Four sorts of questions belong to the study of ethics in the analytic tradition:
(1) Practical ethics discusses specific moral problems, often those we find most contested (e.g., abortion, euthanasia, killing noncombatants in war).
(2) Ethical theory tries to develop systematic answers to moral problems, often by looking for general principles that explain moral judgments and rules (e.g., consequentialism, contractarianism).
(3) Meta-ethics investigates questions about the nature of moral theories and their subject matter (e.g., are they subjective or objective, relative or non-relative?).
(4) Finally, there are questions about why any of this does, or should, matter to us (e.g., why should I be moral?).
We will investigate all four of these types of questions during the course. A disproportionate part of the course will be focused on two highly contentious moral problems, abortion and killing noncombatants in war. The central aim of the required readings and discussion is: a) to develop each question deeply and sharply enough for us to understand why it has been contentious; b) to see what new evidence could change the nature of the problem; and c) to suggest how to seek that further evidence. We will focus on how to read complex philosophical prose in order to outline and evaluate the arguments embedded within it. This will provide the basis for writing papers in which you defend a position with evidence and arguments.