Ethics and Society I
This class consists of a broad overview of normative ethics, applied ethics and political philosophy. In normative ethics, we begin by discussing competing accounts of individual welfare, theories of the good and the debate between consequentialism and deontology. In applied ethics, we discuss the effective altruism movement (which holds that most people are morally obligated to give substantially to charity), global warming, and artificial intelligence. The section on political philosophy begins with Plato’s Republic and Hobbes’ Leviathan. We then discuss advantages and disadvantages of communism and democracy – before turning to the debate between Rawls and Nozick on theories of justice.
Ethics and Society II
This class investigates the ethics of political dissent. It begins by discussing the rationality and ethics of an often-overlooked type of dissent: voting. We then discuss civil disobedience – in particular, debating theories of Thoreau, Rawls, King and Gandhi. The class then discusses Civil Disobedience’s legalistic counterpart: uncivil obedience. While civil disobedience involves breaking laws as a form of protest, uncivil obedience involves complying with laws as a form of protest. We then discuss recent empirical work on the effectiveness of dissent. The class then turns to Malcolm X and Frantz Fanon’s theories of self-defense and violent dissent – before discussing terrorism. It finishes with the morality of two of the most extreme types of dissent: secession and revolution.
Critical Reasoning and Consumption
All students will engage with the media and encounter reports throughout their lives. There will be reports of scientific breakthroughs, human rights abuses, malevolent conspiracies, and large-scale social action. Some of this evidence will be reliable – some of it will not. While reports are sometimes diligent and careful, others range from poorly conceived to deliberately misleading. As critical consumers, it is our responsibility to distinguish between the two: to carefully and rigorously evaluate the evidence we encounter. How we evaluate these reports may well impact important decisions in our lives: how we vote, whether to dedicate time and money to various pursuits, and even what medication we opt to take.
The aim of this course it to provide the tools needed for this evaluation – to be able to distinguish ‘fake news’ from real. Each week, we will discuss attributes of reasoned arguments and apply them to political, legal and social examples. We will highlight not only the ways in which arguments are ﬂawed, but also the way to construct ones that succeed.
Logic is the formal study of how truths fit together. It investigates the notions of deductive inference, validity, and provability – and is an invaluable tool in distinguishing good arguments from bad ones. Logical developments have impacted many fields of study including mathematics, computer science, linguistics, cognitive science and philosophy. The study of logic can be traced back at least to Aristotle, but was rigorously formalized at the end of the 1800s by Gottlob Frege. This course will provide an overview of first-order logic, introduce a model-theoretic notion of validity, and formally define provability.