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. The first four weeks look at two highlights of ethical thought in the early modern period, the work of Hume and Kant, as well as what is in some ways the fundamental issue between them, Free Will. We then spend three weeks on contemporary normative ethics, looking at Consequentialism, Contractualism, and Virtue Ethics, before a final week wrapping up with the question, Why Be Moral? I’m happy to cover other topics in place of some of these, however. Options here include, but are not limited to, the OTHER TOPICS.

I’ve had advice from various friends in putting together this reading list and its previous incarnations, and am particularly grateful to Chris Jay, Nadine Elzein, Stefan Sienkiewicz, Tom Sinclair, and Ed Lamb. If you’re teaching a similar course, and want to make use of it at all, as occasional emails suggest people sometimes do, please feel free. I’d love to hear how it goes!


  1. Hume’s Ethics
  2. Kant I: Duty
  3. Kant II: Universalizability
  4. Free Will and Moral Responsibility
  5. Consequentialism
  6. Contractualism
  7. Virtue Ethics
  8. Why Be Moral?



The following anthologies are particularly useful, and contain many of the key readings. I refer to them below as SL and Sher respectively.

Russ Shafer-Landau, ed. (2012) Ethical Theory: An Anthology, 2nd ed. (Wiley-Blackwell).

George Sher (2012) Ethics: The Essential Readings (Routledge).

Useful collections of specially commissioned articles include these, referred to below as Copp and LF&P respectively:

David Copp, ed. (2006) The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory (OUP).

Hugh LaFollette and Ingmar Persson, eds. (2013) The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, 2nd ed. (Blackwell).

There are no set textbooks, but it will be useful to do some introductory reading in the vacation beforehand. Both of the following are recommended:

Stephen Darwall (1998) Philosophical Ethics (Westview Press), esp. Part 3.

Julia Driver (2006) Ethics: The Fundamentals (Blackwell).





What does Hume mean when he says that moral distinctions are not derived from reason? Is he right? Is his alternative, sentimentalist account of moral assessment a compelling one?


*Rachel Cohon (2004/18) 'Hume's Moral Philosophy' in Edward Zalta, ed. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 edition):

David Hume (1739/1740) A Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. 2, Pt. 3, § 3, 'Of the Influencing Motives of the Will', and Bk. 3, 'Of Morals', especially Pt. 1; Pt. 2, §§ 1 and 2; and Pt. 3, §§ 1 and 6. Various editions, inc. Oxford Philosophical Texts edition, ed. by David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton (OUP, 2000). Relevant selections are reprinted in D. D. Raphael, ed. (1969) British Moralists, 1650-1800, Vol. II (OUP).

For this week, I’d rather you focused on getting a good handle on the primary text, using Cohon’s article for the Stanford Encyclopedia as a guide. But if you want to start exploring the secondary literature, start with these:

J. L. Mackie (1980) Hume's Moral Theory (Routledge), esp. Ch. III to VII.

Rachel Cohon (2008) Hume's Morality: Feeling and Fabrication (OUP), Part I, esp. Ch. 1.


If you decide to pursue this topic further, the main issues to think about are (a) Hume’s account of motivation, and his criticisms of moral rationalism; (b) the role of sympathy and the common point of view in his account of moral judgement; and (c) his account of justice and promise keeping—though it’s mainly the first of these issues that comes up in past papers. While Hume’s Treatise is the main primary text, you should also look at his (1751/77), in which Hume presents things a bit differently. (Among other things, this is where Hume’s criticisms of egoism are to be found. See especially Appendix 2.) You should also look at certain of his essays—particularly ‘The Sceptic’ and ‘Of the Standard of Taste’. You’ll find these in Hume (1777). Turning to the secondary literature, you’ll find a good selection of overviews in Radcliffe (2008). See especially the articles by Charlotte Brown, Kate Abramson, Elizabeth Radcliffe, Tom Beauchamp, and Nicholas Sturgeon. These provide references to other, important readings in the secondary literature, many of which are collected in Cohon, ed. (2001). You’ll find good, introductory discussion in Baillie (2000), a book on Hume’s ethics aimed at undergraduates. The lectures on Hume in Rawls (2000) are perhaps a little more advanced, but very influential. Major contributions to the contemporary meta-ethical literature on Humean issues include Korsgaard (1986), Quinn (1993), Dreier (1997), and Peter Railton’s article in Copp.

*James Baillie (2000) Hume on Morality (Routledge)

Rachel Cohon, ed. (2001) Hume: Moral and Political Philosophy (Ashgate).

Jamie Dreier (1997) 'Humean Doubts about the Practical Justification of Morality' in Garrett Cullity and Berys Gaut, eds. Ethics and Practical Reason (OUP).

David Hume (1751/77) An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Various editions, inc. Oxford Philosophical Texts, ed. by Tom L. Beauchamp (OUP, 1998). Reprinted in Raphael.

— (1777) Essays: Moral, Political, Literary, Part 1. Various editions, inc. Selected Essays, ed. by Stephen Copley and Andrew Edgar (OUP, 2008).

