“I told a friend that I exit class on clouds every day. The content of the class is endlessly interesting.” - Jessica F. | Valley Stream, New York
In this introduction to ethics, one of the core subfields of philosophy, we try to answer questions such as the following: What makes actions morally required, forbidden, or permissible? To what entities do we stand in moral relations, and what do we owe them? (What do we owe, if anything, to animals? To the natural environment? To future generations?) What makes a life good and worthy of choice? Can we be mistaken about whether we are living well? What is the relation between morality and happiness – is there anything “in it for us” if we consistently act out of genuine respect for our moral duty?
After an overview of some of the fundamental themes and methods of the philosophical study of ethics, we examine, in the course’s first unit, four of the most prominent approaches to ethics in Western philosophy: utilitarian consequentialism, Kantian ethics, virtue ethics (in various traditions), and, more recently, the feminist ethics of care. We also explore one non-Western source in the writings of Mahatma Gandhi.
Equipped with these theoretical tools, we put them to use in the course’s second unit as we strive for a richer and more defensible understanding of several significant contemporary moral issues: the relation between morality and the law, justice in the distribution of resources in society, and the moral status of the unborn.
Authors covered include Aristotle, Gandhi, Kant, Martin Luther King Jr., Nietzsche, and several contemporary moral philosophers, including Peter Singer.
Through lecture, independent reading, and class discussion and debate, participants gain not only a familiarity with of some of the fundamental issues in ethics but also an understanding of the distinctiveness of philosophical enquiry and an improved ability to think critically and to express themselves clearly and cogently.
Alex Rigas is a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at Columbia University. His dissertation is about time, death, and the relation between the individual and the community in Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time. His research is mainly in 19th- and 20th-century European philosophy and in social and political philosophy, and he has teaching interests in ethics, philosophy of law, and philosophy of art. While at Columbia, he has taught or served as teaching assistant for numerous courses. He believes that philosophy is for everyone and continues to facilitate philosophical discussions with non-academic audiences as a participant in the Columbia Department of Philosophy’s outreach program, Rethink.
Specific course detail such as hours and instructors are subject to change at the discretion of the University. Not all instructors listed for a course teach all sections of that course.