Academic year
Sven Rosenkranz
Department of Philosophy
Universitat de Barcelona
Master courses
Module 1. Practical Philosophy
2013-10-03 - 2013-12-19
Thu. 11:00 -14:00
Seminar of philosophy, except: Tue. 21-11: seminar of the Department de Lògica, Historia i Filosofia de la Ciència, Fac. Filosofia, UB


Our ordinary lives are saturated with ethical judgments. In choosing an action, we invariably have to judge what we ought to do and what would be a good or desirable result of our action. We criticize ourselves and others for having acted wrongly and praise ourselves and others for acting rightly. Metaethics investigates what the content of these judgements is, how they can be justified, and to what extent such judgements have any power to bind our choices and actions. We will begin by drawing the distinction between non-naturalist views that ethical judgements concern distinctively ethical facts – facts sui generis that can only be stated by means of ethical language – and naturalist views that such judgements concern more familiar facts of a kind that can be stated without using ethical language. We then examine a challenge to views of either sort issuing from the traditional idea that ethical judgements should be motivating. According to this line of thought, it makes no sense to agree that it is right to help people in such-and-such situations, that you ought to help people in those situations, and that it would be good to help people in those situations, and yet at the same time remain indifferent to helping people in situations like this. In other words, one cannot make an ethical judgement that one ought to take some action, but at the same time fail to see any reason to take that action. The challenge is this: how could mere recognition of a state of the world all by itself be apt to motivate one to act? Motivation arises from one’s desires, and not from one’s beliefs alone. We then look at a number of responses to this challenge. Internalist responses try to preserve the assumption that ethical judgements are automatically motivating. Externalists, by contrast, allow for the possibility of an amoralist – someone who, although they acknowledge truths about what ought to be done, or about what is good, nonetheless remains indifferent. But externalists still try to explain why we are right to expect people to do what is right or good. In the course of this discussion, we will examine a number of other positions such as the error-theoretic position that there are no moral facts at all for ethical judgements to successfully state, and the relativist position that what one ought to do is relative in some sense relative to one’s motivations. We will conclude with examination of the radical expressivist proposal that moral judgements do not even purport to state facts, and so do not express truth-evaluable claims at all. According to this proposal, moral claims rather serve as vehicles to express one’s approval or disapproval.


There will be a 3-hour class each week. Each class will consist of two parts: a lecture-style exposition and a seminar-style discussion, in which we will discuss the assigned reading of the day. It is expected that students study the assigned texts carefully in advance and prepare questions for discussion. Attendance is obligatory. The assigned texts will be made available online.


Participation in class will be evaluated in terms of regular attendance, quality of preparation, and quality of contributions to the discussion. The final essay, with a word limit of 3500 words, will be due some time after the end of the course. Students will be required to choose one question from a set list that will be made available during the course.