Christine Korsgaard (1986) ‘Skepticism about Practical Reason’ in Journal of Philosophy 83(1), pp. 5-25. Reprinted in her (1996a) Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge UP).

Warren Quinn (1993) ‘Putting Rationality in its Place’ in Raymond Frey and Christopher Morris, eds. Value, Welfare and Morality (Cambridge UP). Reprinted in his (1993) Morality and Action (Cambridge UP).

*Elizabeth S. Radcliffe, ed. (2008) A Companion to Hume (Blackwell).


(a) ‘To be sure, it is not inconsistent or incoherent to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger. But it is contrary to reason.’ Discuss.
(b) ‘There is no imprudence more flagrant than that of Selfishness in the ordinary sense of the term.’ (SIDGWICK) Discuss. (2018)

(a) Can it be rational to want to be unhappy?
(b) Are there any states of affairs I cannot rationally will to obtain? (2017)

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

(a) ‘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.
(b) ‘It is no more puzzling that beliefs alone can motivate us than that desires alone can – it is merely less common that they do.’ Is that so? (2014)




How, in Kant’s view, must an action be motivated in order for it to have “moral worth”? Is he right?


*Jerome B. Schneewind (1992) 'Autonomy, Obligation, and Virtue: An Overview of Kant's Moral Philosophy' in Paul Guyer, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Kant (Cambridge UP).

Immanuel Kant (1785) Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Preface and § I. Various editions, inc. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy edition, trans. by Mary Gregor (Cambridge UP, 1998).

Barbara Herman (1993) The Practice of Moral Judgement (Harvard UP), Ch. 1, which is a revised version of her (1981) 'On the Value of Acting from the Motive of Duty' in The Philosophical Review 90(3), pp. 359–382.

Christine Korsgaard (1989a) 'Kant's Analysis of Obligation: The Argument of Foundations I' in The Monist 72(3), pp. 311-340. Reprinted as Ch. 2 of her (1996a) Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge UP).


The 1970s and 80s saw a resurgence of interest in Kant’s ethics, largely due to the work of John Rawls and his students, Barbara Herman, Christine Korsgaard, and Onora O’Neill. His Harvard lectures on Kant’s ethics can be found in his (2000) book. The first lecture on Kant is of most relevance for this week’s topic, and the second for next week’s, but all of the lectures on Kant are recommended. Beyond that, if you are pursuing this topic in more depth, Baron (1995) is essential. Part I addresses the worry—raised by Susan Wolf (1982)—that Kant’s emphasis on duty leaves no room for supererogatory actions, actions that go beyond the call of duty. Part II addresses the worry—raised by Stocker (1976) and Williams (1976)—that it leaves no room for motives like love and friendship. These are issues we’ll come back to again in future weeks. Arpaly (2003), discussing the case of Huckleberry Finn, argues that moral worth is a matter of acting for moral reasons, regardless of whether or not the agent recognises them as such. Sliwa (2016) is a recent response to this view. Guyer (2007) is a good book-length introduction to Kant’s ethics, aimed at advanced undergraduates.

Nomy Arpaly (2003) Unprincipled Virtue: An Inquiry into Moral Agency (OUP), Ch. 3, which appears in a shorter form as her (2002) 'Moral Worth' in Journal of Philosophy 99(5), pp. 223–245.

Marcia Baron (1995) Kantian Ethics Almost without Apology (Cornell UP), esp. Ch. 4, which is a revised version of her (1984) 'The Alleged Moral Repugnance of Acting from Duty' in Journal of Philosophy 81(4), pp. 197–220.

*Paul Guyer (2007) Kant's Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals: A Reader's Guide (Continuum).

John Rawls (2000) Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, ed. by Barbara Herman (Harvard UP).

Paulina Sliwa (2016) 'Moral Worth and Moral Knowledge' in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 93(2), pp. 393–418.

Michael Stocker (1976) 'The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories' in Journal of Philosophy 73(14), pp. 453–466. Reprinted in Roger Crisp and Michael Slote, eds. (1997) Virtue Ethics (OUP).

Bernard Williams (1976) 'Persons, Character, and Morality' in Alice O. Rorty, ed. The Identity of Persons (University of California Press). Reprinted in his (1981) Moral Luck (Cambridge UP) and in Sher.

Susan Wolf (1982) 'Moral Saints' in Journal of Philosophy 79(8), pp. 419-39. Reprinted in Roger Crisp and Michael Slote, eds. (1997) Virtue Ethics (OUP), as well as SL and Sher.


How should we account for special obligations to loved ones? (2018)

(a) ‘Even if the Categorical Imperative gets the moral prescriptions right, Kant doesn’t have a satisfactory account of why these are the prescriptions.’ Discuss.
(b) ‘Acting from duty seems to me to be crucial to morally good conduct.’ (MARCIA BARON) Is it? (2016)

Is a desire to do the right thing, simply because it is right, fetishistic in any objectionable sense? (2015)

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)

(a) Could I rationally will it to be a universal law that no one ever helps anyone else?
(b) Is moral worth specially related to the motive of duty? (2013)




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 they cannot, what implications does this have for Kant’s moral philosophy?


