University of Kansas, Fall 2002
Philosophy 880: Topics in Ethics

Class notes: introduction

The following notes correspond roughly to what we cover, including at least a portion of what I put on the board or the screen, in class. In places they may be more or less comprehensive than what we actually cover in class, and should not be taken as a substitute for your own observations and records of what goes on in class.

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  1. consequentialism
    1. Consequentialism may be understood as the view that the rightness and wrongness of actions is determined entirely by the goodness and badness of their consequences.
    2. live issues among consequentialists
      1. What makes consequences good? (Those who subscribe to welfarism—the thesis that what makes consequences good and bad is determined entirely by the levels of well-being that the beings with moral standing are experiencing—are utilitarians. So not all consequentialists are utilitarians, but all utilitarians are consequentialists.)
      2. Who counts? Persons, human beings, sentient beings, . . . ?
      3. Is the rightness and wrongness of each act a function just of its consequences, or is there some more complicated relation (possibly involving rules, motives, or whatever) between (1) consequences and (2) rightness and wrongness of particular acts?
  2. main rivals to consequentialism:
    1. deontological approaches (Kant, W. D. Ross)
    2. virtue ethics (Aristotle)
  3. objections to consequentialism
    1. counter-intuitive implications
      1. keeping promises
      2. telling the truth
      3. respecting others’ rights
      4. justice
      5. etc.
    2. psychology of the consequentialist agent
      1. self-defeat: Do consequentialist agents systematically tend to fail to bring about consequences as good as those that non-consequentialist agents bring about?
      2. depravity: Do consequentialist agents systematically tend to be unable to exhibit integrity and other virtues?
  4. organization of course
    1. attention to the last of the live issues among consequentialists listed above (acts vs. rules/motives/etc.) and objections of the second type listed above (i.e., concerning the psychology of the consequentialist agent)
    2. three parts of the course
      1. September 9 and 16, on objections
      2. September 23 through November 4, on Hare and related objections
      3. November 11 through December 2, on Hooker and related objections
    3. rationale: amount of reading that it’s desirable to do, not amount of reading that there is time to discuss
    4. syllabus subject to change, so check web site periodically
    5. most non-book readings online, and available via links on syllabus