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Philosophy 3870: Utilitarianism (W19)

Memorial University of Newfoundland

Class Time and Location: ED 4015 T TH 2-315 pm.
Instructor: Dr. James Scott Johnston (sjohnston12@mun.ca), 864-6924.
Office Hours: 12-1 pm TU TH ED 5002 in Hickman Hall or, if necessary, by special appointment.
Prerequisite: Philosophy 1200 or special permission from the instructor or the head of the Philosophy Department.

Required Texts:

Jeremy Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation http://www.econlib.org/library/Bentham/bnthPML.html
John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism and Other Writings, ed. M. Warnock, New York: Meridian Books, 1962. http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/pdf/millutil.pdf
Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, 7th ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1907. http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/pdf/sidgmeth.pdf

These texts will be supplemented by texts from other authors as digital versions, including

Phillipa Foot. “The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of the Double Effect.”
Smart, J.J.C. 'Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism'
McCloskey, H.J. “An Examination of Restricted Utilitarianism”
John Harsanyi, “Rule Utilitarianism and Decision Theory.”
Richard Brandt. “Toward a Credible Form of Utilitarianism”
Robert Adams: "Motive Utilitarianism."
R.M. Hare. “Moral Thinking”
Peter Railton. “How Thinking about Character and Utilitarianism Might Lead to Rethinking the Character of Utilitarianism.”

General Requirements:

There were three major meta-ethical schools of thought in the 20th century: virtue ethics, deontology, and utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is the unique British contribution to moral philosophy and jurisprudence, beginning the late 18th century. Utilitarianism is a universalistic ethics. Thus it shares with deontology a strong role and scope for principle. However, unlike deontology, utilitarianism is based in a theory of happiness. Happiness is the ‘ultimate end’ of this school thought. Together with happiness, utilitarianism concentrates on the maximization of pleasure and minimization of pain. Utilitarianism has been an extremely important moral theory particularly through its application to theories of law, economics, and distributive justice. It has been beneficial in helping philosophers to come to terms with problems of scarce resources, resource distribution, law and legal matters, and rights and social justice. There are classical variants of utilitarianism represented by Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Henry Sidgwick, and (more) modern variants, represented by JJC Smart, Richard Brandt, John Harsanyi, and R.M. Hare. We will look at both the classical and modern variants; however the focus will be on the classical thinkers. We will also spend some time on some famous criticisms of utilitarianism, including dilemmas in decision theory, universality, and the fairness (or lack thereof) of distribution regarding scarce resources.
This course is a third-level, advanced course in philosophy, yet is suitable for interested students in their second year of studies who have completed the prerequisite Philosophy 1200, and students who have obtained special permission from the instructor or the head of the department. The class proceeds by lectures and discussion on text assignments announced in class. The lectures assume that the required portion of the assigned text has been read before the lecture. Students will be asked to participate in discussions of the texts on that assumption. Although marks are based on the required papers, the topics assigned, the questions asked, problems suggested, and the portions of texts emphasized will be indicated by and arise out of the discussion within the lectures. For this reason, attendance at all lectures is mandatory.

Evaluation:

Paper #1 25%
Paper #2 25%
Paper# 3 25%
Seminar lead-in/Presentation: 25%

Each student will lead the class in the assigned readings twice. This will include a 10 minute discussion of the reading followed by a short (5 min) discussion of a phrase or idea of importance or (conversely) a critique of a phrase or idea. This will set off the overall class discussion. Seminar presenters are then responsible for addressing questions/concerns of other students as the discussion of key passages progresses.

Papers are 4-5 pages in length, typed, double-spaced, 12 font, with at least one inch margins. Paper topics are open, but should be decided in consultation with the instructor. Dates for paper submissions will be decided at the beginning of the course. Papers must be handed in at the beginning of class on the day they are due in hard copy. Electronically submitted papers will not be accepted.

Late papers will be penalized by 5% per day. No essay will be accepted more than four
weeks after the day it was due. Medical or excuses for other emergencies will be granted only if proper documentation is provided. REQUESTS FOR EXTENSIONS MUST BE MADE IN PERSON, AND NOT BY E-MAIL, BEFORE THE ASSIGNED DUE
DATE OR THEY WILL NOT BE CONSIDERED.

Grading:

A Excellent 80-100%
B Good 65-79%
C Satisfactory 55-64%
D Minimally Acceptable 50-54%
F Failing below 50%

Note on Marking Papers:

As much attention as possible will be devoted to marking papers for form as
well as content (indeed, form and content are not properly separable, and clear development of a thesis
depends on a sound and effective writing style.) I will use a rubric, which will be made available at the beginning of the course.

Use of Recording Devices in the Classroom:

I am open to students using recording devices provided they clear their use with me beforehand.

Intellectual Honesty:

Students are reminded of the University policy on intellectual honesty, especially that part which pertains to plagiarism and self-plagiarism (see the Memorial University Calendar p. 63).
Plagiarism and self-plagiarism are forms of academic fraud; complaints or allegations of such are subject to the adjudication of the Senate Discipline Committee.

