Skip to main content

Value Theory

Course Overview

Value Theory is a year-long course on moral, political, and aesthetic value. Students will be assigned challenging expository readings that address these topics explicitly, as well as philosophically rich portrayals from literature, film, and other media. The course is divided into six parts. In part one, we will ask what constitutes a meaningful and worthwhile life. In part two, we begin our study of the ultimate nature of morality, asking whether ethical life is merely a system of social conventions or rather objectively grounded. In part three, we examine historically significant moral theories, in particular, utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics. Part four continues our study of normative ethics by examining more sophisticated criticisms of utilitarianism and introducing the moral theory known as contractualism. The study of contractualism serves as a segue, in part five, to the study of political philosophy proper. There we will look at the social contract tradition and criticisms of that tradition from the lens of race and gender. Finally, in part six, we will apply our knowledge of the previous units to questions of aesthetics. We will ask what makes something aesthetically valuable. We will also consider the relationship of the moral content and perspective of an artwork to its aesthetic value. As we do this, we will consider the wider political dimensions of art.