Ethics: An Introduction

A Romp Through Ethics for Complete Beginners 

A Romp through Ethics

A Romp through Ethics

Human beings have been studying ethics for over two thousand years. We do not yet have all the answers. But we do have a few theories that are serious contenders for the correct theory. In this series of seven lectures, made in 2011, I examine four of the most popular ethical theories (Virtue Ethics, Non-Cognitivism, Kantianism (Deontology) and Utilitarianism).

I start, however, by looking at some common beliefs about morality (e.g. it must involves general rules or principles), and by examining the pre-conditions of ethical reasoning.

Each of the seven lectures is available in audio or video.

This series is the basis for OUDCE’s short online course Ethics: an Introduction

Looking contemplative

Looking contemplative

Lecture One:Rules, Truths and Theories: An Introduction to Ethical Reasoning

Lecture Two: Freedom, Knowledge and Society: The Pre-conditions of Ethical Reasoning

Lecture Three: Virtue Ethics: Virtues, Values and Character

Lecture Four:Humean Ethics: Non-Cognitivism, The Passions and Moral Motivation

Lecture Five: Deontology: Kant, Duty and The Moral Law

Lecture Six: Utilitarianism: Mill and the Utility Calculus

Lecture Seven: Making Up Your Mind

13 Responses to Ethics: An Introduction

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  5. David Johnson says:

    Hi Marianne,

    I have been listening with great interest and enjoyment to your Podcast ‘A Romp through Ethics’. So far I have listened to all the lectures up to and including the one on the Kantian deontological view of morality. Something you said during this particular lecture took me by surprise and it is why I am writing to you now.

    In this lecture you discussed Kant’s concept of the categorical imperative and its central position in his moral philosophy; the idea that if a thing is ‘right’ then that is the thing you ‘should’ or ‘ought’ or ‘must’ do. You then asked your audience to consider the logical force of this idea and declared that Kant required the moral agent to have a ‘reverence’ for the moral law and furthermore you said that you found its positive logical force ‘moving’.

    At this point I should declare an interest; I have recently completed an MA in Philosophy with the Open University. In my dissertation I argued in support of Simon Blackburn’s non-cognitivist, Quasi-Realist approach to morality. As you pointed out in your lecture on moral non-cognitivism, this view denies or at least down-plays the importance of reason, or beliefs or truth conditions in moral decision making. Instead the moral non-cognitivist regards the moral decision to be in essence an emotion or passion-based psychological event or ‘pro-attitude’.

    I recognise that one can have an emotional response to something that is intrinsically devoid of emotional content – ’I love my new car’ does not imply that my car can love me or anyone else come to that. When it comes to statements about moral judgements, to declare yourself ‘moved’ by the logical force or ‘rightness’ of a theory is one thing but to then assert that such moral judgements are devoid or at least to have a depleted emotional content, is quite another. It seems both contradictory and counter intuitive; Surely the emotional response (together with Kant’s call for ‘reverence’) tends to lend weight to the non-cognitivist view that emotions are a prominent and arguably constitutive element of value judgements.
    David Johnson

    • Marianne says:

      Hi David,

      I am sorry for the delay in replying! Middle of term! I am delighted you are enjoying the ethics podcasts. I think I mist have been talking about Kant’s argument for the CI – Kant believes that ‘Doing A is right’ entails ‘I ought to do A’ (i.e. that one cannot believe the former without believing the latter). This is a very different approach to the quasi-realist or expressionist approach. It is Kant’s argument I find moving – I see the logical force of the argument. I didn’t mean I was(am) emotionally moved by it.

      I think anyone rational can be moved by an argument they perceive to be good: that is what it is in fact to be rational. The idea of a hypothetical imperative (to which Hume is committed) also requires that one with the beliefs and desires of the premises must see the conclusion as an imperative (i.e. he must be moved by it).

      Kant would reject the idea that any action prompted by desire could be moral. He was not denying that emotions could be involved: at any one time we might have lots of reasons for actin: but not all of them will be moral.

      I hope you enjoyed doing your MA? You will have read Simon’s book on Expressivism? It is a brilliant book.


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