Course syllabus

 

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SEMESTER 1, 2018

15 points


Course Convenor and Teacher: 

Tim Mulgan  t.mulgan@auckland.ac.nz

Course Delivery:

One 2-hour seminar per week

(Timetable and room details can be viewed on Student Services Online)

Course Description:              

This module will cover some central topics in recent moral theory, especially within the Utilitarian tradition. The first part of the course will focus on Derek Parfit’s Reasons and Persons (Oxford, 1986), while the second part will address debates between Consequentialism and Contractualism. Topics will include: individual and collective responsibility, the rationality of self-interest and temporal partiality, the moral significance of personal identity, the aggregation of moral reasons, and the imposition of risk. We will be asking questions such as the following: Are individuals responsible for the actions of groups they belong to? Is it rational to care more about your own near future than your distant future? What matters in personal survival? How should I balance my obligations to my future self against my obligations to others? How should we aggregate the competing moral complaints of different people? When it is morally acceptable to impose risks on others?

 Preliminary Reading:

The best introduction to the issues and methods covered in the first part of the course is to look at Parfit's Reasons and Persons, Part One, Two, or Three.

For an overview of the types of issues we will be covering in the second part of the course, see the entry by Elizabeth Ashford and Tim Mulgan on 'Contractualism' in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy available online at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/contractualism/

 Readings.

The set text for the first eight weeks of the course is Parfit’s Reasons and Persons, which is available as an e-book through the University of Auckland library. (It is also available in hardback, paperback, and kindle editions.) 

Most other readings are available electronically through the University of Auckland library. If an essential reading is not available electronically, a scanned copy will be available on Canvas. If you have any difficulty accessing the material, please contact the lecturer.

 One very useful source of readings for the first eight weeks of the course is Reading Parfit – a collection of essays on Reasons and Persons edited by Jonathan Dancy. Unfortunately, this book is no available electronically, and copyright restrictions mean that I cannot get more than one chapter scanned. I have therefore requested that the hard copy of this book be placed on Short Loan in the library. 

A bibliography of works by Parfit, with electronic links to many items, can be found online at: http://www.stafforini.com/blog/derek-parfit-a-bibliography/ 

General Information.

Lecture Times: Monday 2 – 4 pm. 

Lecturer and Course Coordinator: Professor Tim Mulgan

Office hours: Monday 4:30 – 5:30.

Office Location: Room 409, Arts 1, Level 4.

Email: t.mulgan@auckland.ac.nz

Assessment: TWO Essays, maximum of 3,000 words each. (This includes all text, footnotes, headings, and bibliography.) There is no final examination.

If you are unable to meet the essay deadline, please apply to the course coordinator for an extension. Essays submitted after the deadline without an extension will incur penalties as follows. If your essay is up to one week late, it will lose 5%. If your essay is between one and two weeks late, it will lose 10%. Essays submitted more than two weeks late without an extension will not be marked.

The first essay is due on Friday 4th May 2018 at 4 pm.

The second essay is due on Friday 8th June 2018 at 4 pm.

Essays should be submitted electronically via Canvas.

Essay Topics: The course is divided into THREE sections. You must choose topics from TWO different sections (i.e., you cannot write both essays on the same section of the course).

Section One: Answer ONE of the following questions:

  1. Select an argument presented by Parfit in Part One or Part Two of Reasons and Persons. Carefully explain that argument and then critically evaluate it.
  2. Is S self-defeating? Is this an objection to S? How does Parfit answer these questions? Is his answer plausible?
  3. Is C self-defeating? Is this an objection to C? How does Parfit answer these questions? Is his answer plausible?
  4. In Part One of Reasons and Persons, Parfit raises problems for both Consequentialism (C) and Common-Sense Morality (M). Which of the two theories is more threatened by Parfit’s problems? How serious is that threat?
  5. In Chapter 3 of Reasons and Persons, Parfit claims to identify five ‘mistakes in moral mathematics’. What are those mistakes? Are they really mistaken? What is the moral significance of recognising those mistakes? (You can concentrate on one or more mistakes that you think are particularly interesting.)
  6. Does Parfit establish in Parts One and Two of Reasons and Persons that we should reject S?
  7. Is it rational to be biased towards the future? Is it irrational not to have this bias? (Discuss with reference to chapter 8 of Reasons and Persons.)
  8. Does Parfit establish in Part Two of Reasons and Persons that P is superior to S?

