Spring 2015 Ethics Course Study Questions

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JAN 13

First Day -- no study questions

JAN 15

1. What do Ariely's matrix tests show us about human behavior related to honesty and cheating?

2. What must be true or is more likely to be true about humans given these results?

3. What must be true or is more likely to be true about morality, given these results?

JAN 20

1. What, if anything, does the Zimbardo Experiment tell us about the nature of ethics?

2. How do each of the four aspects of the "divided self" suggest features of the nature of ethics?

JAN 22

1. How do Piaget and Kohlberg reflect the mainstream view of rationalists in developmental psychology of the 60's and 70's?

2. How do Turiel, Schweder, and Haidt's research challenge the view of rationalist developmental psychology?

JAN 27

1. Connect Haidt's criticisms of Piaget and Kohlberg (rationalist psychology) to the more detailed account of their theories in Cooper Chapter 5. Are these and/or Cooper's criticisms justified? What insights, if any, should be saved from the work of these famous psychologists?

2. What sorts of cognitive abilities does "doing ethics" require?

3. Does Kohlberg's theory increase or decrease your confidence in the possibility of an objective developmental scale for moral development?

4. What are Singer's arguments against relativism? Evaluate them.

5. What does Singer propose as a universal condition of ethical justification?

JAN 29

How does Aristotle think about the nature of human happiness?

How does this lead him to connect happiness to virtue?

What is "virtue ethics"?


1. What is philosophy's "rationalist delusion," according to Haidt?

2. How does an evolutionary approach to moral reasoning differ from traditional approaches? Give examples of how results in evolutionary psychology can tell us about moral psychology. What does Haidt think they tell us?

3. What is the Social Intuitionist Model? What is it a model of?


1. How does psychological research support the idea that "intuitions come first"? What does the research in this chapter (Haidt ch. 3) tell us about the role of reason in decision-making?

2. How does this research support the claim that social relationships are important in moral life?

FEB 10

1. What is Aristotle's account of virtue?

2. How does Haidt's discussion of virtue ethics correspond with Aristotle's? In what ways is his focus different?

FEB 12

1. How do the concepts of ignorance, voluntariness, choice, and deliberation enter into Aristotle's account of virtue as a the excellence of the rational soul?

2. Based on Bloom's discussion of disgust in "Bodies" why is it difficult to say whether we should trust a disgust reaction as a reliable moral perception? Are there clear cases in which we should or shouldn't?

  • First Short Answer Question:
  • Explain Haidt's claim that "intuitions come first, reasoning second" and present some of the support for it. How radical a claim is it in relationship to other models or metaphors for consciousness both in previous philosophy and psychology?

FEB 17

1. According to de Waal, how have evolutionists and biologists theorized the relationship between morality and evolution (biology)? What does he find ultimately mistaken about that?

2. What does the evidence from Haidt Chapter 4 suggest about the character and main motivations of the rider?

FEB 19

1. What is empathy and what evidence to we find for empathy in other primates and animals?

2. What might the purpose of an evolved capacity for Theory of Mind (ToM) be?

3. How does evidence about empathy and pro-social preferences of babies and toddlers help us distinguish the aspects of morality that are "hard-wired" and those that are culturally negotiated? How does this evidence help us theorize morality as part of a larger system?

FEB 24

1. What does deWaal's research on monkey fairness tell us about primate morality and human morality?

2. How is "community concern" related to the psychology of in-group behavior?

3. According to Bloom, how do empathy and compassion function in distinct ways and how does empathy motivate compassion?

FEB 26

1. What are Korsgaard's criticisms of Veneer Theory and deWaal's implicit theory of morality? Evaluate them.


1. Where do Singer and deWaal agree and disagree?

2. How does the Singer / Korsgaard writing develop our theme of the relationship of reason to morality. Go back as far as our first Singer reading.


MAR 17

1. How does Haidt view the relationship between our evolved psychology and our cultural psychology? How did his experience in India contribute to this understanding?

2. What is a trigger? How does the initial chart showing "moral foundations" make use of the idea of original and current triggers for values? Evaluate this model.

MAR 19

1. How do differences of political morality map onto the moral foundations Haidt proposes?

2. What are the implications of thinking about moral and political differences in this way? Is it just relativism?

MAR 24

1. How does Haidt provide empirical support for the Moral Foundations Theory?

2. What is the difference between a meta-theory of ethics and a normative ethic theory?

3. What principles and basic intuitions does a libertarian argue from? Why is it hard to classify libertarianism in terms of the politic spectrum?

4. Critically assess the libertarian position.

MAR 26

1. What is Betham's original theory of "hedonic calculus" and how did Mill develop it?

2. How do utilitarians approach rights? Assess.

MAR 31

1. Describe Kant's moral theory both in terms of its historical origins in the Enlightenment and in its own terms. Why should recognize a duty in categorical imperatives? How do they work?

2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Kant's approach to ethics?



1. Reconstruct and evaluate Singer's argument that not trying to alleviate absolute poverty is more like murder than you might think.

2. How does Rawls suggest we approach the problem of choosing principles of justice?

3. Identify and discuss the value of the two principles Rawls identifies. Would you feel compelled to choose these? Are there others you would choose?


1. How does Sach approach his estimate of the resources needed to alleviate absolute poverty?

2. Why is he so confident that the money needed would not require significant sacrifice from the wealthy?

APR 14

1. Why does Haidt think "morality binds and blinds"? What does groupishness have to do with that?

2. What is group selection and why does Haidt think it is a plausible mechanism for accelerating evolution through culture?

APR 16

1. What is "globalization" and how does Singer think a more global world has changed political expectations?

2. What is Singer's analysis of obligations to alleviate the effects of climate change?

APR 21

1. What is the "hive switch" and what is the evidence for Haidt's claims about it.

2. Is there a legitimate function for hive behavior or should we try to stop experiencing it?

3. Is "social capital" real? Should we be concerned about it?

3. Did Europeans make a mistake in altering dance practices?

APR 23

APR 28

1. What do we know about the polarization of politics in the US and the way liberals and conservatives see each other?

2. What insights, if any, can be found in the explanatory account of the emergence of our individual and political identities and the narratives that guide them.

APR 30