What is human nature? In what ways are we limited or liberated by being human? This course will examine a number of philosophical theories about morality and rationality. In particular, we will focus on the question of what sorts of beings we would have to be in order for those theories to be true. What kind of psychologies, individual and social, are required for us to act morally or rationally? To achieve justice or knowledge? In exploring answers to these questions, we will draw on works by philosophers, economists, and social psychologists.
Collective Responsibility and Social Justice
Many of the most pressing moral issues in the contemporary world–whether they are economic, political, social, or environmental–cannot be solved by the actions of a single individual. Yet in many cases, these problems persist precisely because of the accumulation of actions by many individuals. How can we be responsible for solving such problems? What would it take to solve these problems? What are my obligations to those in need, or those less well-off? How can I be an “ethical consumer,” an “ethical eater,” or a good citizen? When is it morally wrong for me to do things that contribute to environmental degradation, or to global and social inequality? In this course, we will explore issues such as poverty, exploitation, stereotyping and prejudice, and climate change with an eye to understanding what is required by the demands of social, distributive, and global justice.
Writing a good philosophy paper is in many ways just like writing any other good paper, but is in some ways very different from the kinds of papers you may be asked to write in other disciplines. Certain elements common to all papers—for example, structure and organization—are particularly important in philosophy papers, and certain practices forbidden or required in other disciplines will not be here. Above all, what you should aim to produce is a reasoned defense of a thesis. The thesis is what you are trying to get your reader to accept, and the reasoned defense is the argument or arguments that justify the acceptance of your thesis. Of course, “argument” here means a philosophical argument consisting of premises and a conclusion.
This handout explains the three main criteria by which your philosophy paper will be graded, along with more specific expectations and guidelines.