Section Two: Answer ONE of the following questions:

  1. Select an argument presented by Parfit in Part Three of Reasons and Persons. Carefully explain that argument and then critically evaluate it.
  2. Does Parfit establish in chapters 10 and 11 of Reasons and Persons that we should be Reductionists about personal identity?
  3. Does Parfit establish in chapters 12 and 13 of Reasons and Persons that, if the Reductionist View about personal identity is correct, then our identity is not what matters?
  4. If the Reductionist View about personal identity is correct, is it rational to care about one’s future selves? Is it irrational not to care? (Discuss with reference to chapter 14 of Reasons and Persons.)
  5. If the Reductionist View about personal identity is correct, then does this support or undermine the Utilitarian View about morality? (Discuss with reference to chapter 15 of Reasons and Persons.)
  6. Suppose you are about to enter the Teletransporter described by Parfit on p. 199 of Reasons and Persons. How would you think about what is about to happen? What is the most rational attitude to have towards your Replica on Mars? Now suppose that you have entered the Teletransporter, and you discover that you are the person left behind on Earth in the Branch-Line case described by Parfit on pp. 199-200 of Reasons and Persons. Should this change your attitude to the Replica on Mars?

Section Three: Answer ONE of the following questions:

  1. Does Parfit establish in On What Matters that Rule Consequentialism and Scanlonian Contractualism converge?
  2. In Chapters 21 and 22 of On What Matters, Parfit suggests several revisions to Scanlon’s original Contractualism. Does these revisions improve Scanlonian Contractualism?
  3. What is the best way for Scanlonian Contractualism to respond to the problem of aggregation?
  4. What is the best way for Scanlonian Contractualism to respond to the problem of risk?

Essential and Background Readings.

Section One: Self-Defeating Theories & Rationality and Time.

In this section of the course, we will be working through Parfit’s arguments in Parts One and Two of Reasons and Persons (chapters 1 to 9, sections 1 to 74, pages 1 to 195).

Week One [26 February 2018]: 

Essential Reading: Parfit, Reasons and Persons, chapter 1: ‘Theories that are indirectly self-defeating.’

Background Reading on Reasons and Persons:

  • Adams, R. M., ‘Should Ethics be More Impersonal?’, in J. Dancy (ed.), Reading Parfit, Blackwell Publishers, 1997, 251-289.
  • Parfit, D., ‘An Interview with Derek Parfit’, Cogito 9, 1995, pp. 115-125.
  • Rabinowicz, W., ‘Derek Parfit’s Contributions to Philosophy’, Theoria 82, 2016, 104-109.

Background Reading on Chapter 1 of Reasons and Persons:

  • Dancy, J., ‘Parfit and Indirectly Self-Defeating Theories’, in J. Dancy (ed.), Reading Parfit, Blackwell Publishers, 1997, 1-23.
  • Gauthier, D., ‘Rationality and the Rational Aim’, in J. Dancy (ed.), Reading Parfit, Blackwell Publishers, 1997, 24-41.
  • Mason, E., ‘Against Blameless Wrongdoing’, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 5, 2002, 287-303.
  • Tannsjo, T., ‘Blameless Wrongdoing’, Ethics 106, 1995, 120-127.
  • Wiland, E., ‘On Indirectly Self-Defeating Moral Theories’, Journal of Moral Philosophy 5, 2008, 384-393.

Week Two [5 March 2018]:

Essential Reading: Parfit, Reasons and Persons, chapters 2 (‘Practical dilemmas’) and 3 (‘Five mistakes in moral mathematics’). 

