Tuesday, January 17, 2017

PHIL 5110: Contemporary Moral Theory

222 days until the start of classes.

Or . . . 0 days, depending on how you look at it.

In looking at the University of Colorado course listings, I found a class in this spring semester that sounded very interesting. Professor Iskra Fileva that appeared to be interesting.

PHIL 5110: Contemporary Moral Theory

SEC 001, TR 3:30-4:45, HLMS 237

Prof. Fileva

We will begin this course with a central problem in metaethics, that of the role of reason versus emotion in moral judgment: Do emotions cause moral judgments? Are emotions themselves moral judgments? Is moral understanding possible without moral emotions?

In the second part of the course, we will focus on contemporary work by deontologists and consequentialists. As we will see, the debate over the role of reason and emotion in moral judgment has implications for the deontology-consequentialism debate. For instance, it has been argued that deontology is based on emotion while consequentialism is based on at least partly emotion-independent reasoning.
In part three, we will discuss virtue and moral goodness and the relationship between these two, on the one hand, and and moral rightness, on the other. We will begin this part by asking what makes certain character traits virtues and whether virtue ethics is an alternative to deontology and consequentialism as has been traditionally held. Here, we will draw on work on virtue not only by contemporary virtue ethicists but by Kantians and consequentialists as well. After getting a handle on virtue's relationship to deontology and consequentialism, we will ask whether being a virtuous person is the same as being a good person as ordinarily understood, and if not, how the two are different.  
In the fourth and last part of the course, we will take a careful look at the so-called  unvirtuous emotions: envy, jealousy, anger, and so on. We will inquire into their nature and causes, their fittingness from the viewpoint of practical rationality, and the  moral assessment appropriate to them and the agents who feel them.

I wrote and asked for a copy of the syllabus and for a list of reading assignments.

The syllabus indicates that this is almost a perfect class for me to take. The class is divided into five subjects, each lasting three weeks.

Part I The Evolutionary Debunking of Moral Beliefs. Questions: Do moral beliefs have an evolutionary explanation? If so, does it follow from here that they are false?

Part II Morality and Its Neural Correlates. Questions: What are the neural correlates of moral judgments? Does neuroscience have implications for moral theory?

Part III Sentimentalism versus Rationalism. Questions: Do emotions cause moral judgments? Are emotions themselves moral judgments? Is moral understanding possible without moral emotions?

Part IV Deontology and Consequentialism. Questions: What are the strengths and shortcomings of deontology and consequentialism, respectively? Can deontological theories – with their emphasis on strict prohibitions – yield a correct verdict in cases of moral uncertainty? Can deontological principles be justified on consequentialist grounds?

Part V Moral Virtue. Questions: What is moral virtue and how does moral virtue relate to rightness? Can a consequentialist account of virtue succeeds? Is Aristotle’s theory of character excellence a theory of moral excellence? What role does virtue play in Kant’s moral theory?

She has provided a long list of readings. I will be going through those readings at the rate required for the course and making comments on them here.

Oh and by the way . . .

I have been reading Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. This is in relation to the paper that I am struggling to get done during this break. In a part of the paper, I discuss two foundations for libertarianism. One is the natural law foundation - attributed primarily to John Locke. The other is the utilitarian foundation - the principles of capitalism - attributed to Adam Smith.

I discovered that the university system is based on the apprentice system. In Smith's time, an apprentice who wanted to learn a trade needed to spend 7 years as an apprentice. During that time he earned no pay and, in fact, often paid the person he was studying under to learn the craft. The teacher got free labor and, perhaps, a little extra income out of the bargain. The student became certified to practice a craft. At the end of seven years, the student created his "masterpiece" (e.g., master's thesis) and was certified as a master of his craft (master's degree). It all sounded spookily familiar. Indeed, graduate students are treated very much like the apprentices of old. The teacher is paid for teaching us, and graduate students are actually expected - in their class papers and other efforts - to serve, in an important way, as unpaid research assistants for the benefit of the professors. I do not object to the system at all, by the way. I intend to do well at it.

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