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   Course Title    Ethics
Lecturer    Vladimir Belov
Institution    Saratov State University
Country    Russia

Aim of the course

To examine the main steps of the development of ethical thinking, to discuss especially the problems of professional ethics, political ethics and human rights.

Role of the course in the overall degree curriculum

This course is one of the main courses at the Philosophical Department.

Method used

The main method, witch I use in this course, is pluralism. It is to be distinguished from both monism and relativism. A monist argues that there is an overarching moral principle that unambiguously prescribes what to do in any and every circumstance. The relativist, however, although agreeing with the pluralist whose values depend upon circumstances, claims that there is no objective reason for what is right or wrong other than simply what the people in a given culture or circumstance do. The pluralist believes that there is such an objective reason; thus, even though there is a plurality of ways to achieve a good life.

Course content

Lecture. The introduction in the problems of ethics

The term "ethics" is derived from the Ancient Greek ethos (character), where it may fairly be said that systematic thinking about ethics as a form of practical reason began. Ethics refers to the philosophical science that deals with the rightness and wrongness of human action. Ethics and morality are often used as interchangeable terms, although ethics is strictly the reflection upon morality. Ethical questions are, therefore, questions of scope and justification.

Today, ethics is the name given to that most general study of the rightness and wrongness of human actions, including not only the determination of whether particular acts are morally permissible but also the derivation of those theories by which such a determination may be made, as well as an analysis of the meaning of the language that is peculiar to such determination and derivation.

Lecture. The Ancient roots of ethics

The system of ethics, understood as the more or less formal reflection upon practices and institutions, began with the Greeks. In Plato, the subordination of ethics to ontology and epistemology was manifest, and it was not until Aristotle that ethics achieved full status as an independent branch of the philosophical sciences.

Plato and Aristotle did not neglect the theoretical side of ethics, and Aristotle especially presented a rather systematic theoretical framework throughout his exposition of natural eudaimonism.

In the most general terms the ethical questions of Ancient Greece revolved around the issue of how to live a virtuous life and obtain eudaimonia. Eudaimonia, the well being of the body-spirit, is a holistic notion that demands arete for its fulfillment. Virtue, here, or arete, can best be understood as excellence, and eudaimonia, as the well being of the spirit-body. The sense of both notions is that they can be realized only in an appropriate community context by those who show practical wisdom: phronimos.


The students prepare at home (at the library) and discuss the main works of Plato – the Republic – and Aristotle – the Nicomachean Ethics.

Lecture. Ethical ideas of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance

In the Middle Ages, patristic and scholastic writers continued to explore the boundaries of ethics, but with a heavy concern for theological ethics. Saint Thomas Aquinas’ ethics, which directly descend from Aristotle’s natural eudaimonism, are designated supernatural, or theological, eudaimonism on account of the regard that his ethical system gives to the attainment of beatitude in the afterlife. This concentration upon theological concerns led to an emphasis upon free will for theodic purposes – making evil the product of the human will and the human will the necessary source of virtue, as the cause of evil.

From the coming of the Renaissance well into the latter half of the eighteenth century, ethical philosophy returned to its classical roots and once again emphasized the passions and sentiments in humanity that conflict and that drive those behaviors that support the institutions of society, from friendship and the family to cooperative activities and the nation-state.


The students prepare and discuss the main works of Augustine – the City of God – and Aquinas.

Lecture. Practical philosophy of Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant returned ethics to a theoretical orientation with his development of the categorical imperative. Kant’s deontology – or science of duty, as he called it – contained many complex aspects, such as the autonomous and heteronomous wills and the hypothetical and categorical imperatives, thus giving priority again to abstract, theoretical models of ethical thought. Indeed, Kantian formalism temporarily eclipsed the firm concretzation that necessarily accompanies consequentialistic analysis.


The students prepare and discuss the main works of Kant:

The Critique of the Practical Reason ;

The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals;

Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone.

Lecture. The main ethical ideas of the nineteenth century

Although the nineteenth century saw a step back from the degree of formalistic abstraction inherent in Kantian ethics, Hegelian and other form of idealistic ethics, utilitarianism (of both the Benthamite and Millian variety), and the variegated Darwinistic ethical systems failed to return to the classical model of virtue analysis.


The students prepare and discuss the main works of Hegel, Bentham – An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation and Mill – On Utilitarianism.

Lecture. The main ethical ideas of the twentieth century

In the twentieth century, the proliferation of academic publications and university-based scholars has been instrumental in the resurrection, if not the reinvigoration, of virtually every philosophical tradition in ethics. Nevertheless, virtue-and sentiment-based ethical theories have enjoyed a rather desiccated existence, except in a somewhat altered form under the various phenomenological approaches.

