24.231 | Fall 2009 | Undergraduate



There are no required texts for this course. Many of the readings may be found in the anthology:

[Sher] = Sher, George. Moral Philosophy: Selected Readings. 2nd ed. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt-Brace, 1995. ISBN: 9780155017559.

1 Introduction

Part I: Meta-ethics


What are ethical judgments claims about?

Ses #2

[Sher] Plato. “Euthyphro.” Chapter 14, pp. 166-179.

Ses #3

[Sher] Moore, G. E. “Goodness as Simple and Indefinable.” Chapter 9, pp. 111-119.



Perhaps ethical claims aren’t even the kinds of statements that can be true or false …

Ses #4

[Sher] Ayer, Alfred Jules. “The Emotive Theory of Ethics.” Chapter 10, pp. 120-128.

Ses #5

[Sher] Brink, David. “The Form and Content of Moral Judgments.” Chapter 13, pp. 160-165.


The epistemic problem for cognitivism

If ethical claims can be true or false, how could we know which they are?

Ses #6

[Sher] Harman, Gilbert. “Ethics and Observation.” Chapter 17, pp. 205-211.

Ses #7

[Sher] Sturgeon, Nicholas. “Moral Explanations.” Chapter 18, pp. 212-232.


Moral relativism

In what sense, if any is morality objective?

Ses #8

Harman, Gilbert. “What is Moral Relativism?” In Values and Morals: Essays in Honor of William Frankena, Charles Stevenson and Richard Brandt. Edited by Alvin I. Goldman, and Jaegwon Kim. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1978, pp. 143-161. ISBN: 9789027709141.

Ses #9

Foot, Philippa. “Moral Relativism.” Chapter 13 in Moral Relativism: A Reader. Edited by Paul K. Moser, and Thomas L. Carson. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 185-198. ISBN: 9780195131307.

Ses #10

Lyons, David. “Ethical Relativism and the Problem of Incoherence.” Chapter 10 in Moral Relativism: A Reader. Edited by Paul K. Moser, and Thomas L. Carson. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 127-141. ISBN: 9780195131307.

Part II: Normative ethics


What makes outcomes good?

Ses #11

[Sher] Mill, John Stuart. “Utilitarianism (selections).” Chapter 23, pp. 298-312.

Ses #12

[Sher] Nozick, Robert. “The Experience Machine.” Chapter 44, pp. 612-614.

[Sher] Parfit, Derek. “What Makes Someone’s Life Go Best?” Chapter 49, pp. 665-674.

Ses #13

Norcross, Alastair. “Comparing Harms: Headaches and Human Lives.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 26, no. 2 (Spring 1997): 136-167.



Is the right act always the one that would produce the best outcome?

Ses #14

[Sher] Williams, Bernard. “A Critique of Utilitarianism.” Chapter 27, pp. 353-363.

Ses #15

Lenman, James. “Consequentialism and Cluelessness.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 29, no. 4 (Autumn 2000): 342-370.

Ses #16

Singer, Peter. “Is Act-Utilitarianism Self-Defeating?” Philosophical Review 81, no. 1 (January 1972): 94-104.

Ses #17

Rawls, John. “Two Concepts of Rules.” Philosophical Review 64, no. 1 (January 1955): 3-32.

Ses #18

Nagel, Thomas. “Ethics.” Chapter IX in The View from Nowhere. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 164-188. ISBN: 9780195056440.


Distributive justice

What does it take to treat people equally? And does it matter how we distribute the good?

Ses #19

[Sher] Rawls, John. “Classical Utilitarianism.” Chapter 26, pp. 348-352.

Nagel, Thomas. “Equality.” Chapter 8 in Mortal Questions. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1979. Reprint, Canto ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 106-127. ISBN: 9780521406765.

Ses #20

Williams, Bernard. “The Idea of Equality.” Chapter 14 in Problems of the Self. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1976, pp. 230-249. ISBN: 9780521290609.

Ses #21

[Sher] Singer, Peter. “Famine, Affluence, and Morality.” Chapter 51, pp. 694-704.

Part III: Moral character


What makes us virtuous? And how important is it to be virtuous?

Ses #22

Arpaly, Nomy. “Moral Worth.” Journal of Philosophy 99, no. 5 (May 2002): 223-245.

Ses #23

[Sher] Wolf, Susan. “Moral Saints.” Chapter 40, pp. 563-580.


Free will and moral responsibility

Can we be held responsible for what we do?

Ses #24

van Inwagen, Peter. “The Incompatibility of Free Will and Determinism.” Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition 27, no. 3 (March 1975): 185-199.

Ses #25

Frankfurt, Harry G. “Possibilities and Moral Responsibility.” Journal of Philosophy 66, no. 23 (December 4, 1969): 829-839.

Ses #26

[Sher] Nagel, Thomas. “Moral Luck.” Chapter 33, pp. 441-452.

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Fall 2009
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