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.
Joel Feinberg (1958) ‘Psychological Egoism’ in J. Feinberg and R. Shafer-Landau, eds. (2007) Reason and Responsibility (Thomson Wadsworth) and in SL.
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).
Bernard Williams (1973) ‘Egoism and Altruism’ in his Problems of the Self (CUP).

FURTHER READING
Thomas Hobbes (1651) Leviathan, Chs. 13-15. Various editions.
David Hume (1751) Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, §§ 5, 9, and App. 2. Various editions.
H. A. Prichard (1912) ‘Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?’ in Mind 21, pp. 21-37. Reprinted in his (1949) Moral Obligation (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. Various editions.
J. L. Mackie (1980) Hume’s Moral Theory (Routledge), esp. Chs. III to V.
Terence Penelhum (2009) ‘Hume’s Moral Psychology’ in David F. Norton & Jacqueline Taylor, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Hume 2nd ed. (CUP).
David Fate Norton (2009) ‘The Foundations of Morality in Hume’s Treatise’ in David F. Norton & Jacqueline Taylor, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Hume 2nd ed. (CUP).

FURTHER READING
David Hume (1751) Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Various editions.
— (1757) ‘Of the Standard of Taste’ in Selected Essays, edited by A. Copley and S. Edgar (OUP, 2008).
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.
John Rawls (2000) Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, ed. by Barbara Herman (Harvard University Press), Hume I-V.
Peter Railton (2006) ‘Humean Theory of Practical Rationality’ in D. Copp, ed. Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory (OUP).
Rachel Cohon (2008) Hume’s Morality (OUP), esp. Chs. 3 to 5.

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.
Barbara Herman (1981) ‘On the Value of Acting from the Motive of Duty’ in The Philosophical Review 90(3), pp. 359–382.
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
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).
Christine Korsgaard (1996) ‘From Duty and for the Sake of the Noble’ reprinted in her (2008) The Constitution of Agency (OUP).
Allen Wood (1999) Kant’s Ethical Thought (CUP), Ch. 1.
John Rawls (2000) Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, ed. by Barbara Herman (Harvard University Press), Kant 1.
Nomy Arpaly (2002) ‘Moral Worth’ in The Journal of Philosophy 99(5), pp. 223–245.
Robert Johnson ‘Good Will and the Moral Worth of Acting from Duty’ in Thomas E. Hill, Jr., ed. The Blackwell Guide to Kant’s Ethics (Blackwell).

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.
Onora O’Neill (1985) ‘Consistency in Action’ reprinted in her (1997) Constructions of Reason (CUP).
Allen Wood (1999) Kant’s Ethical Thought (CUP), Ch. 3.

FURTHER READING
J. L. Mackie (1977) Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Penguin), Ch. 4.
Bernard Williams (1985/2006) Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Routledge), Ch. 4.
David Wiggins (1987) ‘Universalizability, Impartiality, Truth’ in his Needs, Values, and Truth (OUP).
John Rawls (2000) Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, edited by B. Herman (Harvard UP), Kant II.
Thomas J. Hill (2006) ‘Kantian Normative Ethics’ in D. Copp, ed. Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory (OUP).
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.
Frank Jackson (1991) ‘Decision-Theoretic Consequentialism and the Nearest and Dearest Objection’ in Ethics 101(3), pp. 461–482.

FURTHER READING
Michael Stocker (1976) ‘The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories’ in The Journal of Philosophy 73(14), pp. 453–466.
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.
David Brink (2006) ‘Some Forms and Limits of Consequentialism’ in D. Copp, ed. Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory (OUP).
Alastair Norcross (2006) ‘Reasons Without Demands: Rethinking Rightness’ in J. Dreier, ed. Contemporary Debates in Moral Theory (Blackwell).
Barry Maguire (2017) ‘Love in the Time of Consequentialism’ in Noûs 51(4), pp. 686–712.

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
*Rosalind Hursthouse and Glen Pettigrove (2003/2016) ‘Virtue Ethics’ in E. Zalta, ed. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-virtue/

Philippa Foot (1978) ‘Virtues and Vices’ in her Virtues and Vices and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy (OUP).
Gregory Trianosky (1990) ‘What Is Virtue Ethics All About?’ in American Philosophical Quarterly 27(4), pp. 335–344.
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.

FURTHER READING
G. E. M. Anscombe (1958) ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’ in Philosophy 33, pp. 1-19.
John McDowell (1979) ‘Virtue and Reason’ in The Monist, 62(3), pp. 331–350.
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.
Thomas Hurka (2001) Virtue, Vice, and Value (OUP), Ch. 8.
Julia Annas (2006) ‘Virtue Ethics’ in D. Copp, ed. Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory (OUP).
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)