Background Reading on Chapters 2 or 3 of Reasons and Persons:

  • Eggleston, B., ‘Should Consequentialists Make Parfit's Second Mistake? A Refutation of Jackson’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 2000, 78(1), pp. 1-15.
  • Eggleston, B., ‘Does Participation Matter? An Inconsistency in Parfit's Moral Mathematics’, Utilitas, 2003, 15(1), pp. 92-105.
  • Jackson, F., ‘Group Morality’, in P. Pettit (ed.), Metaphysics and Morality, 1987, pp. 91-110.
  • Jackson, F., ‘Which Effects?’, in J. Dancy (ed.), Reading Parfit, Blackwell Publishers, 1997, 42-53.
  • Parfit, D., ‘Correspondence’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 10, 1981, pp. 180-181
  • Parfit, D., ‘What We Together Do’, Unpublished Manuscript, March 1988.
  • Shrader-Frechette, K., ‘Parfit and Mistakes in Moral Mathematics’, Ethics, 1987, 98, pp. 50-60.
  • Shrader-Frechette, K., ‘Parfit, Risk Assessment, and Imperceptible Effects’, Public Affairs Quarterly, 1988, 2, pp. 75-96.
  • Spiekermann, K., ‘Small Impacts and Imperceptible Effects: Causing Harm with Others’, Midwest Studies in Philosophy 38, 2014, 75-90.
  • Tannsjo, T., ‘The Morality of Collective Actions’, Philosophical Quarterly 39, 1989, 221-228.
  • Temkin, L., Rethinking the Good, Oxford University Press, 2012, sections 3.4 and 3.5.

Week Three [12 March 2018]:

Essential Reading: Parfit, Reasons and Persons, chapters 4 (‘Theories that are directly self-defeating’) and 5 (‘Two possibilities’). 

Background Reading on Chapters 4 or 5 of Reasons and Persons:

  • Setiya, K., ‘Parfit on Direct Self-Defeat’, Philosophical Quarterly 49, 1999, 239-242. 

Week Four [19 March 2018]:

Essential Reading: Parfit, Reasons and Persons, chapters 6 (‘The best objection to the self-interest theory’) and 7 (‘The appeal to full relativity’).

Background Reading on Chapters 6 or 7 of Reasons and Persons:

  • Brink, D. O., ‘Rational Egoism and the Separateness of Persons’, in J. Dancy (ed.), Reading Parfit, Blackwell Publishers, 1997, 96-134.
  • Pettit, P., and Smith, M., ‘Parfit’s P’, in J. Dancy (ed.), Reading Parfit, Blackwell Publishers, 1997, 71-95.

Week Five [26 March 2018]:

Essential Reading: Parfit, Reasons and Persons, chapters 8 (‘Different attitudes to time’) and 9 (‘Why we should reject S’).

 Background Reading on Chapters 8 or 9 of Reasons and Persons:

- Lowry, R., and Peterson, M., ‘Pure Time Preference’, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 92, 2011, 490-508.

- Luper, S., ‘Past Desires and the Dead’, Philosophical Studies 126, 2005, 331-345.

- Moller, D., ‘Parfit on Pains, Pleasures, and the Time of their Occurrence’, Canadian Journal of Philosophy 32, 2002, 67-82.

- Stocker, M., ‘Parfit and the Time of Value’, in J. Dancy (ed.), Reading Parfit, Blackwell Publishers, 1997, 54-70.

- Street, S., ‘In Defence of Future Tuesday Indifference: Ideally Coherent Eccentrics and the Contingency of What Matters’, Nous-Supplement 19, 2009, 273-298.

- Vorobej, M., ‘Past Desires’, Philosophical Studies 90, 1998, 305-318.

MID-SEMESTER/EASTER BREAK [30 March 2018 to 14 April 2018]

Section Two: Personal Identity.

In this section of the course, we will be working through Parfit’s arguments in Part Three of Reasons and Persons (chapters 10 to 15, sections 75 to 118, pages 197 to 347).

 Week Six [16 April 2018]:

Essential Reading: Parfit, Reasons and Persons, chapters 10 (‘What we believe ourselves to be’) and 11 (‘How we are not what we believe’).