Statement on Students with Disabilities:

Students with permanent or temporary disabilities who would
like to discuss classroom accommodations are asked to see the instructor as soon as possible.

Course Syllabus Outline: 

Week 1: Introduction and Historical Context
Class 1: Introduction
Class 2: Conceptions of utility in 18th century British moral philosophy
David Hume, Treatise on Human Nature part III Section I: 575-591
Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments: part IV: 179-193

Part One: Classical Utilitarianism

Week 2: Bentham
Class 1: Principles of Morals and Legislation Ch 1-2
Class 2: Principles of Morals and Legislation Ch 3-4

Week 3: Bentham/Mill
Class 1: Principles of Morals and Legislation Ch 5
Class 2: On Bentham

Week 4: Mill
Class 1: On Bentham
Class 2: Utilitarianism Ch1 (First Essay Due)

Week 5: Mill
Class 1: Utilitarianism Ch 2
Class 2: Utilitarianism Ch 3

Week 6: Sidgwick
Class 1: The Methods of Ethics Introduction; Book 1 Chapter II-III
Class 2: The Methods of Ethics Book I Chapters IV-VI

Week 7: Sidgwick
Class 1: The Methods of Ethics Book 1 Chapters VI-IX
Class 2: The Methods of Ethics Book IV Chapters 1-III (Second Essay Due)

Week 8 Sidgwick
Class 1: The Methods of Ethics Book IV: Chapter IV-V
Class 2: The Methods of Ethics Book IV Concluding Chapter

Part Two: Utilitarianism in the 20th Century: Problems and Prospects

Week 9 Act and Rule Utilitarianism
Class 1: Smart, J.J.C. 'Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism'; McCloskey, H.J. An Examination of Restricted Utilitarianism
Class 2: Trolley Problems and Prisoner’s Dilemmas: Phillipa Foot. “The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of the Double Effect.”

Week 10: Economics, Preference and Motive Utilitarianism
Class 1: Utilitarianism in Decision Theory and Economics: John Harsanyi, “Rule Utilitarianism and Decision Theory.”
Class 2: Richard Brandt: Toward a Credible Form of Utilitarianism”; Robert Adams: "Motive Utilitarianism."

Week 11: Two-level Utilitarianism and Deontology
Class 1: Deontology confronts Utilitarianism: Hare, R.M. Moral Thinking (Third Essay Due)
Class 2: Hare, R.M. Moral Thinking

Week 12: Utilitarianism and Justice, for and against
Class 1: Rawls, J. A Theory of Justice
Class 2: The Last Word; Railton, P. “How Thinking about Character and Utilitarianism Might Lead to Rethinking the Character of Utilitarianism.”

Assignment Worksheet

Part 1: Content (MOST IMPORTANT)
Does the paper:
Have a clearly defined thesis?
Support the thesis throughout the paper by providing evidence, examples, and arguments?
Contain a good deal of textual work?
Consider and respond to possible objections to the thesis?
Contain rigorous argument, discussion, and engagement with the text(s)?
Express your ideas in your words?
Clearly distinguish your ideas and words from those of any other authors you use?

Part II: Structure
Does the paper have:
A thesis statement in the opening paragraph?
A formal introduction or introductory paragraph which tells the reader exactly what the layout of the paper will be? In other words:
Could the reader use the formal introduction as an outline for the paper, classifying each and every paragraph of the body of the paper under some part of the formal introduction? (except for the conclusion, which is not the same as the body of the paper?)
Clear conceptual divisions that correspond to what you have promised to do in the formal introduction? (Recommendation: make this clear to the reader and yourself by using subheadings in the paper to convey the divisions).
A conclusion which sums up what you have done and then ties it together in some way that goes beyond the overview of the introduction?

Part III: Process, Communication, and Polish
In preparing the final draft, have you:
Inspected each paragraph to make sure it is actually doing work in the paper? Each paragraph should contribute to the clear conceptual division it falls under (see previous checkpoint).
Revised any sentences which are confusing or redundant? Ask yourself, when in doubt, “what is this sentence doing here?” Does it: explain, clarify, illustrate, help to provide an example, etc.
Edited the paper for grammar, spelling, diction, and general clarity? Remember, what you want to say must be communicated—grammar, spelling, etc., are necessary parts of such communication.
The length of the paper is limited to whatever the limit is? (or to the absolute max). If the paper exceeds the absolute maximum, cut it down—you will find sentences (perhaps even paragraphs) that are unnecessary. If you cannot, consult me.

Part IV: Logistics
Before handing the paper in have you made sure that:
You have properly acknowledged all uses of an author’s ideas, whether in his/her own words or in yours, in the text? This applies to any scholarly material as well.
All quotations and uses of an author’s ideas are properly cited and formatted?
You have a proper Works Cited page? These would be the readings you have used in the paper; see any manual of style for this.
The paper is properly typed (or prepared with a word processor)? You have proof-read it carefully for typing and other errors.
Double-spacing is used throughout (except perhaps, for footnotes and endnotes)?
The paper is stapled?
The paper has a title and your name on the page?

