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University Bulletin
Undergraduate Degree Programs

These course descriptions are not being updated as of August 1, 2016. Current course descriptions are maintained in LionPATH.

Political Science (PL SC)

PL SC 112 (GS) Ethics in Citizenship, Politics, and Government (3) An examination of choices we make as citizens, elected officials or people who carry out the work of government.

PL SC 112 Ethics in Citizenship, Politics, and Government (3)

(BA) This course meets the Bachelor of Arts degree requirements.

It is often said that politics is a dirty business, meaning that unethical behavior is prevalent in politics. But this is often said with a twinge of disappointment, sometimes with bitterness or anger. We wish that it were not so. One part of an effort to improve the ethical character of politics is to strive for a clear understanding of what ethical political action is. This course endeavors to arrive at that understanding by dividing the question of ethics in politics into three parts, ethical political action for citizens, ethical political action for elected officials, and ethical political action for persons responsible for carrying out the work of government. In democratic republics the political functions of citizens include choices as members of juries, as people subject to laws, and as voters. In the latter role, they decide, among other things, how much to help the less fortunate, and how much weight to assign to universal principles as opposed to love of one’s country solely because it is one’s own. Additional questions arise when we consider the problems of defining and achieving ethical action for elected officials. One question is whether we can separate private and public lives to the extent that unethical behavior in one’s private life is irrelevant to one’s ethical obligations as an elected official. Another is whether claims that some choices are more ethical than others can ever be more than a way to mobilize the resentful. Still another is whether the pursuit of power, honor, and wealth by those in public office is a symptom of a sickness that can be cured through inquiry into what a happy life consists of. In the last part of the course, we will examine the ethical questions facing those who carry out the work of government – by building roads, fighting wars, delivering mail, inspecting meat, or any of the tasks that governments do. What sort of pressures might induce government workers to act in ways that are unethical? How can those pressures be seen for what they are and resisted? Each week, we will pose these and related questions as clearly as possible, and then see how to answer them in real-life cases that have confronted citizens, elected politicians, or government workers. In this way, we will strive to attain an understanding that is a necessary, though not sufficient condition of ethical political action.

General Education: GS
Diversity: None
Bachelor of Arts: None
Effective: Summer 2013

Note : Class size, frequency of offering, and evaluation methods will vary by location and instructor. For these details check the specific course syllabus.


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Course descriptions are stored in LionPATH, the University-wide student information system. Please visit the LionPATH Course Catalog to access current course descriptions. At that point, you will be leaving the University Bulletin website.

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