PHIL 2222: Ethics

“Pigs on The Wing (Part One)”
Pink Floyd

What should I do?  Who should I become?  What is the meaning of life — of this life, of my life?  How should I treat the others around me, and how should I expect to be treated by them?  Are there any solutions to the moral problems that distress us and so often divide us?  Questions like these — and there are many others — are about ethics, and in this introductory course we will explore them across nineteen readings and, time permitting, three remarkable films.

In the first part of this course, we will consider the problem of relativism, which is to say that we will examine the controversial position that there are no objective moral values, that there is, in the final analysis, no such thing as “right” or “wrong.”  We will carefully read three short texts, after which we will watch the film Lone Star, which is about, among other things, the complexities of diveristy in America.

In the second part of this course, we will explore ethical theory.  We will read about the Divine Command Theory, Ethical Egoism, Virtue Ethics, Deontology, Utilitarianism, Existentialism, Alterity Ethics, Care Ethics, and Ubuntuism — all unique approaches to ethical theory.  We will then watch District 9, an action-packed science fiction film that explores the ethics of personsood in some very interesting ways.

In the third and final part of this course, we will look at applied ethics.  This is where we take ethical theories and apply them to specific issues, specific controversies.  We will begin with abortion, which is easily the most controversial issue in this country, and then continue with anti-black racism and capital punishment.  We will then watch the American film Dead Man Walking, which is probably the best movie about the death penalty.

These are the materials that we will cover:


Selections from Folkways by William Graham Sumner; PDF

“The Challege of Cultural Relativism” by James Rachels; PDF

“Female Circumcision/Genital Mutilation and Ethical Relativism” by Loretta M. Kopelman; PDF

Film: Lone Star


Divine Command Theory.  Selections from Euthyphro by Plato; PDF

Ethical Egoism.  “The Objectivist Ethics” by Ayn Rand; PDF

Virtue Ethics.  Selections from Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle; PDF

Deontology.  Selections from the Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals by Immanuel Kant; PDF

Utilitarianism.  Selections from Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill; PDF

Existentialism.  Selections from The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir; PDF

Alterity Ethics.  Selections from I and Thou by Martin Buber; PDF

Care Ethics.  “Why Care about Caring?” by Nel Noddings; PDF

Ubuntuism.  “Ubuntu and Its Socio-Moral Significance” by Mluleki Munyaka and Mokgethi Motlhabi; PDF

Film: District 9


“A Defense of Abortion” by Judith Jarvis Thomson; PDF

“An Argument that Abortion Is Wrong” by Don Marquis; PDF

“On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion” by Mary Anne Warren; PDF

“Racism as a Form of Bad Faith” by Lewis R. Gordon; PDF

“Revisionist Ontologies: Theorizing White Supremacy” by Charles W. Mills; PDF

“In Defense of the Death Penalty” by Louis P. Pojman; PDF

“The Folly of Capital Punishment” by Jeffrey Reiman; PDF

Film: Dead Man Walking

And here are some course-related media:

© Douglas Ficek