*Richard Galvin 'The Universal Law Formulas' in Thomas Hill Jr., ed. The Blackwell Guide to Kant's Ethics (Blackwell).

Immanuel Kant (1785) Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, §§ I and II. Various editions, inc. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy edition, trans. by Mary Gregor (Cambridge UP, 1998).

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 (1996a) Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge UP) and in SL.

Derek Parfit (2011) On What Matters (OUP), Vol. 1, Ch. 12.


O’Neill (1985) and Herman (1985) are two influential pieces on universalizability. O’Neill argues that, properly understood, Kantian universalization yields substantive constraints on action, while Herman argues that its use in moral deliberation presupposes knowledge of rules that guide the agent in the perception of morally relevant features of the circumstances in which the agent acts, and goes on to argue that this helps address various criticisms that have been pressed against Kantian approaches. Wood (1999) is a lively attempt to undermine what Wood takes to be the caricature of Kant as a rule fetishist who offers little more than an “ethical sausage-machine” for outputting right actions. Ch. 3 focuses on the Formula of Universal Law, arguing that Kant’s other formulations of the Categorical Imperative play a more fundamental role in his thinking, and discussing Herman, Korsgaard, and O’Neill in the process. Kleingeld (2017) is a more recent piece, stressing the significance of the fact that the Formula of Universal Law requires one to act on maxims that one can simultaneously will as universal laws. You’ll find the rest of Part One of Korsgaard (1996a) and Part I of Wood (1999) helpful in thinking about Kant’s other formulations of the Categorical Imperative, the Formula of Humanity as End-in-Itself and the Formula of Autonomy. See also the lectures on Kant in Rawls (2000) and the relevant chapter of Guyer (2007), both listed in last week’s Further Reading. Other good pieces on universalizability, as it figures either in Kant or in ethics more generally, include Mackie (1977), Williams (1985), and Wiggins (1987).

Barbara Herman (1985) 'The Practice of Moral Judgement' in Journal of Philosophy 82(8), pp. 414-36. Reprinted as Ch. 4 of her (1993) The Practice of Moral Judgement (Harvard UP).

Pauline Kleingeld (2017) 'Contradiction and Kant’s Formula of Universal Law' in Kant-Studien 108(1), pp. 89–115.

Christine Korsgaard (1996a) Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge UP), Part One.

J. L. Mackie (1977) Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Penguin), Ch. 4.

Onora O'Neill (1985) 'Consistency in Action' in Nelson Potter and Mark Timmons, eds. Universality and Morality (Reidel), pp. 159-86. Reprinted as Ch. 5 of her (1989) Constructions of Reason (Cambridge UP).

David Wiggins (1987) 'Universalizability, Impartiality, Truth' in his (2002) Needs, Values, Truth, 3rd edition (OUP).

Bernard Williams (1985/2006) Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Routledge), Ch. 4.

Allen W. Wood (1999) Kant's Ethical Thought (Cambridge UP), Part I.


Is there any important relation between being able to will one’s maxim as a universal law and treating humanity as an end in itself? (2018)

(a) Can it be rational to want to be unhappy?
(b) Are there any states of affairs I cannot rationally will to obtain? (2017)

(a) ‘Even if the Categorical Imperative gets the moral prescriptions right, Kant doesn’t have a satisfactory account of why these are the prescriptions.’ Discuss.
(b) ‘Acting from duty seems to me to be crucial to morally good conduct.’ (MARCIA BARON) Is it? (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)




Is determinism compatible with our being able to do otherwise when we act? If not, what are the implications for the question whether we are ever morally responsible for our actions?


*Michael McKenna and D. Justin Coates (2004/15) 'Compatibilism' in Edward Zalta, ed. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 edition):

Peter van Inwagen (1975) 'The Incompatibility of Free Will and Determinism' in Philosophical Studies 27(3), pp. 185-99. Reprinted in Gary Watson, ed. Free Will, 2nd edition (OUP), which I refer to as Watson below.

Peter F. Strawson (1962) 'Freedom and Resentment' in Proceedings of the British Academy 48, pp. 1–25. Reprinted in his (2008) Freedom and Resentment and Other Essays (Routledge), Sher, SL, and Watson.

Harry Frankfurt (1969) 'Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility' in Journal of Philosophy 66(23), pp. 828–839. Reprinted in his (1998) The Importance of What We Care About (Cambridge UP) and Watson.


The further literature on this week’s topic is vast. With that, however, there is also a lot of good introductory literature. Gary Watson’s ‘Introduction’ to Watson is very helpful, offering a great overview of the issues, and you’ll find several useful entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia; the Related Entries section at the bottom of McKenna and Coates (2004/15), listed above, provides links. If you want a good book on the topic, aimed at advanced undergraduates, try McKenna and Pereboom (2016). In pursuing the topic in depth, you’ll want to think a bit more about van Inwagen’s consequence argument. The main thing to look at here is Lewis (1981). You’ll also want to think a bit more about Frankfurt’s challenge to the Principle of Alternate Possibilities and Peter Strawson’s account of moral responsibility in terms of reactive attitudes. To that end, Widerker and McKenna (2006) and McKenna and Russell (2008) are useful collections of articles, the former focused on Frankfurt and the latter on Strawson. But the main thing to do is familiarise yourself with contemporary libertarian, compatibilist, and sceptical approaches to free will and moral responsibility. See, in the first place, Chisholm (1964), Frankfurt (1971), Wolf (1987), and Strawson (1994). Then go on and look at the other papers in Watson, using the introductory literature above as your guide.

Roderick Chisholm (1964) 'Human Freedom and the Self', The Lindley Lecture, The Department of Philosophy, University of Kansas. Reprinted in Watson.

Harry Frankfurt (1971) 'Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person' in Journal of Philosophy 68(1), pp. 5–20. Reprinted in his (1998) The Importance of What We Care About (Cambridge UP), Sher, and Watson.

David Lewis (1981) 'Are We Free to Break the Laws?' in Theoria 47(3), pp. 113–21. Reprinted in his (1987) Philosophical Papers, Volume 2 (OUP) and Watson.

*Michael McKenna and Derk Pereboom (2016) Free Will: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge).

Michael McKenna and Paul Russell, eds. (2008) Free Will and Reactive Attitudes: Perspectives on P. F. Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” (Ashgate).

Galen Strawson (1994) 'The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility' in Philosophical Studies 75(1), pp. 5–24. Reprinted as Ch. 13 of his (2008) Real Materialism (OUP) as well as in SL and Watson.

David Widerker and Michael McKenna, eds. (2006) Moral Responsibility and Alternative Possibilities: Essays on the Importance of Alternative Possibilities (Ashgate).

Susan Wolf (1987) 'Sanity and the Metaphysics of Responsibility' in Ferdinand Schoeman, ed. Responsibility, Character, and the Emotions: New Essays in Moral Psychology (Cambridge UP). Reprinted in SL and Watson.


(a) ‘The freedom discovered in reflection is not a theoretical property which can also be seen by scientists considering the agent’s deliberations third-personally and from outside. It is from within the deliberative perspective that we see our desires as providing suggestions which we may take or leave.’ (KORSGAARD) Discuss.
(b) ‘Arguments for compatibilism based on Frankfurt-style cases face a dilemma. If the inevitability of the agent’s action given the “prior sign” is grounded in causal determinism, then the question is begged against the incompatibilist. But if we eliminate the causal determination then the agent has robust alternative possibilities after all.’ Discuss. (2018)

‘We don’t need to be free; it’s enough that we can’t help regarding ourselves as free.’ Is that so? (2017)

‘The problem of free will has been misrepresented insofar as it has been thought to be a purely metaphysical problem.’ (SUSAN WOLF) Discuss. (2016)

How free does the will need to be? (2015)




Is consequentialism too demanding?


*Samuel Scheffler (1988) 'Introduction' to Samuel Scheffler, ed. Consequentialism and its Critics (OUP), pp. 1-13. I refer to this collection as Scheffler below.

Peter Singer (1972) 'Famine, Affluence, and Morality' in Philosophy & Public Affairs 1(3), pp. 229-43. Reprinted in both Sher and SL.

Bernard Williams (1973) 'A Critique of Utilitarianism' in J. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams Utilitarianism: For and Against (Cambridge UP), esp. §§3-5. Reprinted in Scheffler (as 'Consequentialism and Integrity') and Sher.

Samuel Scheffler (1982) The Rejection of Consequentialism: A Philosophical Investigation of the Considerations Underlying Rival Moral Conceptions (OUP), pp. 1-22 and, if you have time, pp. 55-70.

Peter Railton (1984) ‘Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality’ in Philosophy & Public Affairs 13(2), pp. 134–171. Reprinted in his (2003) Facts, Values, and Norms (Cambridge UP), Scheffler, Sher, and SL.


Many of you will be familiar with consequentialism from your first year study of Mill’s Utilitarianism, but in case you aren’t, Sinnott-Armstrong (2003/15) will get you up to speed. In further study, your main task will be to get a handle on how consequentialists have responded to various objections to their view, especially the demandingness objection. One strategy is to argue that it is not unreasonable for a morality to make the sorts of extreme demands that consequentialism is alleged to make. This is Singer’s strategy. It’s also the strategy pursued by Kagan (1989), a particularly influential book, which is well worth prioritising in further study of this week’s topic. Ashford (2000) pursues a similar line in response to Williams’ integrity objection. §2.1 of Mulgan (2001) critically discusses the strategy, which, following Kagan, he calls extremism, while Cullity (1994) is a response to Singer (1972). Another strategy is to deny that consequentialism gives rise to extreme demands in the first place. Jackson (1991) is an influential attempt of this sort, arguing that, since we can be more certain of maximizing utility if we focus our efforts on those closest to us, consequentialism does not require us to make the sorts of great personal sacrifice that its opponents sometimes claim. See §2.2 of Mulgan (2001) for critical discussion. Perhaps the most common strategy, however, is to argue that potential conflict with common-sense morality can be addressed by some variant of consequentialism. Scheffler (1982) and Railton (1984), in the Core Reading, are instances of this strategy, arguing that conflicts can be addressed by, respectively, hybrid or indirect forms of consequentialism. Kagan (1989) discusses Scheffler (see esp. Ch. 1 and 7), while Mason (1998) defends Railton. Hooker’s contribution to LF&P pursues this line too, arguing that rule-consequentialism addresses the worry, while Norcross (2006) argues for a scalar approach. For critical discussion, see Mulgan (2001), starting with §2.3. Sobel (2007) takes a different line altogether, arguing that the demandingness objection depends for its force on prior non-consequentialist conclusions that need to be independently motivated.

