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Regular version of the site


Academic Year
Instruction in English
ECTS credits
Course type:
Elective course
3 year, 4 module


Course Syllabus


The current program outlines the requirements for the studies and the content of the course. The syllabus is developed for the department, responsible for teaching the course, professors and teaching assistants, students of the bachelor’s program ‘Philosophy’. This syllabus meets the standards required by: Academic Standards of National Research University “Higher School of Economics”. Curriculum of the bachelor’s program ‘Philosophy’ (47.03.01). Although currently developed for the philosophers, the course is interdisciplinary and can be taught with little modifications at the department of Economics, Law, Political Science, International Relation and Psychology, simply because morality is interdisciplinary and moral discourse is widely present within the practical and theoretical discourses of all these spheres of knowledge. The contemporary economic as well as political discourse presuppos moral arguments and those who are able to use these arguments well are better equipped for it.
Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives

  • The course is mandatory. It is taught in the third year of bachelor’s program ‘Philosophy’. It requires prior knowledge in the basics of the history of philosophy, general ethics and elementary logic. In addition to that some basic knowledge of history, economics, politics and psychology is welcome. The course is both a theoretical a practical. The contemporary analytic ethics is a foundation for the contemporary applied ethics, which is widely used in all spheres of contemporary life from war to engineering, from social work to economic distribution. The course is designed as a link to bridge the gap between the theoretical and practical knowledge. Ethics is generally regarded as a practical philosophy. Analytic ethics is even more practical. It rejects any metaphysics and is based solely on logic, language, common sense and science, which is why it is by and large interdisciplinary. The students know some of the theories of the contemporary analytic ethics, like “A Theory of Justice” by John Rawls or “Anarchy, State and Utopia” by Robert Nozick (both translated in Russian). Usually, those who study these woks cannot understand them fully, because of the lack of the deeper understanding of the foundations of the analytic ethics. The course is taught in English because very little amount of literature is translated into Russian
Expected Learning Outcomes

Expected Learning Outcomes

  • The knowledge of the major terminology. The classification of the basic theories, their distinction and general characteristic
  • The knowledge of the general characteristics and specifics of the theories belonging to intuitionism. Understanding of the limitations and advantages in comparison to other theories
  • The emotive trend from Hume to Ayer is to be understood in its logic and scope. The understanding of the scope of the use of the emotivism in the contemporary ethics
  • Prescriptivism comes to supplement emotivism. The understanding of its major distinctions from emotivism and its links with ethical objectivism has to be considered
  • The possibility of the deduction of ought from is must be considered. The basic conceptions of Gewirth and Searle wil me understood
  • The conception of new Eudaimonianism of Phillippa Foot will be understood. The conception of ethics based on human needs is to be considered
  • At this point we will have to consider and evaluate the special trend in meta-ethics based on telos. In stems from Aristotle and is developed in Macintyre and Geach.
  • The conceptions of G.E.M. Anscombe, Stuart Hampshire, Rawls and Hare will be considered. The idea is to come to understand the possibility of many-storied constructions in theoretical ethics
  • Sam Harris in his “Moral Landscape” presented an innovative theory based exclusively on pure science. The students are supposed to understand the results and scope of this project
  • The "beginning theory" is very diverse. The students will come to understand the scope of the use of the biological and evolutionary trends in ethics and understand the major theories of the evolutionary development of morals
Course Contents

