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Starting June 8th - Contemporary Ethics and Foundations of Decision Theory

Canvas Page: If you shoot me an email I can add you to the roster so you can get a bunch of nice features and participate in conferences.

Lore Page: you don't need to send me your email if you use this page.

Meta-ethics flow chart. Click here to see where you fall in terms of meta-ethical theories! We're almost done covering all of these

This course will cover evaluative propositions, the sorts of propositions that ascribe a value onto something, such as "true", "pretty", "good", bad", etc. Specifically it will focus on a family of evaluative propositions called "moral propositions". We will study recent (20th century onwards) work on the way people use moral propositions, and whether they really are propositions or are just expressions of desires (moral semantics). We will also study whether any moral propositions are actually true, e.g. whether there are any things in the world that really are good, bad, evil, better than another thing, the right thing to do, etc, and how these things work (moral metaphyics). Finally we will study how people come to choose which action is the right one, and whether we can really know this, as well as psychological work on morality and the relation between moral theory and decision theory (moral motivation and epistemology).

Lectures
  1. Section 1: Introduction to moral semantics and Non-Cognitivism

    In this section we get a primer on moral semantics, discuss various forms of non-cognitivism, through several seminar meetings, and look at many objections to non-cognitivism. The main texts are available here. Read chapter 1 and chapter 2 of EI. For those that need to review the logic in the introductory video lecture and the Frege-Geach example, lecture 2.4a is a cursory review. For a more in depth treatment, I'd recommend Language, Proof and Logic with the software. As a second, less efficient but more frugal alternative I'd recommend the free online logic text by Gary Hardegree, Symbolic Logic: A First Course.

  2. Section 2a. Introducing Subjectivism

    This series of lectures, and this meeting, goes into a cursory examination of the variety of subjectivist theories, as presented in Chapter 3 of EI.

  3. Section 2b. Formal Semantics and Contemporary Subjectivism

    In this section, we review material regarding logical symbols and set theory, and then apply it. We cover some more technical subjectivist theories of morality, and introduce normativity and reasons theory into subjectivist moral semantics. We also look at the most popular form of subjectivism alive today, Ideal Observer Theory.

Prerequisites

Previous experience with constructing formal arguments in propositional or predicate logic is helpful, but not at all required. If any of the material seems too difficult, or too easy, I shall tailor the course correspondingly. You would also want to have a microphone for our Stickam meetings.

Syllabus

The two main texts for the course shall be Michael Huemer's Ethical Intuitionism and Richard Joyce's The Myth of Morality. Both of these I shall make available via a google docs private link, as will be the case with any papers or other material I put up (although many shall be publically available for other people's ease of access). If people can't access some material, just shoot me a pm or email and I'll be able to either send you the material or a different link to it.

This course involves lectures and seminar meetings. If students want to arrange a seminar meet, post a thread in either the subreddit, or in /r/philosophy, or message other students in the class and me. If there is some interest, I will put up a stickam meeting room in which we can all meet at a time that works for all of us.

There shall be only a few (don't worry, they are of course optional! I can't really penalize ya in any way clearly) problem sets and a final paper (also optional!) on one of the topics of your choice covered in the course, both of which you are encouraged to collaborate with others on if you like.

Here is the course outline (which is still subject to change given the developments of the course and student needs):

  1. What do moral sentences mean? ~June - Mid August

    • Non-Cognitivism - Read EI chapters 1 and 2
    • Cognitivism
      • Subjectivism - Read EI chapter 3
      • Naturalism - Read EI chapter 4
      • Non-Naturalism - Read EI Chapter 9

    Supplemental reading: Schroeder's "Philosophy of Language for Meta-ethics".

  2. Is anything really right or wrong?~ August through September

    • Reasons - Read EI Chapter 7, MoM Chapter 5, Bernard Williams SEP article.
    • Error Theory Vs. Moral Realism - Read MoM Chapter 2, EI Chapter 6.
    • Minimalism - Read "Creeping Minimalism", Jamie Dreier.
  3. How do you know what's better or worse? ~ september-october 18th

    • Moral Intuition - Ethical Intuitionism, Chapter 5.
    • The Ideal Agent- "Moral Realism", Peter Railton.
    • More Reasons!- "The Rational Foundations of Morality", Michael Smith.
    • Moral Psychology- "Ethical Intuitionism Meets Empirical Psychology", Walter Sinnott-Armstrong.
    • Decision Theory
      • What is "Utility"? - SEP article on Causal Decision Theory, Utilitaranism.
      • Is it Good? - SEP article on repugnant conclusion.
Additional information

My E-mail is ContemporaryEthics (at) gmail (dot) com

Teacher qualifications

I have taken a graduate course in philosophy of mind, and many advanced seminars in ethics at one of the nations top-ranked programs in philosophy (by leiter standards).

Latest Update
Lecture 2 and 3 up. (2012-07-22 04:14:51)

"I've retroactively put 2 youtube lectures up on individualist and cultural subjectivism. "

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