the integrity and demandingness objections to consequentialism? Can they be met?

CORE READING
*Roger Crisp (1997) Routledge Guidebook to Mill on Utilitarianism (Routledge), Ch. 6.

Peter Singer (1972) ‘Famine, Affluence, and Morality’ in Philosophy & Public Affairs 1(3), pp. 229-243. Reprinted in SL.
Bernard Williams (1973) ‘A Critique of Utilitarianism’ in J. J. C. Smart and B. Williams Utilitarianism: For and Against (Blackwell), esp. §§3-5.
Peter Railton (1984) ‘Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality’ in Philosophy & Public Affairs 13(2), pp. 134–171. Reprinted in SL.

FURTHER READING
Frank Jackson (1991) ‘Decision-Theoretic Consequentialism and the Nearest and Dearest Objection’ in Ethics 101(3), pp. 461–482.
Samuel Scheffler (1993) The Rejection of Consequentialism, revised ed. (OUP), esp. Chs. 2 and 3.
Elinor Mason (1998) ‘Can an Indirect Consequentialist Be a Real Friend?’ in Ethics 108(2), pp. 386–393.
Alastair Norcross (2006) ‘Reasons Without Demands: Rethinking Rightness’ in J. Dreier, ed. Contemporary Debates in Moral Theory (Blackwell).

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS
Can a consequentialist make sense of the idea that I should be more concerned with my wrongdoings than with yours? Does she need to? (2015)

‘Consequentialism is impossibly demanding. So it cannot be correct.’ Discuss. (2014)

Must consequentialism misunderstand the value of close personal relations? (2012)

6. VIRTUE ETHICS

ESSAY QUESTION
How, if at all, does virtue ethics differ from consequentialism and deontology? Is it a tenable form of ethical theory?

CORE READING
*Roger Crisp (1996) ‘Modern Moral Philosophy and the Virtues’ in Roger Crisp, ed. How Should One Live? (OUP).

Philippa Foot (1978) ‘Virtues and Vices’ in her Virtues and Vices and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy (OUP).
John McDowell (1979) ‘Virtue and Reason’ in The Monist, 62(3), pp. 331–350.
Thomas Hurka (2001) Virtue, Vice, and Value (OUP), Ch. 8.

FURTHER READING
G. E. M. Anscombe (1958) ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’ in Philosophy 33, pp. 1-19.
Rosalind Hursthouse (1996) ‘Normative Virtue Ethics’ in Roger Crisp, ed. How Should One Live? (OUP).
Robert N. Johnson (2003) ‘Virtue and Right’ in Ethics 113(4), pp. 810–834.
Roger Crisp (2012) ‘A Third Method of Ethics?’ in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 90(2), pp. 257–273.

The papers by Anscombe, Foot, and McDowell are reprinted in Thomas Crisp and Michael Slote, eds. (1997) Virtue Ethics (OUP).

PAST PAPER QUESTIONS
‘The virtuous person does what she does for reasons quite independent of the fact that the virtuous person would do them. So virtue ethics presupposes one of its rivals’ accounts of right and wrong, and thus inherits the very problems that it is supposed to solve.’ How powerful is this objection to virtue ethics? (2016)

‘It is virtuous to relieve another person’s suffering because her well-being matters; it is not that her well-being matters because it would be virtuous to relieve her suffering.’ Discuss. (2015)

‘The life of virtue is a flourishing life at most for those who are already virtuous, so the connection between virtue and human flourishing required for the truth of virtue ethics does not exist.’ Discuss. (2013)