University of Notre Dame

Comparative Moral Systems

Course Number: SOC 13181-2
Instructor: David Gibson

Morality provides the scaffolding for much of social life, but it is a scaffolding solely made of belief, conviction, and convention. While much ethical discourse pertains to discrete problems (such as the death penalty) considered in isolation, in practice, moral principles are constantly in competition with imperatives of other kinds: to provide for ourselves and our families, to avoid unnecessary conflict and peril, to minimize anguish and self-doubt, and to answer the call of competing moral mandates. Consequently, moral principles are frequently subordinated, tweaked, reinterpreted, and forgotten to fit the needs of the moment. This class will consider three types of writings on morality: philosophical statements about particular ethical principles; social-scientific research about the major dimensions of morality and its role in actual social systems; and empirical case studies of times and places in which morality was tested, sometimes to the detriment of everyone involved. Writing assignments will involve students applying the same approach to case studies of their own choosing, thereby adding to our understanding of ethics in action.

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