Centre for Continuing Education

Philosophy Course: Introduction to Ethics

Philosophy. Study the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses both online and in-person. Please check the delivery format for each class before you enrol.

Please note that course materials for all classes (excluding prescribed textbooks) are shared electronically within 48 hours of a course starting. Printing is not available.


This Introduction to Ethics course considers questions which are of practical concern to all humans who want to live well with themselves and others. These questions include: What constitutes a good life? What responsibilities do I have to others in my own community and the global village?

We will take both a practical and theoretic approach and discuss issues of both a personal and philosophical nature. We will also present some of the great thinkers on these issues and also new trends in defining what we mean by the terms ‘ethics’ and ‘morality’. These universal questions are as old as human history, but contemporary ethics must also deal with a whole range of new issues, including economic fairness; environmentalism; media ethics; and the ethics of social responsibility in the new COVID-19 world.

Aims

This course aims to equip you with an understanding of contemporary ethics and provide you with the tools to discuss universal questions in relation to ethics and morality.

Outcomes

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • discuss issues around ethical decision making
  • utilise various ethical tools to make decisions
  • discuss the ideas of many of the great philosophers on ethics
  • describe the role of emotions in ethical life
  • describe the role of reason in ethical theory.

Content

Introduction

Firstly we need to define what the terms ‘ethics’ and ‘morality’ mean both in their contemporary usage and in philosophical theory. We will then discuss some ways of approaching a methodology of ethics: Can you test an ethical theory to see if it works?

Philosophical approaches

We will consider a range of philosophical theories – from the history of philosophy – on different ways to make ethical decisions.

Ethical utilitarianism

Many of the decisions made by governments in modern economies are made on utilitarian grounds. We will look at the foundations of Utilitarianism, from Mill to now.

Ethics and emotions

Philosophers such as David Hume propose that all morality is based on emotions first and that reason is only in the service of those emotions. We will assess this idea and add some contemporary evidence to the debate.

The psychology of moral development

Much valuable work has been done in psychology on moral development. We will study the four stages of moral development and the social conditions which encourage full moral development.

Evolution and ethics

Are humans evolved to have ethical innate emotional and mental predispositions, such as an innate sense of fairness? We will look at the evidence for evolutionary ethics, and its limitations.

New trends in virtue ethics

Virtue ethics is concerned with a person’s internal capacities for such things as courage or prudence. Aristotle believed that the virtues can be learnt and become action habits. We will consider this position against the view that virtues are genetic characteristics.

Moral luck

Thomas Negel and others argue that much of our ‘good behaviour’ is due to ‘moral luck’ and the difference between a so called ‘good’ person and a ‘bad’ person is circumstantial. We will assess this idea.

Issues in applied ethics

This week we will look at the issues concerning the use of the media and its ethical responsibilities. We will also look at the ethics of spying and the foundations of intelligence gathering.

Ethics and the contemporary situation

We will consider issues concerning economic fairness and social responsibility in the COVID-19 environment.

Intended audience

Anyone with a general interest in philosophy and ethics.

Delivery style

Lecture/seminar

Materials

Course notes are provided electronically.

Features

  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

Philosophy Course: Introduction to Ethics

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