 Background Reading on Part Three of Reasons and Persons:

    • Blackburn, S., ‘Has Kant Refuted Parfit?’, in J. Dancy (ed.), Reading Parfit, Blackwell Publishers, 1997, 180-201.
    • Johnston, M., ‘Human Concerns without Superlative Selves’, in J. Dancy (ed.), Reading Parfit, Blackwell Publishers, 1997, 149-179.
    • Korsgaard, Christine M., 1989, “Personal Identity and the Unity of Agency: A Kantian Response to Parfit,” Philosophy& Public Affairs, 18: 101–132.
    • McDowell, J., ‘Reductionism and the First Person’, in J. Dancy (ed.), Reading Parfit, Blackwell Publishers, 1997, 230-250.
    • Olson, E. T., ‘Personal identity’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    • Parfit, D., ‘Who do you think you are?’, The Times Higher Education Supplement, 11 December 1992, pp. 19-20.
    • Parfit, D., ‘Is Personal Identity What Matters?’, Ammonius Foundation, December 31, 2007.
    • Parfit, D., ‘Persons, Bodies, and Human Beings’, in D. Zimmerman, T. Sider, and J. Hawthorne (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics, Blackwells, 2008, pp. 177-208.
    • Persson, I., ‘Parfit on Personal Identity: Its Analysis and (Un)importance’, Theoria 82, 2016, 148-165.
    • Shoemaker, D., ‘Personal identity: and ethics’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

 Background Reading on Chapters 10 or 11 of Reasons and Persons:

  • Alter, T., ‘Epistemicism and the Combined Spectrum’, Ratio 17, 2004, 241-255.
  • Ehring, D,. ‘Why Parfit did not go far enough’, Philosophical Studies 165, 2013, 133-149.
  • Ehring, D., ‘Fission, Fusion, and the Parfit Revolution’, Philosophical Studies 94, 1999, 329-332.
  • Gendler, T., ‘Personal Identity and Thought-Experiments’, Philosophical Quarterly 52, 2002, 34-54.
  • Holtug, N., Persons, Interests, and Justice, Oxford University Press, 2010, Chapter 3: ‘Personal Identity’, pp. 58-84.
  • Johansson, J., ‘Parfit on Fission’, Philosophical Studies 150, 2010, 21-35.
  • Merricks, T., ‘Fission and Personal Identity Over Time’, Philosophical Studies 88, 1997, 163-186.
  • Shoemaker, S., ‘Parfit on Identity’, in J. Dancy (ed.), Reading Parfit, Blackwell Publishers, 1997, 135-148.
  • Thomson, J. J., ‘People and their Bodies’, in J. Dancy (ed.), Reading Parfit, Blackwell Publishers, 1997, 202-229.

Week Seven [23 April 2018]:

Essential Reading: Parfit, Reasons and Persons, chapters 12 (‘Why our identity is not what matters’) and 13 (‘What does matter’).

 Background Reading on Chapters 12 or 13 of Reasons and Persons:

- Belzer, M., ‘Notes on Relation R’, Analysis 56, 1996, 56-62.

- Brink, D. O., ‘Rational Egoism and the Separateness of Persons’, in J. Dancy (ed.), Reading Parfit, Blackwell Publishers, 1997, 96-134.

- Buford, C., ‘Does Indeterminacy Matter?’, Theoria 79, 2013, 155-166.

- Campbell, S., ‘Is Causation Necessary for What Matters in Survival?’, Philosophical Studies 126, 2005, 375-396.

- Holtug, N., Persons, Interests, and Justice, Oxford University Press, 2010, Chapter 4: ‘What Matters’, pp. 85-128.

- Kind, A., ‘The Metaphysics of Personal Identity and Our Special Concern for the Future’, Metaphilosophy 35, 2004, 536-553.

- Roache, R., ‘Fission, Cohabitation and the Concern for Future Survival’, Analysis 70, 2010, 256-263. 

