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Syllabus for pre-PhD Distance learning course on Philosophy


Naira Mkrtchyan, Ph.D, Associate Professor
Yerevan State University, Distance Learning Laboratory

1. Course module description
This course module is concerned to the fundamental theories of morality. Morality is an indispensable part of any form of human coexistence. The questions- where or what is the source of morality, how did first emerge moral claims and in which form, how did moral thinkers justify morality and its possibility, what are the main topics of morality (happiness, duty, dead and life, good and bad, right and wrong ), are essential having not only theoretical meaning, but practical meaning, too. The changing paradigms in history of ethics propose different models of reconstructing of moral reality and its regulative force. The course module is designed for graduate students whose exposure and background in the discipline are limited, and undergraduate seniors bringing their undergraduate program to a conclusion and planning on pursuing further additional training and careers in philosophy.

2. Objectives of the course module
2.1 To reveal the peculiarities of moral regulation of human relationships.
2.2 To introduce students with the core concepts and paradigms of ethics.
2.3 To consider the main debates of moral thinkers.
2.4 To identify their conceptual failures and achievements.
2.5 To form in students abilities to argue for personal positions and approaches applying justifications of moral theories.

3. Assessment
Since this is a distance-learning course, the assessment will be based only on students’ written work.

  • Weekly written essays – 60%
  • Final essay - 40%

4. Course module program

Class 1 The subject matter of Ethics. Virtue Ethics
- The human conduct and the problem of its regulation (Morality, law, etiquette).
- Greek “ethos” and Roman “mores”.
- From practice to theory of morality.
- The idea of good.
- Virtue as a disposition.
- Intellectual virtues and moral virtues.
- The doctrine of mean.

- The Blackwell Dictionary of Modern Social Thought (2006)/ Second edition/ ed. by Outhwaite William, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

- Copp David (2001), Morality, Normativity, and Society, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
-  Aristotle (2009), The Nicomachean Ethics, Oxford University Press, New York.
-  Hursthouse Rosalind (2006), Are Virtues the Proper Starting Point For Morality?, In: Contemporary Debates in Moral Theory/ ed. by James Dreier, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
-  Driver Julia (2006), Virtues Theory, In: Contemporary Debates in Moral Theory/ ed. by James Dreier, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford. 
-  Donagan Alan, Moral Dilemmas, Genuine and Spurious: A comparative Anatomy, In: Moral Dilemmas and Moral Theory/ ed. by H. E. Mason, New York, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1996.
-  Sinnott-Armstrong Walter “Moral Skepticism and Justification”, p. 6, Moral Knowledge? New Readings in Moral Epistemology/ ed. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Mark Timmons, Oxford University Press, New York-Oxford, 1996.

Assignment 1:
Please, answer to the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • How is it possible to distinguish human conduct from animal behavior?
  • How is the moral regulation contrasted from the legal regulation and etiquette?
  • How is a virtue interpreted?
  • How does Aristotle distinguish moral virtues and intellectual virtues?
  • How are virtues related to the ideas of good and happiness?
  • How is it possible to become a virtue person?

Class 2 Anti-Rationalism or Ethical Sentimentalism
- Sympathy and the Nature and Origin of the Moral Sentiments.
- The Circumstances of Justice.
- Natural and artificial Virtues.

- Hume David (2003) A Treatise of Human Nature, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

- Ethics. Contemporary Readings (2005)/ ed. by H. Gensler, E. Sprungin, Routledge, New York London.

Assignment 2:
Please, answer to the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • How and why does Hume criticize ethical rationalism?
  • How does Hume justify his conception about the origin of morality?
  • Why does the author identify the circumstances of justice?
  • How are the virtues contrasted?

Class 3 Deontological Ethics
- Kant’s moral theory.
- The ideas of autonomy and heteronomy.
- The Categorical Imperative versus Hypothetical Imperative.
- Moral Duties and the worthiness to be happy.

