Spring 2016 Ethics Course Study Questions

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JAN 12

JAN 14

1. What did Ariely's research show about human moral behavior with respect to cheating?

2. What does this research tell us about cheating, lying, and other moral behaviors?

3. What, if anything, does this research tell us about the nature of ethics?

JAN 19

1. How does ethics involve different levels of justification?

2. What was the Zimbardo experiment and what does it tell us about the nature of ethics?

3. What do the four aspects of the "divided self" (in Haidt's article) tell us about ethics?

JAN 21

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?

3. Evaluate Haidt's claim that ethics is not about discerning truths so much as furthering social agendas. What strikes you as attractive or problematic about that view?

JAN 26

1. Reviewing Kohlberg's theory of moral development, what seems most compelling about it as an account of moral development? Present and evaluate criticisms of it in light of your reading of Haidt.

2. How does Singer argue against relativism and subjectivism? In what ways does he grant that ethics is not as objective as physics?

JAN 28

1. What is Aristotle's approach to ethics? What sort of ethical theory does he offer?

2. How does the Golden Mean help us find virtue?


1. What is philosophy's "rationalist delusion" according to Haidt and how does biology, evolutionary psychology challenge it?

2. How does an evolutionary psychologist look at emotion differently than Plato did?

3. What is Haidt's Social Intuitionist model of ethics? How relativistic is it?


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 11

FEB 16

1. What is Veneer Theory, who believes it and why? What's at stake in believing it or not?

2. What thesis does the evidence in Haidt Chapter 4 support? What view of intelligence and politics does Haidt move toward as a result of this evidence? Evaluate.

FEB 18

1. What is de Waal's view of empathy and how does he support it with research and anecdote?

FEB 23

1. What evidence does de Waal present for the existence of reciprocity and fairness behaviors in chimps and capuchin monkeys?

2. How does de Waal theorize "primacy of affect" by reference to Mencius and the idea of a "community of concern"?

3. What is the future of empathy and compassion as part of human morality? Should we shift from emotional to cognitive judgements in cases of response to human suffering? In what circumstances? What principles should govern the extension of empathy and compassion beyond kin and in groups?

FEB 25

1. What is Korsgaard's view of Veneer Theory?

2. What is K's view of de Waal's "continuity thesis"?

3. How would Haidt respond to her argument?


1. What is Singer's critical response to de Waal's Veneer theory?

2. How does Singer see the relationship between reason and emotion in moral decision-making. Are there other possibilities?


MAR 15

1. What is the evidentiary basis for Haidt's identification of WEIRD culture? What's wrong with being WEIRD?

2. How should we understand the metaphor of "moral taste receptors" in the 1st draft of the moral foundations (CFLAS)? Are they still relevant?

MAR 17

1. How does Haidt develop the rationales for the moral foundations he postulates?

2. Is it odd that the picture of politics in H's theory is so different from our experience of it?

MAR 22

1. How does Haidt provide empirical support for the moral foundation theory? Why does he propose a sixth foundation?

2. What is the contrast between the Millian and Durkheimian visions of society?

3. How people rely in different ways on the moral foundations across the political spectrum?

4. What are some key insights of libertarianism? What truths or viewpoints does it have difficulty responding to?

MAR 24

1. How do utilitarians theorize moral goodness?

2. How do utilitarians defend the theory against criticisms?

3. In what moral situations would this theory be most useful and least useful?

MAR 29

1. How do Kantians theorize moral goodness?

2. How do Kantians defend the theory against criticisms?

3. In what moral situations would this theory be most useful and least useful?

MAR 31

1. How does Rawls propose that we pick principles of justice? What options would we exclude/include?

2. Is it a problem that Rawls argues against morally arbitrary criteria for distribution, but settles on a morally arbitrary criterion himself?


1. Evaluate the analogy between not giving money to alleviate absolute poverty and murder. How close it the connection?

2. Evaluate Singer's arguments for his "comparable worth" principle.

3. Can we afford to help the bottom billion? Should we?


Topic Day!

APR 12

1. Are there good moral grounds for moving from a nation state political morality to an internationalist or globalist morality?

2. What are the right principles of fairness for addressing climate change?

APR 14

1. Is "enlightened self-interest" a sufficient model of human motivation to explain how we experience our moral foundations or do we need multi-level selection theory?

2. What is the evidence for multi-level selection theory? How does it help account for our groupishness?

APR 19

1. What is the "hive switch" and what are the characteristic ways that it is activated? How did Durkheim theorize it?

2. Critically evaluate the approach of modern individualistic cultures (like the U.S.) to hive behavior? Is the hive just a traditional psychological response that is changing radically or is it something valuable that we should try to maintain in its traditional forms? Or some third possibility?

APR 21

1. Is (was) religion generally adaptive for human cultures, is it a side effect or epiphenomenon of other traits, or is it a mistake to even think about religion as defined by it's natural history? (In other words, to what extent does the natural history of religion tell us about the nature of religion?)

2. If religions are adapative, what is the status of their specific beliefs?

3. Critically assess Haidt's definition of morality.

APR 26

1. Use this last chapter to add detail to previous study questions which touch on Haidt's explanations of how we come to hold political views?

2. What are the insights and blindspots of liberalism, libertarianism, and social conservatism?

3. What are some practical methods for implementing the change in approach that Haidt encourages in this concluding chapter?

APR 28