Elizabeth Ashford (2000) 'Utilitarianism, Integrity, and Partiality' in Journal of Philosophy 97(8), pp. 421-39.

Garrett Cullity (1994) 'International Aid and the Scope of Kindness' in Ethics 105(1), pp. 99–127.

Frank Jackson (1991) 'Decision-Theoretic Consequentialism and the Nearest and Dearest Objection' in Ethics 101(3), pp. 461-82.

Shelly Kagan (1989) The Limits of Morality (OUP).

Elinor Mason (1998) 'Can an Indirect Consequentialist Be a Real Friend?' in Ethics 108(2), pp. 386-93.

Tim Mulgan (2001) The Demands of Consequentialism (OUP), esp. Ch. 1 and 2.

Alistair Norcross (2006) 'The Scalar Approach to Utilitarianism' in Henry West, ed. The Blackwell Guide to Mill’s Utilitarianism (Blackwell), pp. 217-32.

*Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (2003/15) 'Consequentialism' in Edward Zalta, ed. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 edition):

David Sobel (2007) 'The Impotence of the Demandingness Objection' in Philosophers' Imprint 7(8), pp. 1-17.


Do demandingness objections to consequentialism illicitly assume that a moral requirement to φ implies an all-things-considered requirement to φ? (2018)

(a) Is satisficing consequentialism an adequate response to the worry that maximising consequentialism is too demanding?
(b) How much of a problem is it that we can’t foresee all the consequences of our actions? (2017)

Does act-consequentialism better approximate the demands of beneficence than common-sense morality? (2016)

(a) Can a consequentialist make sense of the idea that I should be more concerned with my wrongdoings than with yours? Does she need to?
(b) Suppose that Charity A and Charity B avert the same number of deaths per unit of money donated, but that Charity A works by campaigning for peace while Charity B works by immunising against life-threatening diseases. If killing were worse than letting die, would this ground any case for donating to Charity A rather than Charity B? (2015)

(a) ‘Consequentialism is impossibly demanding. So it cannot be correct.’ Discuss.
(b) ‘Since a deontologist can always hold that rule-breakings are intrinsically bad, there is no serious question over whether consequentialism is true – the question is only which consequences are important.’ Is that so? (2014)




Does Scanlon’s contractualism provide a compelling account of moral wrongness?


*Elizabeth Ashford and Tim Mulgan (2007/18) 'Contractualism' in Edward Zalta, ed. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 edition):

T. M. Scanlon (1998) What We Owe to Each Other (Harvard UP), Ch. 4 and 5.

Elizabeth Ashford (2003) 'The Demandingness of Scanlon's Contractualism' in Ethics 113(2), pp. 273-302.

Derek Parfit (2003) 'Justifiability to Each Person' in Ratio 16(4), pp. 368-90. Reprinted in Phillip Stratton-Lake, ed. (2004) On What We Owe to Each Other (Blackwell), which I refer to below as Stratton-Lake. Note that p. 381 contains a misprint. The numbers for Case 2 should be 100, 100; 100, 90; and 0, 100.

If you have time, also try:

R. Jay Wallace (2002) 'Scanlon’s Contractualism' in Ethics 112(3), pp. 429–470. You can safely skim §§I and II.


In pursuing this topic in more depth, start by getting clear on what exactly the view is. It’s useful here to think about the objection that Scanlon’s contractualism is explanatorily redundant. Stratton-Lake (2003) explains why initial formulations of this objection were based on a misunderstanding, argues that the objection nevertheless re-emerges, and then goes on to offer a solution. Read that, and then read Ridge (2003), which argues that Scanlon cannot avail himself of Stratton-Lake’s solution to the “new and improved” redundancy objection without giving up some of his central commitments, but that contractualism’s not vulnerable to the objection in the first place. Next, think about the appeal of Scanlon’s contractualism, which lies in large part in its promise of accounts that are superior to those of its rivals of both the content and status of a central core of morality. The debate in the secondary literature debate has focused mainly on the contractualist account of the content of morality, and particularly on whether it offers an adequate response to worries about demandingness, aggregation, and risk. Hills (2010) is a response to Ashford’s treatment of the first question, concerning demandingness, while Scanlon (2003) includes discussion of Derek Parfit’s treatment of the second, concerning aggregation. On this issue, see also Otsuka (2006), Parfit (2011), and Scanlon (2011), which replies to Parfit. For discussion of the the third question, concerning risk, see Horton (2017). You will also want to think about the contractualist account of the status of morality. In doing so, it’s helpful to think about the contrast between the way Scanlon presents his contractualism in What We Owe to Each Other and his earlier, (1982) paper. Wallace (2002), in the Core Reading, is helpful too.

