Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Normative Ethical Theories

Normative Ethical Theories

PHIL 5114, Spring 2014




Administrative Information: Professor:          Jada Twedt Strabbing Office:         Collins Hall 114

Office Phone:     (718) 817-2776


Time:                Fri 10.30-12.30am, Collins Hall

Office Hours:    TBD



Course Description:


We all confront moral issues and problems.  The aim of this course is to develop the ability to approach them in a systematic and rigorous way.  In particular, we will focus on the following question: what makes an action right or wrong?  We will explore and evaluate five normative ethical theories that seek to answer these questions:   divine command theory, moral relativism, utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics.  We will also apply some of these theories to pressing moral questions.  For example, is it wrong to spend money on luxuries when other people are starving?   Is it always wrong to have an abortion?   Do animals have rights?  In exploring these questions, we will read texts by both contemporary philosophers and canonical philosophers such as Mill, Kant, and Aristotle.


Required Text:


George Sher (ed.), Ethics: Essential Readings in Moral Theory (2012).

Additional readings will be provided on Blackboard.



Final Paper – 50% Presentation – 20% Reading Responses – 20% Class Participation – 10%

 Tentative Seminar Schedule and Corresponding Readings:


 1) Cultural Relativism


Session 1: Course Introduction and Cultural Relativism

Jan 17              Rachels, “The Challenge of Cultural Relativism” (Chapter 15)



2) Divine Command Theory


Session 2: Divine Command Theory and Cultural Relativism

Jan 24              Plato, “Euthyphro” (Chapter 13)

Adams, “A New Divine Command Theory” (Chapter 14)




2) Utilitarianism


Session 3: Mill’s Utilitarianism

Jan 31              Mill, “Utilitarianism” (Chapter 22)



Session 4: Objections to Utilitarianism

Feb 7               Williams, “A Critique of Utilitarianism” (Chapter 23)

Rawls, “Classical Utilitarianism” (Chapter 24) Nozick, “The Experience Machine” (Chapter 46)



Session 5: Rule Consequentialism

Feb 14             Hooker, “Rule Consequentialism” (Chapter 26)

Smart, “Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism”


Session 6: Applied Utilitarianism: The Morality of Giving to Charity

Feb 21             Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” (Chapter 62)

Miller, “Beneficence, Duty, and Distance” (Chapter 63)




3) Deontology


Session 7: Kant’s View

Feb 28             Kant, “Morality and Rationality” (Chapter 29)



Session 8: Objections to Kant

Mar 7              Korsgaard, “The Right to Lie: Kant On Dealing with Evil” (Chapter 31)

Langton, “Maria von Herbert’s Challenge to Kant” (Chapter 32)



Session 8: Intuitionism

Mar 14            Ross, “What Makes Right Acts Right?” (Chapter 35) Mar 21: Spring Break – Enjoy!

Session 9: Applied Deontology: Animal Rights

Mar 28            Regan, “The Case for Animal Rights” (Blackboard)

McPherson, “Why I am a Vegan” (Blackboard)



5) Virtue Ethics


Session 10: Aristotle

Apr 4               Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics Book I (BB) Aristotle, “The Nature of Moral Virtue” (Chapter 37)



Session 11: Contemporary Virtue Ethics Anscombe? Hursthouse (Chapter 43)? Apr 11             Anscombe, “Modern Moral Philosophy” (Blackboard)

Wolf, “Moral Saints” (Chapter 42)



Apr 18: Easter Break – Enjoy!



Session 12: Applied Virtue Ethics: Abortion

Apr 25             Hursthouse, “Virtue Theory and Abortion” (Blackboard)

Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion” (Chapter 60)



Session 13: Applied Ethics topic chosen by class

May 2



Session 14: Applied Ethics topic chosen by class


(I must reschedule the seminar on May 9 due a conference commitment.)

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