Proposed: Ethics & Moral Psychology

Course Description

Ethics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the governing principles of moral action. Moral psychology is an interdisciplinary, empirical approach to determining the conditions under which moral decisions are made. In this course, we will combine traditional approaches to ethics with contemporary research in moral psychology to develop a well-rounded understanding of moral behaviour. We shall bring two pairs of normative accounts of ethics into conversation with each other. We will consider utilitarianism and deontology together and ask, “Is moral behaviour a matter of consequences or intentions?” To answer this question, we will consider the psychology of preferences and responsibility. We shall also bring together care ethics and virtue ethics to ask, “Is moral behaviour directed towards others, or towards ourselves?” Answering this question requires considering the psychology of emotions and character. Finally, we will close out the course by considering the epistemology of disagreement, and the consequences such a view has for moral pluralism. Along the way, we will study the work of Bentham, Kant, Gilligan, and Aristotle, and others. Applications may include redistribution of wealth, organ donation, capital punishment, etc.

Course Texts

  1. Alfano, Mark. Moral Psychology: An Introduction (Polity, 2016).
  2. Tännsjö, Torbjörn. Understanding Ethics, 3d. ed. (Edinburgh UP, 2014).

Summary of Course Requirements

Requirement Description Weight Date
Midterm I Tests competence from Unit I. 25% Week 06
Midterm II Tests competence from Unit II. 25% Week 10
Weekly Reflections Weekly assignments on the material. 10% Ongoing
Seminar Participation Assessed by your TA on the quality and quantity of participation. 10% Ongoing
Final Examination One sit-down cumulative examination. 30% TBD

Course Schedule

All information subject to change with notice.

Week Topic Readings
01 Welcome! Syllabus

Preferences & Duties

02 Utilitarianism – Hedonism UE: 17-42
03 Preferences MP: 23-49
04 Deontology UE: 59-78
05 Responsibility MP: 49-81
06 [Review and Midterm] N/A

Care & Character

07 Ethics of Care UE: 113-128
08 Emotions & Judgements MP: 81-112, E1
09 Virtue Ethics UE: 95-113
10 Character formation MP: 112-138
11 [Review and Midterm] N/A

Relativism & Disagreement

12 Can we live and let live? UE: 142-152, E2
13 How we disagree MP: 138-171


MP Moral Psychology: An Introduction
UE Understanding Ethics (3d. ed.)
E1 James, W. “The Sentiment of Rationality” (selections)
E2 Feldman, R. “Rational Religious Disagreements” (selections)