PL 3370: Moral Theory (Kantian Ethics)


Immanuel Kant’s moral philosophy was once regarded as “forbiddingly difficult to understand” and “excessively demanding in its requirements,” but it has enjoyed a significant revival in the last thirty years. Renewed interest has led to a number of different interpretations of Kantian ethics. Among the most important of these interpretations are deontology, which stresses duty and obligation; constructivism, which is concerned with the procedures through which moral norms are constructed; and contractualism, which emphasizes the conditions under which rational agents would agree to subject themselves to moral rules.

In this class, we will study Kant’s three most important works on moral philosophy, his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), Critique of Practical Reason (1788), and Metaphysics of Morals (1797), during the first half of the semester. During the second half of the semester, we will consider their influence on the deontological theories of Prichard, Ross, and Nagel; the constructivism of Rawls, Korsgaard, O’Neill, and Sensen; and the contractualism of Scanlon and Parfit. By the end of the course, students will be familiar with the original sources of Kantian ethics and three of the most important interpretations of Kantian ethics in contemporary moral philosophy.


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