Fundamental Questions of Ethics I

Course at IAP-PUC, First Semester 2009, Tuesdays 16.30-17.50h, by Daniel von Wachter

Contact: - replace "ABCD" by "von-wachter"

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Descripción del curso

Are there true moral statements? Are moral statements, such as "Black's murdering Smith was morally wrong", true or false at all? Some have claimed that they are expressions of emotions and therefore neither true or false. Others have claimed that they are all false. So are there objective moral facts? Is it sometimes something to be discovered whether a certain action was right or wrong? And if so, are moral facts reducible to something else?

In this course we will address these question and questions connected to them. Sometimes this field is called "metaethics" today. The core text of this course is: McNaughton, David, Moral Vision (1988). Further contemporary as well as ancient texts will be studied.

General objective: Develop and defend an answer to a philosophical question, in writing and orally.

Special objectives





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Notes for the sessions

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Martes, 10/3/2009


Martes, 17/3/2009

Task for this session:

Read: McNaughton, ch. 1 and 2.
Answer in writing:
What is moral realism? (“Moral realism is the view that ...”.) Memorise and understand this!
What is moral cognitivism? What is moral non-cognitivism?
Put forward briefly the argument against moral cognitivism which you find strongest. (Put it forward, do not just describe it or write about it. Take the argument from McNaughton.)

Extra sessions: Lunes, 23/3/2009, y Miercoles, 25/3/2009, 15.00-16.20h

Advice on working techniques:

Tuesday, 24th of March, 2009

For this session

Tuesday, 31st of March, 2009

For this Session

Tuesday, 14th of April, 2009

For this Session

Tuesday, 21st of April, 2009

For this Session


For this session: Answer in writing (1000-2000 words): Are moral judgements neither true nor false?
(Use the arguments and positions you found in McNaughton, Ayer, Smith, and Hare (and Mackie).


For this session: Study McNaughton, Moral Vision, chs. 3, 5, 7.

Further reading: von Hildebrand, Ethics, ch. 17.

2.6.2009: The principle of phenomenal conservatism (Huemer) or of credulity (Swinburne)

9.6.2009, Weakness of Will

For this session, read MV, chs. 8-9 and texts referred to.


For this session, write an essay, 2000 - 3000 words, following the instructions (in German), answering the question:

How is weakness of will possible?

If you want to formulate the question differently, please contact me. Readings:

If you want credits for this course, send me again the essays written for this course by the end of the semester.


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Internet resources

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Core text: McNaughton, David, Moral Vision (1988)

Important texts

Collections of articles:

Further texts:

Vertreter der wichtigsten Positionen (vgl. McNaughton, S. 15):

Free Will

Legal Positivism

(Beachten Sie, daß die Behauptung, daß es objektive moralische Gesetze gibt, noch über die z.B. von McNaughton vertretene Behauptung, daß es objektive moralische Tatsachen gibt hinausgeht. Man kann behaupten, daß es wahre moralische Einzelurteile gibt wie "Müllers Mord an Huber war böse", ohne zu behaupten, daß es wahre moralische Allgemeinurteile gibt wie "Töten ist (immer) böse".)

"Wenn es keinen Gott gibt, gibt es keine objektive Moral"

Zur Einführung in die Philosophie