Ed Langerak: Debating Moral Issues

Expanded Description

Our text is a widely used anthology edited by Louis Pojman and Lewis Vaughn, The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature (Oxford University Press). This text is now in its 6th and expensive edition. But we will use the 5th edition (2014, ISBN 978-0-19-995085-0), good used copies of which are available. Other editions of this book have all or most of the assigned readings, but those who plead the 5th will be on the same page. The page numbers in the syllabus below refer to the 5th edition, and the following link to bookfinder.com lists many inexpensive copies of it: https://www.bookfinder.com/search/?author=&title=&lang=en&isbn=9780199950850&new_used=*&destination=us&currency=USD&mode=basic&st=sr&ac=qr

Participants will receive weekly emails about the upcoming class. Of course, any one of these topics could take up an entire course; but life is short, and I hope that we will at least understand the main contours of the debates and why it is that they are so passionately contested. Making a good faith effort to read the assigned selections will greatly enhance the value of class discussions.


Week 1: My introductory overview of Western moral (normative) theories will refer to selections from various authors, including: Jeremy Bentham, pp.196-200; John Stuart Mill, 201-04; Immanuel Kant, 247-54; W.D. Ross, 260-66; Aristotle, 326-27; Bernard Mayo, 346-50; Virginia Held, 478-90. This adds up to 40 pages that participants are invited to read, but the only assigned reading is a story by Ursula Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” 230-35.

Week 2: How to understand and talk with those who disagree on hot button moral and political issues. Electronic copies of selections from my 2014 book, Civil Disagreement: Personal Integrity in a Pluralistic Society (http://press.georgetown.edu/book/georgetown/civil-disagreement), will be provided: Three Uses of Argument, 18-20; Burdens of Judgment, 36-38; Perspective Pluralism, 51-52; and Toleration and Respect, 77-105.

Week 3: Aid in Dying and Euthanasia: definitional and moral issues. Dan Brock, “Voluntary Active Euthanasia,” 762-68; James Rachels, “Active and Passive Euthanasia,” 786-91; Thomas Sullivan, “Active and Passive Euthanasia: An Impertinent Distinction?” 4 pp. provided electronically along with some materials on Aid in Dying.

Week 4: Aid in Dying and Euthanasia: moral and political issues. Dan Brock, “Voluntary Active Euthanasia,” 768-80; J Gay-Williams, “The Wrongfulness of Euthanasia,” 781-85; electronically provided discussions of Aid in Dying legislation and of advanced directives.

Week 5: Duties toward animals. George Orwell, “Shooting an Elephant,” 795-801; Peter Singer, “Animal Liberation,” 802-15; Carl Cohen, “The Case Against Animal Rights,” 816-20; Ed Langerak, “Who and What is My Neighbor: Stewardship Ethics,” 9 pp. provided electronically.

Week 6: Abortion: definitional and moral issues. Don Marquis, “Why Abortion is Immoral,” 691-709; Mary Ann Warren, “Abortion is Morally Permissible,” 727-34; Jane English, “The Moderate Position,” 735-37; Ed Langerak, “Abortion: Listening to the Middle,” 6 pp. provided electronically.

Week 7: Abortion: moral and political issues. Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion,” 710-26; Jane English, “The Moderate Position,” 738-44; Susan Sherwin, “Abortion through A Feminist Lens,” 745-55.

Week 8: Duties toward the Environment. Robert Heilbroner, “What Has Posterity Ever Done for Me?” 825-29; Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” 830-43; (suggested: William Baxter, “People or Penquins,”844-50); some current debate about climate change, such as Ben Ehrenreich, “We’re Hurtling Toward Global Suicide,” New Republic Magazine, 3/18/21 and at least one denier such as Fred Singer, depending on who is saying what in October.