Other recommendations for your Paper:
Pick (or craft) a topic which genuinely interests you
Highlight or emphasize central words in your paper topic such as ‘compare,’ ‘explain,’ ‘support,’ and others like these.
Brainstorm or write freely in order to get the draft going
Use an OUTLINE, even if you do not like to; but remember, it is a tool, not a stone tablet
Write a rough draft of the paper (this is different from the first draft)
Revise this draft into the first draft
Keep using your outline (which is not carved in stone—revise the outline if the paper changes)
Keep using your outline throughout your drafting by comparing what you have written with the requirements of the outline (which is not carved in stone—revise the outline if the paper changes)
Consult me at any time in the process of preparing the paper—that’s what I’m here for
Use the resources of the WRITING CENTRE, located in SN 2053 (the science bldg.), 737-3168, email: writing@mun.ca (Bring any assignment sheet with you, including this one).
Use standard formats for citation and other stylistic issues: which format you use is up to you (MLA, APA, Chicago/Turabian, etc.) but it should be clear in the paper.

Detailed Rubric and Worksheet for Grading

University Standards Grade Work that Receives this Grade
“A” indicates excellent performance with clear evidence of: comprehensive knowledge of the subject matter and principles treated in the course; a high degree of originality and independence of thought; a superior ability to organize and analyze ideas; and an outstanding ability to communicate
(80-100%)

A+

 

 

 

A

Exceptional work showing exceptional effort; no problems at all, either in form or content; well-organized; written assignments and papers have theses unless otherwise indicated; the thesis is developed well and thoroughly throughout the paper; it is supported throughout by evidence and argument; arguments are well-developed and well-connected throughout; evidence throughout of original and critical thinking; thorough knowledge and understanding of textual material; excellent use of textual material; textual arguments interpreted carefully and creatively; excellent and compelling writing throughout; this work is also very sensitive to issues raised in class.
  A- Excellent work; no major problems; few or no minor problems; well-organized; written assignments and papers have theses; thesis is well-developed and supported by evidence and argument; arguments are usually developed well and well-connected; evidence of original and critical thinking; very good knowledge, understanding, and use of textual material; good interpretation of textual material; very good writing; sensitive to issues raised in class.
“B” indicates good performance with evidence of: substantial knowledge of the subject-matter, a moderate degree of originality and thought; a good ability to organize and analyze ideas, and an ability to communicate clearly and fluently.
(65-79%)

B+

 

 

B

Very good work; no major problems; some minor problems; organized; thesis in written assignments and papers; thesis developed and supported by evidence and argument; arguments developed and connected, though usually needing more connection and more creative synthesizing; sometimes more reflection on the material; some creative or critical thinking; good knowledge, understanding, and use of textual material; good writing; good awareness of issues raised in class.
  B- Good work but usually a major problem plus minor problems; organization can be weak; theses in written assignments and papers; thesis not developed or supported enough by evidence and argument; not good enough development or connection of arguments; often some very good ideas but weakly supported; satisfactory knowledge and understanding of textual material and OK use of textual material; writing OK but needs improvement; awareness of issues raised in class; THIS IS OFTEN A ROUGH DRAFT.
“C” indicates satisfactory performance with evidence of: an acceptable grasp of the subject-matter; some ability to organize and analyze ideas; and an ability to communicate adequately.
(55-64%)

C+

 

 

C

Some good work and often interesting ideas; major problems; many minor problems; vague or undeveloped theses; not much evidence or argument for thesis; some satisfactory knowledge or understanding of textual material; some OK use of textual material; writing is sometimes OK but often vague or confusing; many generalizations without specific argument; some awareness of issues raised in class.
  C- Interesting ideas; many major problems; many minor problems; vague or undeveloped theses; not much evidence or argument for thesis; some satisfactory knowledge or understanding of textual material; some OK use of textual material; writing is sometimes OK but often vague or confusing; many generalizations without specific argument; some awareness of issues raised in class.
“D” indicates minimally acceptable performance with evidence of: rudimentary knowledge of the subject-matter; some evidence that organizational and analytical skills have been developed, but with significant weaknesses in some areas, and a significant weakness in the ability to communicate
(50-54%)

D+

 

 

 

D

Many major and minor problems; virtually no thesis, argument, or evidence; only a passing acquaintance with textual material; poor use of it; writing frequently vague or confusing; topic, assignment, or question very poorly addressed; rudimentary awareness of issues raised in class.
“F” indicates the student has handed in an incomplete assignment; plagiarized and/or attempted to pass off another’s assignment as one’s own; or did not hand in the assignment.
(Below 50%)
F For plagiarism, F = Zero. For partially completed assignments, or (very) late assignments, the grade will be dependent upon final completion and submission. You will still get points (below 50%) if you turn in a very late or incomplete assignment by the end of term.

 

 

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