Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Course Descriptions

As of 12/16/2018 5:26:02 AM

Right and Wrong

This course investigates the relationship between law and morality by examining a series of cases that present challenging questions of moral behavior. Typically, discussion will scrutinize that behavior first in legal terms and then in moral terms. That scrutiny will turn on a meticulous reading of the judicial opinion in the case. Regina v. Dudley & Stephens exemplifies the kind of case we will use. Four men spent days in a lifeboat with little to eat or drink. The three sailors killed and began to eat the cabin boy. They were rescued, and (eventually) two of the sailors were tried for murder. Did the sailors make the right ethical decision? Should the law treat them as murderers? Other cases will present questions about suicide, euthanasia, keeping promises, rescuing strangers, relations within families, killing in self-defense, ownership of cultural artifacts, and special obligations imposed by roles.

Discussion of the court cases will be informed by readings from the literatures on law and morality, on why people obey or disobey the law, and why people behave altruistically and even heroically. The course thus raises important questions about how we think about moral problems, how the law operates and is organized, and why people behave well or badly. Students will develop skills in reading closely, reasoning carefully, and arguing convincingly. The grade will be based on class participation and a final exam.