Week Eight [30 April 2018]:

Essential Reading: Parfit, Reasons and Persons, chapters 14 (‘Personal identity and rationality’) and 15 (‘Personal identity and morality’).

 Background Reading on Chapters 14 or 15 of Reasons and Persons:

  • Briggs, R., and Nolan, D., ‘Utility Monsters for the Fission Age’, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 96, 2015, 392-407.
  • Christie, T., ‘Natural Separateness: Why Parfit’s Reductionist Account of Persons Fails to Support Consequentialism’, Journal of Moral Philosophy 6, 2009, 178-195.
  • Schoemaker, D., ‘Disintegrated Persons and Distributive Principles’, Ratio 15, 2002, 58-79.
  • Shoemaker, D., ‘Selves and Moral Units’, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 80, 1999, 391-419.

Section Three: Contractualism and Consequentialism.

Week Nine [7 May 2018]: Scanlon’s Contractulism

 Essential Reading: Scanlon, T. M., What We Owe to Each Other, Harvard University Press, 1998, ch. 5, pp. 189–247.

Background Reading on Contractualism:

  • Ashford, E., and Mulgan, T., 2012, ‘Contracualism’, Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy.
  • Kumar, R., “Defending the moral moderate: Contractualism and Commonsense”, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 2000, 28, pp. 275-309.

Week Ten [14 May 2018]: Parfit’s Convergence Argument:

Essential Reading: Parfit, D., On What Matters, Oxford University Press, 2011, volume 1, Chapter 15 [Sections 52 to 54 only], Chapter 16, and Chapter 17.

 Background Reading on Parfit’s Debate with Scanlon:

  • Scanlon, T. M., ‘How I am Not a Kantian’, in Parfit, D., On What Matters, Oxford University Press, 2011, volume 2, pp. 116-139 [especially pp. 127-139].
  • Parfit, D., On What Matters, Oxford University Press, 2011, volume 2, Chapter 23.

Week Eleven [21 May 2018]: Contractualism and Aggregation.

 Essential Reading:

  • Parfit, D., On What Matters, Oxford University Press, 2011, volume 2, Chapter 21 and Chapter 22 [Section 77 only].
  • Kumar, R., ‘Contractualism on the Shoal of Aggregation’ in R. Jay Wallace, R. Kumar, and S. Freeman (eds.), Reasons and Recognition: Essays on the Philosophy of T. M. Scanlon, Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 129–54.

Background Reading on Contractualism and Aggregation:

    • Horton, J., ‘Aggregation, Complaints, and Risk’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 45, 2017, 54-81.
    • Kumar, R. 2001. “Contractualism on Saving the Many”. Analysis 61: 165–71.
    • Norcross, A. 2002. “Contractualism and Aggregation”, Social Theory and Practice 28: 303–14.
    • Otsuka, M. 2001. “Scanlon and the Claims of the Many versus the One”. Analysis 60: 288–90.
    • Parfit, D., ‘Justifiability to Each Person’, Ratio 16, 2003, pp. 368-390.
    • Raz, J. 2003. “Numbers, with and without Contractualism”, Ratio 16.
    • Reibetanz, S. 1998. “Contractualism and Aggregation”. Ethics 108: 296–311.
    • Voorhoeve, A., ‘How should we aggregate competing claims?’, Ethics 125, 2014, 64-87.

Week Twelve [28 May 2018]: Contractualism and Risk.

 Essential Reading:

  • Fried, B., ‘Can Contractualism Save Us from Aggregation?’, Journal of Ethics 16, 2012, 39-66.
  • Kumar, R., ‘Risking and wronging’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 43, 2015, 27-51.

 Background Reading on Contractualism and Risk:

  • Ashford, E. 2003. “The Demandingness of Scanlon’s Contractualism”, Ethics 113(2), pp. 273-302.
  • Frick, J., ‘Contractualism and Social Risk’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 43, 2015, 175-223.
  • Fried, B., ‘What does matter? The case for killing the trolley problem (or letting it die)’, The Philosophical Quarterly, volume 62, July 2012, pp. 505-529.

Course summary:

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