Course Contents

  • 8. Neo-intuitionism and “multi-level theories”
    G.E.M. Anscombe. Prohibition on certain practices in every particular culture as a starting point for moral description. Hebrew-Christian ethics as an example of certain intuitively accepted values and unconsequential prohibitions. The criticism of utilitarianism and prescriptivism. Stuart Hampshire. The nature of moral impossibility. Conflict of obligations as endemic in human life. The religious foundations for moral intuitions. The single way of life as a necessary requirement for common intuitions. The absolute respect for human life. John Rawls. The intuitive assumptions of justice in the original position behind the veil of ignorance. The principles of justice to be chosen in the original position. The criticism of intuitionism by Fletcher in his “Situation Ethics”. Hare’s lates moral philosophy in “Freedom and Reason”. Critical Thinking and Non-critical thinking as complimentary levels. Derived and Underived principles. The norms we intuitively conceive as background of our lives. The affected parties in any decision making to be taken into account. A new form of descriptivism. The utilitarianism of an unbiased observer. “Proles and Archangels”. Impure and pure moral fanaticism.
  • 7. Descriptivism. Morality grounded in human telos
    Alasdair MacIntyre. The resurgence of cognitivist naturalism in the form of Virtue Ethics. The return to Aristotle and Aquinas, by the way of detaching them from their metaphysics. The basis for morality grounded in objective facts of life. Why MacIntyre rejects utilitarianism? The greatest happiness principle as reducible to intuitionism and emotivism. The irreducibly heterogeneous nature of objects of desire. The return to Aristotelian concept of man as having an essential nature and an essential purpose. Peter Geach and attributive goodness. Good as attributive in comparison to predicative adjective. A meaning of a ‘good man’. ‘Man’ as a functional noun. The status of the four cardinal virtues. Criticism of Geach. The reduction of morality to mere expediency. The abandonment of the central idea of the teleological ethics. Stuart Hampshire on the connection between attributive and predicative uses of “good”. Goodness in terms of choice, interest and satisfaction. The hierarchy of values in human activities.
  • 5. Descriptivism. The deduction of Ought from Is. Searle and Gewirth
    Hume’s early attempts of the derivation. Different interpretations of the gap between facts and values. The attempts to claim the possibility to bridge the gap. 1964 Article by Searle “How to Derive ‘Ought’ from ‘Is’”. The distinction between description and evaluation, fact and value. A conflation of different kinds of illocutionary force in the writings of the previous authors on the matter. Factual premises can entail evaluative conclusions. The ‘Brute Facts’ and ‘Institutional Facts’. The classification of facts. Institutional facts and their constitutive rules. The institution of promising. Empirical assumptions, tautologies and descriptions of word usage as the necessary assumption of the transition from ‘Is’ to ‘Ought’. The further development of the basic ideas in the ‘Speech Acts”. Alan Gewirth’s derivation of ‘Ought’ from ‘Is’ in his ‘Reason and Morality’. Human action as voluntary and purposive. The principle of ‘Generic Consistency’. The defining characteristics of ‘ought’: other-regarding, prescriptive, egalitarian, determinate, categorical. Rational and conative features of moral agents. 7 stages of derivation of ‘Ought’ from ‘Is’. Criticism of Gewirth. ‘Begging the question’ nature of the main argument of the institutional facts. The criticism of ‘trivialization of morality’. Misunderstanding of the function of reason.
  • 3. The emotivism
    The background of emotivism in Hume. Hume’s fork. Language about the real world: either analytic or synthetic. Analytic statement is true by definitions. Synthetic statement can only be verified by experience. The emotivism of Ayer. “Language, Truth and Logic”. Moral statements are neither analytic nor synthetic. Principle of Verification. Impossibility to verify moral statements. The threefold target for Ayer: Utilitarianism, Subjectivism and Intuitionism. Ayer on Open Question Argument. Pseudo-concepts. Ethical statements are not analyzable. The challenge of subjectivism. Is amoral argument impossible if moral statements are calculated to arouse feelings and to stimulate action? Implications of Ayer’s theory. Boo/Hooray theory. Criticisms of Ayer. Ethics as a branch of Psychology. MacIntyre’s criticism of emotivism. All our contemporary culture as the culture of emotivism. Stevenson’s emotivism. Believes and attitudes. The meaning of good. Moral disagreement. The analysis of ethical language must include its persuasive force. The non-rational nature of moral discourse.
  • 4. Prescriptivism
    Richard Hare and the idea of prescriptivism. Rationality of ethical discourse. Moral language as a language of a special type which has its own rules of use. Three essential features of prescriptivism. Logical connection between moral language and universalizability and between universalizability and preference utilitarianism. The general logic of moral statements. The meaning of moral statements is to guide reasonable actions. Illocutionary force of moral utterings. Supervenience. Moral principles. Prescriptivity, Universalizability and Overridingness of moral principles. The elements of Kantian deontology. Moral syllogism. Moral statements as rational commitments to action. Nonfactual proposition. Prescriptive and descriptive meaning of ethical statements. Hare’s link with utilitarian ethics. Preference utilitarianism. The greatest cumulative preference. Maximization of happiness as the only reasonable purpose of morality. Moral and Special meaning of Goodness. Implications of prescriptivism. The elements of naturalism. Evaluation of prescriptivism. The possibility of “Moral fanaticism”. Moral reductionism. The threat of moral subjectivism.