Alison Hills (2010) 'Utilitarianism, Contractualism and Demandingness' The Philosophical Quarterly 60(239), pp. 225–242.

Joe Horton (2017) 'Aggregation, Complaints, and Risk' Philosophy and Public Affairs 45(1), pp. 54-81.

Michael Otsuka (2006) 'Saving Lives, Moral Theory, and the Claims of Individuals' in Philosophy & Public Affairs 34(2), pp. 109-35.

Derek Parfit (2011) On What Matters (OUP), Vol. 1, Ch. 17, and Vol. 2, Ch. 21 to 23.

Michael Ridge (2003) 'Contractualism and the New and Improved Redundancy Objection' in Analysis 63(4), pp. 337-42.

T. M. Scanlon (1982) 'Contractualism and Utilitarianism' in Amyarta Sen and Bernard Williams, eds. Utilitarianism and Beyond (Cambridge UP). Reprinted in Sher and SL.

— (2003) 'Replies' in Ratio 16(4), pp. 424-39. Reprinted in Stratton-Lake.

— (2011) 'How I am not a Kantian' in Derek Parfit's On What Matters (OUP), Vol. 2, Part Four.

Philip Stratton-Lake (2003) ' Scanlon's Contractualism and the Redundancy Objection' in Analysis 63(1), pp. 70-6.


Can contractualists explain why, given the choice between saving one person from certain death and saving twenty others from certain death, you ought to save the twenty? (2018)

What is the best argument for contractualism? Does it succeed? (2017)

Suppose that you can either save five innocent people or save one other innocent person, but you cannot save all six. Can a contractualist explain why you ought to save the five, all other things equal? Does she need to? (2016)

‘I can only reject a principle reasonably if I have a good reason for doing so, but those are also reasons why acting on the principle would be wrong. So contractualism is redundant.’ Discuss. (2013)




Are virtue ethicists right to make virtue fundamental in ethical theory?


*Rosalind Hursthouse and Glenn Pettigrove (2003/16) 'Virtue Ethics' in Edward Zalta, ed. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 edition):

Rosalind Hursthouse (1999) On Virtue Ethics (OUP), Introduction and Ch. 1.

Robert Johnson (2003) 'Virtue and Right' in Ethics 113(4), pp. 810–834.

Thomas Hurka (2001) Virtue, Vice, and Value (OUP), Ch. 8.

Julia Annas (2007) 'Virtue Ethics and the Charge of Egoism' in Paul Bloomfield, ed. Morality and Self-Interest (OUP).


Virtue ethics emerged as an alternative to the two main approaches to normative ethics, consequentialism and deontology, in the second half of the twentieth century, but continues to draw much of its inspiration from Aristotle and his Nicomachean Ethics, which is essential reading—regardless of whether you plan on working on virtue ethics in any depth, really. Beyond that, start with Crisp and Slote, eds. (1997), especially the papers by Elizabeth Anscombe, Alasdair MacIntyre, Philippa Foot, and John McDowell, as well as the very useful editors’ introduction. Highlights of recent work on the topic include Swanton (2003), presenting a detailed pluralistic account of the virtues, Driver (2004), defending a broadly consequentialist approach to the virtues, and Annas (2011), developing the idea that virtue is an exercise of practical intelligence. Aim to get a good grip on the various objections that have been raised against virtue ethics. Section 3 of Hursthouse and Pettigrew (2003/16), above, gives an overview, outlining eight different kinds of criticism. Part III of Besser-Jones and Slote, eds. (2015) is also very useful, containing surveys of work on a range of problems for virtue ethics. Many of these are variants of objections pressed against more traditional approaches in normative ethics, and it’s worth thinking about them in that context. One exception to this general rule is the situationist objection, which emerged out of work in social psychology. It is pressed by Harman (1999), and there’s a lot of discussion of it in the literature. Miller (2014) is a good place to start.

Julia Annas (2011) Intelligent Virtue (OUP).

Aristotle (c. 350 BC) Nicomachean Ethics, esp. Bks I and II; Bk VI, Ch. 1 and 5–13; Bk VII, Ch. 1–10; and Bk X, Ch. 6–9. Various editions, inc. Terence Irwin's trans., 2nd ed. (Hackett, 1999).

Lorraine Besser-Jones and Michael Slote, eds. (2015) The Routledge Compantion to Virtue Ethics (Routledge).

Roger Crisp and Michael Slote, eds. (1997) Virtue Ethics (OUP).