In general, metaethical investigations have predominated throughout the discipline in recent years, undoubtedly stimulated by G. E. Moore’s discovery of the naturalistic fallacy and the renewed interest in the Humean dilemma that Moore caused. Contributing to the same effect has been the dominance of logical positivism and its offshoots, which have insisted upon the analysis of language as the key methodological operation in philosophy.


The students prepare and discuss the main works of Heidegger – Letter on Humanism and Moore – Principia Ethica and Ethics.

Lecture. Professional ethics

For an act or institution to fall into the domain of ethical consideration it must raise questions about conduct; either about how an individual or a group ought to behave, or about the conduct of a particular practice. On the face of it these two questions might be, and indeed often are, taken to be separate. Thus the question how ought one conduct one’s life and the question of what constitutes good practice in the treatment of, for example, cancer appear to be different. The first question clearly raises issues of morality, of what it is to be a good person, of what values to hold or disown, of what general practices to adopt or not as the case may be, of how to lead one’s life.

The second question , the question of what counts as good practice in the treatment of cancer, appears to relate, however, not to praxis, but to techne or skill and beyond that to the practice of skill or technical knowledge, techne in already established institutions.

The conduct of the professional goes beyond praxis and into the domain of technical expertise, techne. A professional is expected to exercise sound judgement in their area of expertise, to show an appropriate level of skill and technical knowledge and to apply that in an appropriate way in the best interests of his or her client.


The students prepare and discuss the work of M. Weber – The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and the work of E. Durkheim – Professional Ethics and Civil Morals.

Lecture. Liberal and communitarian concepts of ethics

In most liberal theory the self is prior to the society in which it resides. By contrast the communitarian model takes the self as constituted in the society of which it is a part. There are no truly a-social or pre-social individuals. If that is the case then society shapes and binds the self. Taken to its extreme society is an object of examination in its own right and ethics is just the expression of the morality found in the codes of conduct within a society. If society breaks down or becomes fragmented then so does morality. The absence of a higher law or notion of self to appeal to that is prior to society makes a notion of morality that is higher than social arrangements difficult to sustain. Liberalism appears to offer a counter to this by taking the individual as prior to society. Here the presentation of such a pre-social individual is just an illusion, an illusion subject to hegemonic objections.

Neither of these conceptions of the self seems sufficiently satisfactory to permit the development of an ethical person. In the extreme communitarian case the individual is the outcome of social forces and has no independence. In the extreme liberal case the self is conceived as sufficiently prior to its social situation as to be seriously disengaged from it. What is clear is that the moral life, and the ethical theories that arise from that, require both independence and engagement: tasks that seem difficult to the point of impossibility.


The students with good practice in English translate and prepare the reports by works: MacIntyre A. The Virtues, the Unity of Human Life and the Concept of a Tradition and Sandel M. Justice and the Good – both in Liberalism and its critics. Ed. by Michael J. Sandel. Oxford, 1984; Sandel M. Morality and the Liberal Ideal and MacIntyre A. Is Patriotism a Virtue? – both in Liberalism. Vol. III. Ed. by Richard J. Arneson. Cambridge, 1992.

Lecture. Ethics and human rights

The political and cultural homogenization of the globe during the past century has placed a premium on the acceptance and implementation of norms that might give effect to a peaceful, inclusive comity of nations. The norms that today enjoy the nearly universal assent of nations are those enunciating human rights and the correlative duties of governments and citizens.

Human rights as a field of study and as a body of legal rights and obligations include fundamental problems. First, what to recognize as a human right, and, second, how to guarantee the protection of such rights once they have been recognized. These problems have been part of the political and social life of human beings for all time. How does one protect people from the unjust and sometimes brutal treatment of their fellows? Many governments throughout the ages have devised legal system to reduce, mitigate and relieve injustices committed by citizens or subjects against one another, but how does one protect the citizens or subjects of a country from their own government?

From the standpoint of ethics, human rights serve as a statement of the aspirations of peoples and governments toward ideals hat are not always attained in practice and that at times lead to contradiction and conflict. Human rights represent an effort by governments, international agencies, and non-governmental advocacy groups to overcome the harsher aspects of political life within and between countries.


The students with good practice in English translate and prepare the reports by works: Rawls J. A Theory of Justice. Oxford, 1971; Lukes S. Moral Conflict and Politics, and Rorty R. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity – both in On Human Rights. Ed. by Stephen Shute and Susan Hurley. New York, 1993.

The last three lectures and two seminars are prepared solely by materials that would be collected in Budapest, at the spring session in philosophy.

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