  • 9. Science and morality
    Sam Harris in his “Moral Landscape” presents three issues: how to derive an ought from and is, whether there is such thing as objective morality and whether a fact can be a moral fact. Science of morality is possible. Facts inform values. Values are certain sort of facts. Neuroscience can give us measurable standards of human well-being. The rejection of the naturalistic fallacy and moral relativism. The insights of Darwinists. Well-being as the ultimate good for morality. Every value can be reduced to conscious experience. A good life is a matter of empirical observations. In general terms, morality is a cooperative activity. The deep opposition to religion. The rejection of moral relativism.
  • 6. Descriptivism. Morality grounded in human wants
    Philippa Foot’s earlier views. The basic wants of a human being. A good human being as a human being with characteristics that promote the four ends of survival, reproduction, pleasure and group flourishing. The rationality of these promotions. The concept of Eudaimonia. The universalizability of want. The classification of wants. The problematic nature of ‘justice’ in the structure of wants. Justice as the interest of the other. Justice as the interest of the self. The contradiction of the two. Criticism based on incompatible nature of ought and want. Philippa Foot’s later views. The well-being of other instead of personal interst. ‘Conclusive and universal’ nature of wants, which makes them compatible to moral oughts. The sense of identification with others. Justice as acting against personal interests. Comparison of morality and etiquette. Criticism. The problems of teaching morality.
  • 2. Intuitionism
    The basic idea of Moore’s intuitionism. The impossibility to define goodness. Intuition as a form of Aposteriory perception of a simply quality, which must be “clearly and distinctively true”. The parallel between apprehending of color and of moral goodness. The definition of “Naturalistic fallacy” (turning a feature of goodness into a definition of goodness). An open question argument. Objectivist objection to the naturalistic fallacy. Comments on Moore’s view. The confusion of complex ideas with simple ones. Prichard on intuitive duties. “Does moral philosophy rest on a mistake”? Our obligations do not beg moral reasoning. Ross’s intuitionism. The rejection of a single criterion of intrinsic goodness. The rejection of absolute duties. Seven Prima Facie Duties. Fidelity, Reparation, Gratitude, Non-injury, Harm-prevention, Beneficence, Self-improvement, Justice. The quality of intuition and the possibility of reassessment. The link with naturalism. Cognitivism. Three more prima facie duties: respect for freedom, care and non-parasitism. Practical application. Skeptical attack on intuitive ethics. The argument from queerness. Synderesis rule of Aquinas and its similarity with intuitionism. Practical application of intuitionism in applyed ethics.
  • 1. Moral discourse and theories of meaning
    The meaning of the terms ‘morals’ and ‘ethics’, ‘good’, ‘right’ and ‘ought’. Moral Psychology. Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development. The difference of prescriptive and descriptive statements. The history of morality. The sociology of morals. Religious and secular ethics and morality. Positive law and the need of moral foundations of legality. Etiquette. Customs. Customary and reflective morality. The difference of morals and rationality. Traits of moral principles: Prescriptivity, Universalizability, Overridingness, Publicity, Practicability. The purpose of morality. The structure of morality. Moral Rules, Principles, Virtues and Actions. Metaethics, Normative morality, Applied ethics, Theoretical ethics. Ethical relativism and objectivism. Egoism and altruism. Psychological Egoism. The paradox of Egoism. The meaning of metaethics. Metaethical intuitionism. Other forms of intuitionisms. Emotivism and prescriptivism. Naturalism. Metaethics and morals. Reportive definition. Stipulative definition. Theoretical definitions: Analytical and ostensive definition. The logic of moral reasoning. Moral Relativism. Egoism. Virtue. Religious Ethics. Ethics of Conscience. Convention. Legalism. The Natural Law. Elitism. Deontology. Bureaucratic Ethics. Particularism. Sentimentalism. Utilitarianism. Relations between fact and value. The debate about naturalism. Non-cognitivism. Cognitivism. The classification of the main approaches in analytic ethics.
  • 10. The beginning theory. Evolution and morality
    The problem of the starting point of morality. How did moral intuition emerge? Certain social animals such as chimpanzees, capuchins and/or bonobos exhibit the patterns of behavior very close to morality. Expressions of empathy. Expressions of sympathy. Expressions of gratitude. Consolation behavior. Reconciliation behavior. Sense of Fairness. Punishment behavior. Evolution was providing advantages to the social and cooperative forms of behavior. The emergence of the cluster of behavioral tendencies forming an ethical realm. The missing features of animal “morality”: universalizability and autonomy. Proto-humans and the evolution of moral attitude. Non-critical nature of the early morality. The lack of moral language. The network of normative principles to be shared uncritically. Survival as the basic good. The embedded social norms as the framework for moral intuitions and non-critical thinking.
Assessment Elements

