Oxford University professor Marianne Talbot has a number of excellent philosophy podcasts online, some of which we've previously featured on the site. Today, we bring you Talbot's A Romp Through Ethics for Complete Beginners (Web - iTunesU - YouTube), which addresses one of philosophy's central questions: what is the right way to conduct yourself in life?
The problem may, at first, seem somewhat trivial. “Live whichever way you want, as long as you’re going to be a good person,” you might say, shrugging off the question. But it's really a great deal more complicated than that. What does being a “good” person entail? Should we emulate the actions of someone widely considered virtuous?
Does being good mean living by absolute rules? Say, never murder another human being? Or should we tailor our actions according to each situation, with the aim of achieving the greatest quantity of good as our only hard-and-fast rule? If the possibilities are making your head spin, you’re not alone: philosophers have done their best to figure out precisely what constitutes moral rights and wrongs since the days of Socrates.
Luckily, Talbot is ready to guide us through the complexities. True to its title, A Romp Through Ethics for Complete Beginners walks students through seven comprehensive lectures (watch them all above) on moral thought, providing a neatly-packaged survey of the field. Talbot begins by discussing some preconditions to moral reasoning, and then sets out Aristotle’s conception of righteous living, which consists of acting in a virtuous manner (if you smell something fishy about that statement, you’re on the right track). Talbot then proceeds to guide the class through some of philosophy’s most significant ethical paradigms, explaining Immanuel Kant’s idea of the inviolable categorical imperative and the moral calculus behind John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian thought.
A Romp Through Ethics for Complete Beginners is currently available on the University of Oxford website in both audio and video formats, and also on iTunesU and YouTube. You can find it listed in our collection of Free Online Philosophy Courses, alongside classes like Ancient and Medieval Philosophy, Aristotle: Ethics, and Bioethics: An Introduction, all part of our collection 1,500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.