-  Kant Immanuel (2008), Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals.
-  Kant Immanuel (2004), The Critique of Practical Reason.
-  Ethics. Contemporary Readings (2005)/ ed. by H. Gensler, E. Sprungin, Routledge, New York London.
-  The Oxford Handbook of Rationality (2004), Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Assignment 3:
Please, answer the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • How does Kant criticize eudemonism in morality?
  • What differs autonomy from heteronomy?
  • How does Kant connect reason, will, freedom and moral law?
  • How can the Categorical Imperative be interpreted?
  • Why is the categorical Imperative formal?

Class 4 Consequentialism
- Utilitarian account of morality.
- The critique of ethical egoism and Kantian deontologism.
- The principle of utility and the idea of the greatest net balance of satisfaction.

-  Mill J. S. (1999), Utilitarianism, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
-  Ethics. Contemporary Readings(2005)/ ed. by H. Gensler, E. Sprungin, Routledge, New York London.
-  Shaw William (2006), The Consequentialist Perspective, In: Contemporary Debates in Moral Theory/ ed. by James Dreier, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

Assignment 4:
Please, answer to the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • Why and how does consequentialism differ from “virtue ethics” and “deontological ethics”?
  • Why is Utilitarianism called consequentialist theory?
  • How is the principle of utility related to the idea of happiness?
  • How does utilitarianism harmonize private-personal and public interests?
  • How it explains the origins of moral feelings?

Class 5 Friedrich Nietzsche’s moral theory
- The critique of European culture and morality.
- The genealogy of morality.
- The will to power.
- The slave morality and master morality.
- The re-evaluation of values.

-  Nietzsche Friedrich (1966), Beyond Good and Evil, New York
-  Nietzsche Friedrich (2007), On the Genealogy of Morality, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
-  Ethics. Contemporary Readings (2005)/ ed. by H. Gensler, E. Sprungin, Routledge, New York, London.

Assignment 5:
Please, answer the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • What and where are the origins of morality?
  • How does Nietzsche contrast the master morality and the slave morality?
  • How does ressentiment determine the slave morality?
  • How does Nietzsche criticize European culture and morality?
  • What does it mean the revaluation of values and why and to what relation does the author raise it?

Class 6 Phenomenological Ethics
- The Humanism of the Other.
- The priority of ethics and morality.
- The ‘I’ and Alter Ego.
- Face-to-face situation.
- The non-reciprocal (asymmetrical) character of moral relationships. 

-  Lèvinas Emmanuel (1969), Totality and Infinity, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh.
-  Lèvinas Emmanuel (1998), Collected Philosophical Papers, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh.
-  Bauman Zygmunt (2007), Postmodern Ethics, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

Assignment 6:
Please, answer to the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • How does Lèvinas justify the priority of ethics and morality?
  • Why is Lèvinas’s position called “The Humanism of the Other”?
  • How is morality based on the ontological propositions of phenomenology?
  • How does Lèvinas justify the nonreciprocal (asymmetrical) character of moral relationships?
  • How is his position differed from the position of Kant?

Class 7 Nonmetaphysical account of morality
- The foundations of morality.
- Proceduralism and Hermeneutics (Vattimo G.).
- The critique of modern approach on morality, truth, and progress (Rorty R.)

-  Vattimo Gianni (2004), Nihilism and Emancipation. Ethics, Politics and Law, Columbia University Press, New York.
-  Rorty Richard (1997), Truth, Politics and ‘Post-Modernism’, Van Gorcum, Assen.
-  Bauman Zygmunt (2007), Postmodern Ethics, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
-  Delanty Gerard (2000), Modernity and Postmodernity. Knowledge. Power and The Self, SAGE publications, London.

Assignment 7:
Please, answer to the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • How are the nonmetaphysical and postmodern views on morality connected?
  • How are the modernistic and metaphysical views on morality criticized?
  • How does modernism link the intellectual progress and the political progress?
  • How are the main ideas of postmodernistic view on morality justified?
  • How does proceduralism deal with the issues of morality?

Class 8  Closing exam
Based on your interest, choose any topic discussed within this course module and write an analytical essay (13-15 pages).

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