Loyola University Chicago

Department of Philosophy

PHIL 467: Contemporary Ethical theories

Catalog Description

The works of contemporary moral philosophers in the analytic or continental tradition are examine and compared.

PHIL 467: Contemporary Ethical Theories - God, Morality, and Evil

Dr. Thomas Carson

This class will focus on two of the central questions of philosophy. The first question is: "what difference does it make for morality if God exists or does not exist?" People hold very divergent views on this topic. Some think that God has everything to do with morality and hold that God's will or Gods' commands are the only possible basis for an objective morality. Others think that God is irrelevant to morality. Starting with Plato, the dominant view in Western philosophy is that basic moral standards are independent of God.  We will examine the divine command theory and other theories that attempt to based morality on God and God's will.  The second question concerns the problem of evil: "Is the existence of so much suffering and evil in the world consistent with the existence of a loving, morally good, and omnipotent God?"

Readings include  Plato's Euthyphro, selections from medieval philosophers, Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor, Robert and Marilyn Adams, The Problem of Evil, and Robert Adams's Finite and Infinite Goods.

PHIL 467: Contemporary Ethical Theories - Derek Parfit’s On What Matters

Dr. Thomas Carson

Derek Parfit's multi-volume On What Matters is widely regarded as the most important book in ethics in the last 140 years. This course will involve an intensive reading and discussion of On What Matters. Parfit’s wildly ambitious book addresses almost all the main issues in ethical theory — questions about the nature of the good life and human welfare, questions about moral obligation, and metaethical questions about the meaning and objectivity of normative judgments. Parfit defends the view that moral judgments are statements that are objectively true or false independently of what anyone believes or desires. He famously defends a “triple theory” of moral obligation and argues that (what he takes to be) the three best theories of moral obligation, the first version of Kant’s categorical imperative, rule-consequentialism, and contractualism, are all equivalent. In addition, Parfit writes very insightfully about many other topics including: the meaning of life, the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God, “why there is something rather than nothing,” Nietzsche’s moral philosophy, utilitarianism, environmental ethics, egoism, the long-term survival of the human race (and the future non-human descendants of human beings), and many other issues. Parfit’s book is a model of clarity and includes hundreds of interesting arguments. On What Matters is one of most collaborative philosophical books ever written - it was rewritten many times in light of detailed comments and criticisms that he received from hundreds of other philosophers.