Georgia Institute of Technology

School of Public Policy

Program in Philosophy, Science, & Technology

Spring 2000


SKILES 314 MW 1:30-3:00


Professor Lorenzo Magnani

Office: 201 DM Smith

Phone: 894-1232 (leave message if no answer)


Office hours: W 3:00-4:00 and by appointment


An examination of the nature and processes of ethical theories and judgments: methods, aims, and results. Ethics, epistemology, and cognitive science. Practical ethical issues.


We will examine the nature of ethical knowledge and of ethical judgment: methods, aims, and results. Issues to be explored will include: What relations are there between ethics, epistemology, and cognitive science? What is the status of the knowledge ethics produces? What counts as progress in ethics? Is ethical deliberation a reasoned and creative process? What kinds of reasoning are involved in ethical deliberation? We will examine these issues both from the perspective of traditional core notions and contemporary challenges to these. In developing topics, examples will be drawn from real cases.


To introduce students to the philosophical and theoretical foundations of ethics; to contemporary issues in ethical knowledge; to the role of the various kinds of reasoning in ethical deliberation.


Reading: approximately 50/70 pages/week

Writings: a brief take-home essay due at midterm: 40% of grade

Final: in class or take-home essays covering the material of the lectures, readings, and discussions: 60% of grade

Due dates for assignments are firm deadlines. They will be announced well in advance, so please plan accordingly. There is no room in the schedule to fall behind. Institute regulations do not allow the grade of incomplete to be given except in cases of extreme emergency.

I Introduction to Ethical Theories

January 10 & 12: Introduction. Morality and Cultural Relativism.

Readings: Rachels, Chapters I-II.

January 17 (MLK Day, no classes) & 19: Subjectivism.

Readings: Rachels, Chapter III.

January 24 & 26: Ethics and Religion, Egoism, Utilitarianism.

Readings: Rachels, Chapters IV-VII.

January 31 & February 2: Absolutism, Kantism, Social Contract Theory of Moral.

Readings: Rachels, Chapters VIII-XI.

February 7 & 9: Feminism, Virtue Ethics, Conclusions.

Readings: Rachels, Chapters XII-XIV.

II Ethics, Epistemology, and Cognitive Science

February 14 & 16: Moral Law Folk Theory, Metaphorical Reasoning and Ethics.

Readings: Johnson, Chapters I-II.

February 21 & 23: Reasoning and Ethics, The Objectivist Self.

Readings: Johnson, Chapters III and VI.

February 28 & March 1:


March 13 & 15: Narratives, Self, Action and Moral Imagination.

Readings: Johnson, Chapters VII-VIII.

March 20 & 22: Absolutism and Relativism, Moral Ideals.

Readings: Johnson, Chapters IX-X

III Ethics in Practice

March 27 & 29: Introduction. Euthanasia and Suicide.

Readings: LaFollette, pp. 3-10, Chapters 1, 2, 4.

April 3 & 5: Abortion, Animals.

Readings: LaFollette, Chapters 5, 7, 8, 9.

April 10 & 12: Servility, Self-respect, Generosity. Drugs.

Readings: LaFollette, Chapters 23, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29.

April 17 & 19: Free Speech. Racism. Oppression.

Readings: LaFollette, Chapters 31, 34, 36, 37.

April 24 & 26: Affirmative Action. Punishment. Environment.

Readings: LaFollette, Chapters 41, 42, 44, 45, 48, 49, 58.


M. JOHNSON, Moral Imagination. Implications of Cognitive Science for Ethics, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1993.

H. LAFOLLETTE (ed.), Ethics in Practice. An Anthology, Blackwell, Oxford, 1997.

J. RACHELS, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, McGraw-Hill, Boston, 1999 (third edition).