I teach an "Introduction to Philosophical Ethics" course in an interactive, discussion-based and skills-focused manner. The core skills involve trying to figure out whether a reason given in support of some conclusion on a moral issue is a good one or not. We start with common arguments, things that ordinary people often say, and then move onto arguments that philosophers focus on. Here's my simplification of what we do:
I try to provide a minimal set of concepts to do what we do, with a one-page handout "Philosophical Ethics: Almost Everything You Need to Know" and a video on formulating arguments in logically valid form, typically as syllogisms. We practice these skills on a variety of contemporary moral issues, mostly in the order presented by Rachels' Elements of Moral Philosophy book.
Their final assignment involves students sharing their moral reasoning skills with an audience of people not in our class. Students have to show this audience how to rationally evaluate moral arguments, using examples they provide, and then teach the audience some basic skills at doing this, involving arguments that the audience provides. I call this "philosophical community service."
Here is the assignment:
Philosophical "Community Service" Project:
This assignment results in students going all sorts of interesting places (bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants, etc.) to talk with interesting people (sometimes people they know, other times new people), to discuss all sorts of interesting topics. Typically, students appreciate the opportunity to "be the teacher" and confirm that they really learned something in the class, and they find their audiences appreciate learning some new, systematic ways of thinking about moral issues.Here's a recent final reflection from a student (used with permission) that is representative of a common reflection on the experience:
The whole activity went well. I believe that I explained moral arguments very well because the audience was able to understand the basic concepts of moral arguments. It was interesting to hear what arguments the audience would make. I thought it would be challenging for the audience to get the hang of making moral arguments, but it wasn’t hard for them at all. This was a great experience, I really enjoyed it and the audience enjoyed it as well. I really enjoyed being able to show what I have learned in this class. I also like the fact that I was able to benefit others with my knowledge.
- A handout on "Philosophical Ethics: Almost Everything You Need to Know":