Washington and Lee University, Spring 2002
Philosophy 101: Problems of Philosophy
Ben Eggleston—EgglestonB@wlu.edu

Introduction to Ethics

Description: This course provides an introduction to those problems of philosophy that are problems of moral philosophy, or ethics. We will begin by examining certain problems that arise when we try to make moral judgments: problems such as cultural relativism (“What’s right for us is not necessarily right for them”), subjectivism, (“What’s right for me is not necessarily right for you”), and the role of religion in morality (e.g., “What’s right is just what God says is right”). Second, we will consider several historically important and still-prominent theoretical approaches to ethics that purport (most of them, anyway) to provide systematic procedures for answering questions about right and wrong. In the third and final part of the course we will consider more concretely a wide variety of controversial moral issues such as abortion, famine, euthanasia, and animal rights. Throughout, we will seek not so much to form judgments about specific moral issues—most of us do that on our own anyway, albeit with varying degrees of certitude—but to improve our thinking about the considerations that may count as reasons for, as well as possible objections to, moral judgments.

Logistics: I am teaching two sections of this course:

My office hours are on Mondays and Fridays from 2 to 4, and on Tuesdays from 9 to 11, in Newcomb 25. You are also welcome to look for me at my office at any other times, though there may be times outside of my office hours when I am in my office but not available to talk. But feel free to stop by and at least check whether I’m available whenever you’d like.

Here are the factors that will determine your overall grade, and their weights:

The mid-term test and the final exam will mainly test your knowledge of what you’ve read, while the two papers will manifest your ability to articulate, and to present arguments for, your own views. Further information about these assignments will be provided as needed, as well as upon request.

If you have a learning disability on the basis on which you may or will be requesting any special accommodation (extra time for tests, etc.), please let me know as soon as possible.

This semester I am experimenting with the Blackboard course-management software, which (unlike any Web pages I’m capable of creating) is supposed to enable me to enter your grades into the system and to enable you to view them, confidentially. To see the grades I have for you at any point, select the link corresponding to your section of this class (sorry, these links no longer work, because the class is over):

You will be prompted to log in. If I understand correctly how the system has been set up, your username is your Novell log-in name, and your password is your I.D. number (from your W&L I.D. card), omitting any leading zeros. (Once you get there, click on “Tools,” then “Check Grade.”) Note that although Blackboard provides a shell for all sorts of course-related documents, I am using it only to provide you with access to your grades; all course-related documents, such as this syllabus and assignments, will be here on my Web site.

Books to buy:


Part 1: Meta-ethics

Week 1:

Week 2:

Part 2: Normative Ethics

Week 2, continued:

Week 3:

Week 4:

Part 3: Applied Ethics

Week 5:

Week 6:

Final Exam: