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Undergraduate Ethics


Although some courses are not offered every year, the Program hopes students will search for similar courses offered in other departments, and/or, schedule their Stanford careers keeping these courses in mind. In addition to the below courses, there are many courses at Stanford that contain an ethical component. However, before using such a course to satisfy Program requirements, please consult with the Program faculty director and obtain approval.

  • For more information on core and non-core EIS classes, see the Stanford Bulletin.
  • For more information on the course listings for the current quarter, see Explore Courses.
  • For a list of additional courses that have ethical components, click here.
  • If you are a faculty member interested in receiving funds to incorporate an ethical component into an existing or newly created course, contact Alanna Reyes.

Autumn 2015 EIS Courses

ETHICSOC 131S. Modern Political Thought: Machiavelli to Marx to Mill (POLISCI 131L) Individual rights. Government by consent. Protection of private property. These are ideas that we take for granted in contemporary America. They can easily seem timeless. But they have a history. They emerged at particular times and in response to specific political, economic, social, and religious circumstances. In this course, we'll explore the development of these ideas and others from 1500-1850. Thinkers covered will include: Niccoli Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill, and Karl Marx. WAY-ER, A-II. 5 units.

ETHICSOC 171. Justice (IPS 208, PHIL 171/271, POLISCI 103, POLISCI 136S/336S, PUBLPOL 103C, PUBLPOL 307). Focus is on the ideal of a just society, and the place of liberty and equality in it, in light of contemporary theories of justice and political controversies. Topics include financing schools and elections, regulating markets, discriminating against people with disabilities, and enforcing sexual morality. Counts as Writing in the Major for POLISCI majors. GER:DB-Hum, EC-EthicReas, WAY-ER. 4-5 units.

Winter 2016 EIS Courses

ETHISOC 2. The Ethics of Anonymity. 1 unit.

ETHICSOC 20. Intro to Contemporary Moral Philosophy (PHIL 2). A survey of moral philosophy in the Western tradition. What makes right actions right and wrong actions wrong? What is it to have a virtuous rather than a vicious character? What is the basis of these distinctions? Why should we care about morality at all? Our aim is to understand how some of the most influential philosophers (including Aristotle, Kant, and Mill) have addressed these questions, and by doing so, to better formulate our own views. No prior familiarity with philosophy required.WAY-ER, A-II. 5 units.

ETHICSOC 185M. Contemporary Moral Problems (PHIL 72, POLISCI 134P). This course addresses moral issues that play a major role in contemporary public discourse. The course aims to encourage students to consider moral problems in a reflective, systematic manner, and to equip students with skills that will enable them to do so. Questions to be addressed include: Do rich countries have an obligation to accept refugees from other parts of the world? Do such obligations conflict with the right of individuals to protect their culture? Is there anything principally wrong in the use of drones for purposes of warfare? Do we have obligations to the environment, and if so why? What is racism and what makes it wrong? And what are feminist ideals? GER:EC-EthicReas, WAY-ER. 4-5 units.

Additional EIS Courses (may be offered in 2015-16)

ETHICSOC 178M. Introduction to Environmental Ethics (PHIL 178M). Course examines the following ethical questions about the environment: (1) how we ought morally to relate to animals; (2) attempts to expand the circle of moral concern beyond animals to other parts of nature; (3) economic approaches to environmental problems (e.g. cost-benefit analysis) and the justification of the precautionary principle; and (4) our moral obligations to future people. EC-EthicReas, WAY-ER. 5 units.

ETHICSOC 180M. Collective Action: Ethics and Policy (PHIL 73, PUBLPOL 304A). Individually rational actions can give rise to results that are collectively irrational. For example, the collective result of our consumption decisions is to warm the planet, destroy the world's fisheries, and increase reliance on factory farming; at the same time, the decisions of a single individual seem to have no tangible effect on such things. In light of this, what (if anything) are you as an individual required to do in these and other collective action situations, especially when others are not doing their part to prevent things from getting out of control? Do you have a duty to vote? Is free-riding always ethically objectionable? Can you be required to 'cooperate' in a situation where you know that most others will 'defect'? Finally, from a real-world policy perspective, how can we bring about the best solutions to these and other collective action problems? Is the best policy response always a straightforward function of the variable features of each case? WAY-ER. 5 units.

ETHICSOC 185M. Contemporary Moral Problems (PHIL 72, POLISCI 134P). As individuals and as members of societies, we make choices that can be evaluated from a moral point of view. What choices should we make, and how should we justify these choices? For example, can we justify buying expensive sunglasses or MP3 players when the money could instead be given to provide others with basic nutrition? Does a preference for the taste of meat over that of other proteins justify killing animals? Focus is on our obligations to aid, and to avoid harming. Topics include aid and its allocation, abortion, animal rights and euthanasia. EC-EthicReas, WAY-ER. 5 units.

ETHICSOC 190. Ethics in Society Honors Seminar (PHIL 178). For students planning to write an honors thesis in Ethics in Society. Methods of research. Students present issues of public and personal morality; topics chosen with advice of instructor. 3 units.

ETHICSOC 200A. Ethics in Society Honors Thesis—Limited to Ethics in Society honors students, who must enroll once in A and once in B. 1-5 units.

ETHICSOC 200B. Ethics in Society Honors Thesis—Limited to Ethics in Society honors students, who must enroll once in A and once in B. 1-5 units.

