History of Modern Ethics
• Friday Quiz Section AB 2:30-3:20pm (BAG 106)
Professor Michael Rosenthal
We will study the development of modern ethical philosophy with an emphasis on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Among the questions we will consider are: What is the source of value? What is the role of self-interest in ethics and how do we define it? What role does knowledge play in ethical action? Are humans naturally social or not? We will start with selections from Montaigne and consider the influence of skepticism and the new sciences on ethics. Then we will examine texts from four distinct schools of thought: 1) natural law theorists; 2) the rationalists; 3) epicureans and egoists; and 4) those who advocate autonomy as the basis of value, culminating in the work of Kant.
Assignments and Grading Policy
Participation: All students are expected to attend class and participate regularly in class conversation. In addition to reading texts and writing papers, philosophy involves listening, reflection, and dialogue. Students who are regularly absent from class cannot regularly participate and therefore cannot cultivate these essential skills.
Papers: Each student will be expected to write two short papers (5-7 pages in length) on an assigned topic. The first paper will be due by the beginning of class on Monday, April 29th. The second paper will be due by the beginning of class on Wednesday, May 29th. Late papers will be automatically penalized 10 points for every 24-hours it is late after the due date. The paper must be uploaded to the course Drop Box on Catalyst tools. You can access the Drop Box through Catalyst Tools on My-UW or directly at this URL: https://catalyst.uw.edu/collectit/dropbox/rosentha/25893. Each paper will be graded and is worth 100 points of your final grade. A grade of 53 points is required to pass each paper assignment. Both papers must be completed to pass this class.
Study Guides: At the beginning of class on Friday of each week (except for dates noted below on which the guide will be due on Wednesday) I expect to receive a copy of a typed study-guide you have prepared regarding texts and materials (i.e., lectures and discussions) that have been covered that past week. This should be a minimum of 250 words (about one page) and can be as long as you want. The purpose of this exercise is to give you an opportunity to summarize the week’s material and organize it into a form that will help you prepare for your papers and final exam. It does not need to cover everything you have read, heard, or thought about during the week. However, it should hit on the main points. It may involve short, bullet-type points, but it also should involve some sustained writing. Please do not submit your lecture notes! As we go along in the course, you can also use this as a way to compare thinkers on certain points. (And there will certainly be a compare and contrast type essay question on the final exam.) For this exercise to work it is important that you do not merely copy or re-summarize the editor’s introduction to the readings or other summary-type articles (e.g., from dictionaries, web-sites, etc.). Not only might that be as case of plagiarism (see below) it is also not very effective in helping you learn.
There will be ten opportunities to turn in a study guide. Each study guide will be graded as either “satisfactory” (OK) or “unsatisfactory” (not OK). You will receive a satisfactory grade on each assignment if you: (a) write a minimum of 250 words; (b) present the material systematically; (c) show a minimal degree of comprehension; and (d) raise at least one thoughtful objection. The first time that you turn in an unsatisfactory guide I will give you the opportunity to rewrite it (within three days after it has been handed back) in order to receive a satisfactory grade. You will only be given this opportunity to rewrite once. Each guide graded as satisfactory will be worth 10 points for a possible total of 100 points. Each study guide graded as unsatisfactory is worth 5 points. Each time that you do not turn in a study guide you will receive 0 points. You can turn in a “late” study guide up to a week after the original due date. The maximum you can receive for a late study guide is 5 points. Each study guide must be uploaded to the course Drop Box on Catalyst tools. You can access the Drop Box through Catalyst Tools on My-UW or directly at this URL: https://catalyst.uw.edu/collectit/dropbox/rosentha/25893. A minimum overall score of 53 points is required to pass this assignment.
Final Exam: On Tuesday, June 11th from in Savery 264 there will be a final exam. It will consist of some short answer questions and also some longer essay questions. It will be closed-book and range over material from the entire course. There will be 100 points possible on this exam and a minimum score of 53 points is required to pass it.
Your final grade will be computed on the
basis of the assignments you have turned in. There
is a total possible point score of 400 points. Below
you will find a conversion table. The
first column represents total points for
the course. The second column represents
the grade for a single paper. The third
column represents the approximate letter grade equ
Nota Bene: (1) Cheating in any form (including plagiarism, of course) will result in automatic referal to the Dean’s office. You are assumed to understand the university rules concerning inappropriate academic conduct. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the instructor.
(2) In order to pass this course students are required to: a) have enough total points (i.e., at least 212 points); and also b) pass (i.e., receive at least 53 points in) at least three out of the four individual components of the course (i.e., first paper, second paper, study guides, and final exam). If you have enough total points to pass but do not pass three of the four components you will fail the course. Absolutely no exceptions will be made to this policy.
Disabled Student Services. If you would like to request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, (206) 543-8924 (V/TTY). If you have a letter from Disabled Student Services indicating you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to me so we can discuss the accommodations you might need for the class.
There is one required text and it is available for purchase at the University Bookstore:
Schneewind, J.B., editor, Moral Philosophy from Montaigne to Kant (Cambridge University Press, 2003, paperback, ISBN: 0521003040)
Please note that this is a guide and subject
to change. Page numbers refer to the text.
Week 1 – Introduction and Skepticism
4/1 Course Introduction and Background
4/3 Montaigne (37-56) and Grotius (88-110)
4/5 Discussion Section [Study Guide 1 due]
Week 2 – Natural Law, Part 1
4/8 Hobbes (111-137)
4/10 Pufendorf (156-182)
4/12 Discussion Section [Study Guide 2 due]
Week 3 – Natural Law, Part 2
4/15 Locke (183-200)
4/17 Du Vair (201-215)
4/19 Discussion Section [Study Guide 3 due]
Week 4 – Intellect and Morality, Part 1
4/22 Spinoza (201-215)
4/24 Spinoza (237-255)
4/26 Discussion Section [Study Guide 4 due]
Week 5 – Intellect and Morality, Part 2
4/29 Leibniz (313-330) First Paper Due
5/1 Wolff (331-351)
5/3 Discussion Section [Study Guide 5 due]
Week 6 – Epicureans and Egotists, Part 1
5/6 Gassendi (353-368)
5/8 Mandeville (388-398)
5/10 Discussion Section [Study Guide 6 due]
Week 7 – Epicureans and Egotists, Part 2
5/13 Paley (446-459)
5/15 Bentham (460-480)
5/17 Discussion Section [Study Guide 7 due]
Week 8 – Autonomy and Responsibility, Part 1
5/20 Butler (525-544)
5/22 Hume (545-567)
5/24 Discussion Section [Study Guide 8 due]
Week 9 – Autonomy and Responsibility, Part 2
5/27 NO CLASS – MEMORIAL DAY
5/29 Hume (545-567) Second Paper Due
5/31 Discussion Section [Study Guide 9 due]
Week 10 – Autonomy and Responsibility, Part 3
6/3 Kant (651-664)
6/5 Kant & Final Remarks
6/7 Discussion Section [Study Guide 10 due]
Week 11 – Exam Week
6/11 FINAL EXAM (Tuesday, 2:30-4:20pm; Savery 264)
Contact the instructor at: firstname.lastname@example.org