Course Outline Spring 2001   

Philosophy 641B

The Debate between Consequentialism and Deontology

Tuesdays 9-12, TC310


Instructor: Professor T. Isaacs

Office hours: Mondays and Wednesdays 2-3, and other times by appointment.

Phone: 661-2111 ext. 85747



Consequentialism and deontology are the two dominant theories in contemporary normative ethics.  Consequentialism, frequently identified with Utilitarianism, is the theory according to which right actions are those that maximize good outcomes.  Deontology, with its roots in Kant, determines rightness by features of acts other than their outcomes. For example, where consequentialism might require sacrificing one innocent for the greater good, deontology might forbid such an act on the grounds that it violates the innocent person’s rights, or violates some other moral constraint. Each approach has its appeal; yet neither fully conforms with “ordinary morality”.  Is this the fault of one or the other approach, or of ordinary morality?  In this course, in addition to examining the characteristic features of consequentialism and deontology, and exploring the tensions between them, we shall consider whether “ordinary morality” constitutes a defensible system.  We shall address a range of possible arguments for and against each approach, and shall take a critical look at the role that our intuitions about ordinary morality play in moral methodology.  All readings are from contemporary sources.  A detailed list of readings will be distributed at the first meeting.


Required readings (available for purchase in the UWO Bookstore) include:

The Limits of Morality, Shelly Kagan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

Consequentialism and its Critics, Samuel Scheffler, editor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).

Selected articles will be made available for photocopying.


Course requirements:

Presentation (25%).  Each of you will present and defend a 5-7 page “postion paper” on some central aspect of the material assigned for the date of your presentation.  Position papers must be circulated to the class no later than 4 p.m. on the Thursday prior to the presentation date.  You may assume that the class has read your paper and the assigned readings.  Presentation dates will be chosen at the first meeting.


Comment sheets (10%):  For each class, prepare a 1-2 page comment sheet on the readings or, if there is a presentation, on the position paper for that week.  The commentaries will be starting points for discussion, and so must be ready in time for class. I’ll collect them at the end of class. You do not have to do one on the day of your presentation.


Term paper (65%).  A 15-20 page, double-spaced essay on some aspect of the debate between consequentialism and deontology, preferably demonstrating mastery of some aspect of the material covered in the course.  I encourage you to speak to me about your topic before you begin writing.  Due: Friday, April 20, 2001.