Ethical Theory: A Touchstone for Morality?

Instructor:  Sara Shute

  • Thursday Morning
  • 9:30 – 11:30 AM

Can ethical theory provide a touchstone for moral questions? Yes, says Aristotle (and the Stoics), with “virtue ethics.” Yes, says Immanuel Kant, with the categorical imperative. Yes, says J.S. Mill, with utilitarianism. Virtue ethics, Kant’s categorical imperative, and utilitarianism are the main competing ethical theories. We will examine and critique each of these in turn. In contrast to all three, we will consider what pragmatist Richard Rorty (1931-2007) has to say about ethical theory itself. He doesn’t believe it can provide a touchstone for much of anything. Rorty believes ethical theory is a misguided and fruitless search for a timeless, ahistorical authority to subject ourselves to. We will consider his rationale for this.

No class limit. No required text.

Sara Shute received her Ph.D. in philosophy in 1977 from Washington University in St. Louis. She taught philosophy for 26 years at Marietta College in southeast Ohio, and was an adjunct professor of philosophy at four of the University of Maine Campuses and Colby College. She has taught many such courses at Senior College.