ETHICSOC 202. Emotions: Morality and Law (ETHICSOC 302). If emotions are the stuff of life, some emotions are the stuff of our moral and legal life. Emotions such as: guilt, shame, revenge, indignation, resentment, disgust, envy, jealousy and humiliation, along with forgiveness, compassion, pity, mercy and patriotism, play a central role in our moral and legal life. The course is about these emotions, their meaning and role in morality and law. Issues such as the relationship between punishment and revenge, or between envy and equality, or St. Paul's contrast between law and love, or Nietzsche's idea that resentment is what feeds morality, will be discussed alongside other intriguing topics. 2 units.

ETHICSOC 205R. Just and Unjust Wars (ETHICSOC 305R). War is violent, but also a means by which political communities pursue collective interests. When, in light of these features, is the recourse to armed force justified? Pacifists argue that because war is so violent it is never justified, and that there is no such thing as a just war. Realists, in contrast, argue that war is simply a fact of life and not a proper subject for moral judgment, any more than we would judge an attack by a pack of wolves in moral terms. In between is just war theory, which claims that some wars, but not all, are morally justified. We will explore these theories, and consider how just war theory comports with international law governing recourse to force. We will also explore justice in war: the moral and legal rules governing the conduct of war, such as the requirement to avoid targeting non-combatants. Finally, we will consider how war should be terminated. What should be the nature of justified peace? We will critically evaluate the application of just war theory in the context of contemporary security problems, including: (1) transnational conflicts between states and non-state groups and the so-called "war on terrorism"; (2) civil wars; (3) demands for military intervention to halt humanitarian atrocities taking place in another state. 2 units.

ETHICSOC 206R. Science, Power and Democracy (POLISCI 231D). This course investigates the relationship between science and democracy, and between knowledge and power, in the modern world. Topics covered include the epistemic properties of democratic institutions; the question of expertise in democratic politics; the role of values in science and public policy; the relationship between democracy and technology; and the relationship between democracy and the social sciences. We also analyze a number of concrete issues at the intersection of politics and science, including climate change and biomedical research. The course is interdisciplinary in method and content, with readings ranging across political theory, philosophy, history, and the social sciences. 5 units.

ETHICSOC 232T. Theories of Civil Society, Philanthropy, and the Nonprofit Sector (POLISCI 236). What is the basis of private action for the public good? How are charitable dollars distributed and what role do nonprofit organizations and philanthropic dollars play in a modern democracy? How do nongovernmental organizations operate domestically and globally? The historical development and modern structure of civil society emphasizing philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. Readings in political philosophy, political sociology, and public policy. 5 units.

ETHICSOC 233R. The Ethics of Religious Politics. Is it possible for a deeply committed religious person to be a good citizen in a liberal, pluralistic democracy? Is it morally inappropriate for religious citizens to appeal to the teachings of their tradition when they support and vote for laws that coerce fellow citizens? Must the religiously committed be prepared to defend their arguments by appealing to 'secular reasons' ostensibly accessible to all 'reasonable' citizens? What is so special about religious claims of conscience and expression that they warrant special protection in the constitution of most liberal democracies? Is freedom of religion an illusion when it is left to ostensibly secular courts to decide what counts as religion? Exploration of the debates surrounding the public role of religion in a religiously pluralistic American democracy through the writings of scholars on all sides of the issue from the fields of law, political science, philosophy, and religious studies. 5 units.

ETHICSOC 237. Civil Society and Democracy in Comparative Perspective (POLISCI 237S). A cross-national approach to the study of civil societies and their role in democracy. The concept of civil society--historical, normative, and empirical. Is civil society a universal or culturally relative concept? Does civil society provide a supportive platform for democracy or defend a protected realm of private action against the state? How are the norms of individual rights, the common good, and tolerance balanced in diverse civil societies? Results of theoretical exploration applied to student-conducted empirical research projects on civil societies in eight countries. Summary comparative discussions. Prerequisite: a course on civil society or political theory. Students will conduct original research in teams of two on the selected nations. Enrollment limited to 18. Enrollment preference given to students who have taken PoliSci 236S/ EthicSoc 232T. 5 units.

ETHICSOC 280. Transitional Justice, International Criminal Tribunals, and the International Criminal Court (INTNLREL 180A, IPS 280). Historical backdrop of the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals. The creation and operation of the Yugoslav and Rwanda Tribunals (ICTY and ICTR). The development of hybrid tribunals in East Timor, Sierra Leone, and Cambodia, including evaluation of their success in addressing perceived shortcomings of the ICTY and ICTR. Examination of the role of the International Criminal Court and the extent to which it will succeed in supplanting all other ad hoc international justice mechanisms and fulfill its goals. Analysis focuses on the politics of creating such courts, their interaction with the states in which the conflicts took place, the process of establishing prosecutorial priorities, the body of law they have produced, and their effectiveness in addressing the needs of victims in post-conflict societies. 3-5 units.

ETHICSOC 304. Moral Minds: What Can Moral Psychology Tell Us About Ethics? Recent psychological advances in our understanding of the cognitive and social origins of morality cast a new light on age-old questions about ethics, such as: How did our moral sense evolve in our species? How does it develop over our lifetime? How much does our culture, religion, or politics determine our moral values? What is the role of intuition and emotion in moral judgment? How "logical" is moral judgment? How do other people's moral choices affect us? Does character matter or is behavior entirely dictated by the situations we find ourselves in? If it is purely situational, are we morally responsible for anything? How far will we go to convince ourselves that we are good and moral? Barbara Fried and Benoit Monin will review empirical answers to these questions suggested by behavioral research, and lead discussions on their implications for ethics. 2 units.

ETHICSOC 330R. Social and Political Philosophy of Hegel and Marx — 4 units.