Assessment Elements

  • non-blocking Current control
  • non-blocking Research paper
  • non-blocking Oral examination
Interim Assessment

Interim Assessment

  • Interim assessment (4 module)
    0.25 * Current control + 0.5 * Oral examination + 0.25 * Research paper


Recommended Core Bibliography

  • de Waal, F. B. M. (2019). Fish, mirrors, and a gradualist perspective on self-awareness. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.3941EB03
  • Fisher, A. (2004). An Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics (Book). Ethics, 114(4), 860–862. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=asn&AN=14361483
  • Fisher, A. (2014). Metaethics : An Introduction. New York, NY: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=924314
  • FOOT, P. (1995). Does Moral Subjectivism Rest on a Mistake?{dagger}. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.2F1A44ED
  • Foot, P. (2001). Natural Goodness. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=260383
  • Foot, P. (2002). Virtues and Vices : And Other Essays in Moral Philosophy. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=257787
  • Fotion, N. (2014). Theory Vs. Anti-Theory in Ethics : A Misconceived Conflict. New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1203020
  • Harris, S. (2014). The Moral Landscape : How Science Can Determine Human Values. [Place of publication not identified]: Free Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1961444
  • Joyce, R. (2015). The Evolution of Morality. Australia, Australia/Oceania: MIT Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.4122EB7B
  • Kirchin, S. (2012). Metaethics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1230964
  • MacIntyre, A. C. (2013). After Virtue. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=602571
  • Miller, A. (2013). Contemporary Metaethics : An Introduction (Vol. Second edition). Cambridge: Polity. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1101327
  • Simon Wigley. (2015). Contemporary Metaethics: An Introduction by Alexander Miller . Cambridge : Polity Press , 2013 . 314pp., £18.99, ISBN 978 0 7456 4659 6. Political Studies Review, (3), 405. https://doi.org/10.1111/1478-9302.12100_21
  • Skorupski, J. (2010). The Routledge Companion to Ethics. London: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=325165
  • Thompson, J. W. (2017). After Virtue. London: Macat Library. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1552166

Recommended Additional Bibliography

  • Brady, M. (2011). New Waves in Metaethics. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=356685
  • Davis, P. (2007). Metaethics Explored. Tirril: Humanities-Ebooks. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=373343
  • GEWIRTH, A. (1960). Iv.——Meta-Ethics and Normative Ethics. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.A521B5E7
  • Gewirth, A. (2001). Self-Fulfillment. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=350004
  • Gewirth, A., Wesson, R., & Williams, P. A. (1995). SCIENTIFIC ETHICS: Combining Human Nature and Ethics: EVOLUTIONARY THEORY AND WELFARE POLICY. Evolution & Human Values, 221–243. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=asn&AN=78199654
  • Joyce, R. (2015). Metaethics and the empirical sciences. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.A855E831
  • McPherson, T., & Plunkett, D. (2017). The Routledge Handbook of Metaethics (Vol. First edition). London: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1574483
  • Moore, G. E. (2012). Principia Ethica. [Place of publication not identified]: Digireads.com Publishing. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1536761
  • Porrovecchio, M. (2018). Diana Heney. Toward a Pragmatist Metaethics. Reviewed by. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.6F8AA1D1
  • The Ethics of Metaethics: On Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos. (2015). Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.291A01B9
  • Van Roojen, M. S. (2015). Metaethics : A Contemporary Introduction. New York: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1004520