Julia Driver (2004) Uneasy Virtue (Cambridge UP).

Gilbert Harman (1999) 'Moral Philosophy Meets Social Psychology: Virtue Ethics and the Fundamental Attribution Error' in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 99, pp. 315–331.

Christian Miller (2014) Character and Moral Psychology (OUP), Ch. 8.

Christine Swanton (2003) Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View (OUP).


(a) ‘Do we really want a moral theory to tell us what to do? Aren’t we losing an important sense in which we should be making our own decisions? Suppose I later come to think that what I did was actually the wrong thing to do … in the moral case there is surely something problematic in the thought that either I got the theory wrong or the theory was wrong, but there is no worry as to my making the wrong decision.’ (ANNAS) Is this a good defence of virtue ethics against the objection that it is not adequately action-guiding?
(b) Can virtue ethicists make sense of the idea that the grounds of our duties to others are facts about those others? (2018)

‘[A] virtuous action is what a virtuous person would do…this is not something fixed but will depend on whether the virtuous person is a learner or more like an expert.’ (ANNAS) Discuss. (2017)

‘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)




Why should I be moral?


*John Deigh (2010) An Introduction to Ethics (Cambridge UP), Ch. 1 and 2.

Plato (c. 380 BC) Republic, Bk II, 357a-367e. Various editions, inc. G. M. A. Grube's translation, revised by C. D. C. Reeve (Hackett, 1992). Selections reprinted in SL and Sher.

H. A. Prichard (1912) 'Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?' in Mind 21(81), pp. 21-37. Reprinted in his (1949) Moral Obligation (OUP).

David Gauthier (1967) 'Morality and Advantage' in The Philosophical Review 76(4), pp. 460-475. Reprinted in Sher.

Philippa Foot (1972) 'Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives' in The Philosophical Review 81(3), pp. 305–316. Reprinted in her (2002) Virtues and Vices and Other Essays (OUP), SL, Sher, and Stephen Darwall, Allan Gibbard, and Peter Railton, eds. (1997) Moral Discourse and Practice: Some Philosophical Approaches (OUP), referred to below as DGR.

NOTE: There’s no discussion of Foot (1972) in the introductory reading for this week, but you’ll find some useful, albeit brief, discussion in the introductions to Part III of SL, Section I of Sher, and Part IV of DGR, all of which are helpful more generally as introductions to this week’s topic.


If you’re pursuing this topic in depth, it’s useful to think about it from the perspectives of the various different approaches you’ve looked at during the rest of term. To this end, Korsgaard (1996) is an excellent place to start. Lecture 1 discusses the approaches of voluntarists like Gauthier and rationalists like Prichard. Lecture 2 looks at Humean, neo-Humean, and utilitarian approaches. Lectures 3 and 4 develop a Kantian approach. Hills (2010) is another good book-length treatment of the topic, and includes discussion of Korsgaard. Various other contemporary discussions are well worth looking at too. Williams (1973) offers a neo-Humean response to the amoralist. McDowell (1978) is a response to Foot (1972). Foot herself changed her view. See, in the first instance, the ‘Recantation’ in Stephen Darwall, Allan Gibbard, and Peter Railton, eds. (1997) Moral Discourse and Practice: Some Philosophical Approaches (OUP), but also her (2001) book, which is usefully read in conjunction with further study of VIRTUE ETHICS. Hooker (1997) argues that various attempts to show that moral virtue constitutes a benefit to the agent fail. Raz (1999) tries to defuse arguments to the effect that morality and self-interest are opposed. For contemporary discussion of egoism, see Elliot Sober’s paper in LF&P. You’ll also find various other good, relevant discussions in Part I of SL, Section I of Sher, Part IV of DGR, and in Bloomfield (2008). Wiggins (2006) discusses Plato. The rest of Wiggins’ book is also strongly recommended, particularly as a recap in the vacations after you’ve completed this course.

Paul Bloomfield, ed. (2008) Morality and Self-Interest (OUP).

Philippa Foot (2001) Natural Goodness (OUP).

Alison Hills (2010) The Beloved Self: Morality and the Challenge from Egoism (OUP).

Brad Hooker (1998) 'Does Moral Virtue Constitute a Benefit to the Agent?' in Roger Crisp, ed. How Should One Live? (OUP).

Christine Korsgaard (1996) The Sources of Normativity (Cambridge UP). Selections reprinted in Sher under the title 'The Authority of Norms' and in DGR.

John McDowell (1978) 'Are Moral Requirements Hypothetical Imperatives?' in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes 52, pp. 13-29. Reprinted in his (1998) Mind, Value, and Reality (Harvard UP).

Joseph Raz (1999) 'The Central Conflict: Morality and Self-Interest' in Roger Crisp and Brad Hooker, eds. Well Being and Morality: Essays in honour of James Griffin OUP). Reprinted in his (2002) Engaging Reason (OUP).

David Wiggins (2006) Ethics: Twelve Lectures on the Philosophy of Morality (Penguin), Ch. 1.

