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Trevor Hedberg

The introduction to Russ Shafer-Landau's _The Fundamentals of Ethics_ has worked fairly well in the last two ethics courses I have taught. It has a lot of terms that will be new to students, though, so I recommend splitting up the material over at least 2 class sessions and unpacking the concepts in depth. If your university library has a copy of this book on hand, it might be worth a look.

Shane Ralston

Peter Singer's "About Ethics," first chapter in his Writings on an Ethical Life

I used it for years as a job talk/teaching demo and even wrote an article about it for the journal Teaching Philosophy: https://www.academia.edu/21744322/An_Outline_for_a_Brief_Teaching_Demonstration_On_the_Distinction_between_Ethics_and_Morality


I will also be teaching intro to ethics for the first time this fall and have been compiling a list of readings. I plan to begin by talking about relativism, if only to demonstrate to students that it is a harder view to maintain than may seem. To that end, I will be assigning Rachels (which I take to be standard). I think it's a good piece, partly in virtue of the fact that it is flawed in ways that are pedagogically useful to talk about. For one thing, Rachels vacillates between different, non-synonymous terms (e.g., "culture" and "society").

I also plan to assign the following 2 readings in the section on relativism:

- A short story by Mike Resnick called "Kirinyaga". I expect it to be great fodder for student discussion. See wikipedia for a plot summary (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirinyaga_(short_story)

- A piece in the New York Times in which Paul Boghossian suggests that the rational response to the idea that there are no "absolute moral facts" is not relativism but nihilism. (https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/the-maze-of-moral-relativism/)

I share Marcus' worries about textbooks and plan to assign primary sources. I am also on the fence about how many theories to cover. I'd like to avoid a completely Western syllabus but have yet to find nice, succinct readings for Confucian ethics and am unfamiliar with The Analects, so cannot prepare an excerpt. I'd also like to include a section on Buddhism, but don't know where to look for good readings. I welcome recommendations.

Michel X.

I like using James Rachels's "Can Ethics Provide Answers?" and excerpts from Hugh Lafollette's "Theorizing About Ethics" (from "Ethics in Practice").

Alternately, you could just have them read and discuss Ursula K. LeGuin's (very) short story "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas," which is a fictional meditation on the dangers of taking consequentialism too far. As a work of fiction, it's very accessible, and makes for good introductory fodder even when students haven't yet learned anything about different approaches to ethics. It gives you a solid opening to talk about what ethics is, what it aims to do, what kinds of questions and problems it addresses, etc. And it gives you a touchstone thought experiment for the rest of the semester.

Sam Duncan

This is a really good thread and I'm interested to see what people add. I'm not entirely happy with the start of my own ethics class and I would like to add something that gives students a better idea of what philosophical ethics is about (and what it is an isn't).
One thing I'd add to what Marcus said about textbooks: The biggest issue for me with textbooks is how much they cost, and that's why I'm making an effort not to use them in any of my classes. Some introductory ethics textbooks are well over a $100, and you will be hard pressed to find one for less than $40. I teach at a community college and I can't in good conscience ask my students to spend that on a textbook. It's clear to me that textbook publishers (even supposedly reputable ones) are exploiting students, and I don't feel so great about helping them do so.


Sam, Regarding the cost of textbooks, I think both the Shafer-Landau and the Deigh can be had relatively cheaply.

Also, if people have introduction to ethics syllabi they are especially proud of, I'd be keen to see them. I'd love to see an intro syllabus where the readings are sufficiently conceptually broad, are digestible by ordinary students, i.e., not just those students who self-select into philosophy at R1 schools, and reflect a range of authors and perspectives (such that it is not just the western tradition/the old dead white guys + some seasoning). One reason I've been inclined toward a Shafer-Landau / Deigh-style course is the legwork required to put together a curated syllabus of readings that would satisfy those desiderata. But if someone else has done that work already...


Also, as a more pedagogical matter, I've been torn between using primary and secondary materials. There are a bunch of skills I want students to work on, and I cannot decide whether doing a bit of history of philosophy or reading pretty high-level and out-of-context professional writing are skills I want to spend too much time on in an intro class. (Compare, for instance, the use of textbooks in much of economics, perhaps.) So using secondary materials allows me more time to have them doing their own conceptual analysis, raising objections (Marcus, perhaps this is a virtue that the secondary writings-up aren't always as good as you'd like), application to real life, etc.

On the other hand, some of the best pleasure of philosophy is wading into the muck, so I might be denying my intro students that if I go with secondary materials.

Sam Duncan

Shafer Landau is about 40 new and Deigh is about 30. Neither is a terrible price but neither is great either; especially considering that the Deigh is only about 250 pages and both are softcover (For comparison one should note that very long hardcover books usually sell for less than 30 on amazon and that Hackett's nearly 2000 page hardcover collected works of Plato is less than 60). I know that both Deigh and Shafer Landau can be had more cheaply used, but that requires a lot of foresight from students if one is to get the books in time. Especially if one is relying on financial aid and student loans. I guess I might be more comfortable asking students to pay something like 30 or 40 if I thought any of the intro ethics books I'd looked at were great, but they range from really bad to good but flawed in my experience. Personally I've liked both of Lewis Vaughn's introductory ethics books a fair amount, but I stopped using them when I asked myself if I would be satisfied if I had to pay 40 and 80 for them respectively and the answer was no. I really wish someone would put together a good OER ethics textbook. I know some people are working on an open general intro book (see here: http://dailynous.com/2017/04/20/open-textbook-introduction-philosophy-guest-post-christina-hendricks/) but sadly I don't know of anyone working on one focused only on ethics.


A well-curated syllabus of readings I could get students for free (attuned to my perhaps idiosyncratic tastes) or an open-source textbook would be a fantastic discovery. The sets of affordable and quality and not overly demanding for my own time don't seem to overlap very much.

Chris Rice

One inexpensive anthology I use is Ethics: The Essential Writings, edited Gordon Marino. It is currently $9.56 new on Amazon. It has historical and contemporary essays, mostly ethical theory but a few on applied issues. It just has the selections and a 1-2 page biography for each thinker, so not a textbook, but still a nice resource!

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