Bernard Williams (1973) 'Egoism and Altruism' in his Problems of the Self (Cambridge UP).


(a) ‘To be sure, it is not inconsistent or incoherent to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger. But it is contrary to reason.’ Discuss.
(b) ‘There is no imprudence more flagrant than that of Selfishness in the ordinary sense of the term.’ (SIDGWICK) Discuss. (2018)

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)





What is moral realism? Are there any compelling arguments for rejecting it?


*Geoffrey Sayre-McCord (2005/15) 'Moral Realism' in Edward Zalta, ed. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 edition):

G. E. Moore (1903) Principia Ethica (Cambridge UP), Ch. 1, 'The Subject-Matter of Ethics', §§5-13. Reprinted as 'Goodness Simple and Indefinable' in Sher and as 'The Subject-Matter of Ethics' in SL.

J. L. Mackie (1977) Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Penguin), Ch. 1, 'The Subjectivity of Values'. Reprinted in Sher, SL, and Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, ed. (1988) Essays on Moral Realism (Cornell UP), referred to as SM below.

Gilbert Harman (1977) The Nature of Morality: An Introduction to Ethics (OUP), Ch. 1, 'Ethics and Observation'. Reprinted in Sher, SL, and SM. If you have time, also have a look at Ch. 2, 'Nihilism and Naturalism'.


You’ll find very brief introductions to this week’s topic in the relevant sections of Sher and SL, and more detailed introductions from Michael Smith in LF&P, Geoffrey Sayre-McCord in Copp, and Stephen Darwall in Part 2 of Darwall. Miller (2013) and van Roojen (2015) are book-length introductions aimed at advanced undergraduates.

*Alexander Miller (2013) Contemporary Metaethics: An Introduction, 2nd edition (Polity).

*Mark van Roojen (2015) Metaethics: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge).

Moral realism comes in either of two varieties. Put crudely, moral naturalism is the view that moral properties are natural properties, while moral non-naturalism is the view that they are non-natural properties. For a long time, Moore’s (1903) open question argument was taken to show that moral properties had to be sui generis, non-natural properties, and so to show that non-naturalism was the only option for moral realists. Yet non-natural properties seem to be metaphysically dubious, or “queer”, as Mackie put it, and it’s difficult to see how we might provide a plausible account of how we can come to know about them. Many theorists therefore chose to reject moral realism altogether. Developments in the philosophy of language and mind led to a rethink, however, and the 1980s saw a resurgence of interest in moral naturalism, largely due to the work of the so-called Cornell realists, Boyd, Brink, Railton, and Sturgeon. See Lutz and Lenman (2006/18) for an overview, and think especially about the Moral Twin Earth objection to Cornell realism. Then try Sturgeon (1985), Brink (1989), and Jackson (1998)—the last the most prominent defender of the so-called Canberra Plan. More recently, there’s been a recent resurgence of interest in non-naturalism. See Ridge (2003/14) for an overview, and think especially about the supervenience problem. Then try McDowell (1985), a classic discussion of Mackie, and Shafer-Landau (2003) and Enoch (2011), two highlights of the recent revival. For a discussion and defence of Mackie’s argument(s) from queerness, see Olson (2014).

David Brink (1989) Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics (Cambridge UP).

David Enoch (2011) Taking Morality Seriously: A Defence of Robust Realism (OUP), esp. Ch. 4 to 8.

Frank Jackson (1998) From Metaphysics to Ethics: A Defence of Conceptual Analysis (OUP), Ch. 5 and 6.

*Matthew Lutz and James Lenman (2006/18) 'Moral Naturalism' in Edward Zalta, ed. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 edition):

John McDowell (1985) 'Values and Secondary Qualities' in Ted Honderich, ed. Morality and Objectivity (Routledge). Reprinted in his (1998) Mind, Value, and Reality (Harvard UP) and SM.

Jonas Olson (2014) Moral Error Theory: History, Critique, Defence (OUP), esp. Ch. 5 and 6.

*Michael Ridge (2003/14) 'Moral Non-Naturalism' in Edward Zalta, ed. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 edition):

Russ Shafer-Landau (2003) Moral Realism: A Defence (OUP).

Nicholas Sturgeon (1985) 'Moral Explanations' in David Copp and David Zimmerman, eds. Morality, Reason, and Truth (Rowman and Allanheld), pp. 49–78. Reprinted in Sher and SM.


Supposing that utilitarianism is true, could we find out that utilitarianism is true in the same kind of way scientists found out that water is H2O? (2017)

‘There is no version of metaethical moral realism that can combine both metaphysical and epistemological plausibility, and so the realist project should be abandoned.’ Discuss. (2016)

‘The way the moral properties are distributed in a world cannot change without some natural properties changing. Therefore it is implausible to hold that moral properties are sui generis non-natural properties.’ Is this a good argument against non-naturalist moral realism? (2015)

(a) How worried should a moral realist be by the fact that there is no science of ethics?
(b) Are moral intuitions evidence of truth in ethics? (2014)