Issues in Moral Philosophy: Trust in the Face of Lies, Deception, and Conspiracy

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
July 26, 2021 - August 11, 20217/26 - 8/112 WeeksOnlineWaitlistedOnlineArianna Falbo

Course Description

“You can trust me!” “I pinky swear!” “Your secret is safe with me.” “My lips are sealed!" Trust is a core part of our every-day life. It’s everywhere: patients rely upon doctors to give them correct medical information, courts rely upon witnesses to offer sincere testimony, and we trust our close family and friends to keep our secrets and make good on their promises. At the same time, lying and deception are rife. Have you ever told a lie? I haven’t. (In case you didn’t realize, that was a lie; I just lied to you!)

This is an introductory philosophy course with a focus on moral issues surrounding trust in the face of lies, deception, and conspiracy. The course draws upon seminal historical and contemporary philosophical texts in order to investigate a range of diverse moral issues surrounding the ethics of trust, lying, deception, and conspiracy. Course readings, class discussion, and assignments will draw upon the following core topic areas and corresponding questions:

The Ethics of Trust:
What is the moral significance of trust? What counts as a violation of trust? When and who should we trust?

Lying and Deception:
What is lying? How does it differ from deception? Must lies be deceptive? Is self-deception possible? Can I lie to myself?

The Ethics of Lies and Deception:
What is morally objectionable about lying? Are all lies wrong? Is lying morally worse than deceiving? Is telling the truth always morally praiseworthy? What if the truth hurts?

Historical Overview:
Kant’s absolute prohibition on lying.
John Stewart Mill: Utilitarian approach to the value of truth telling.
Plato and the Noble Lie.

Secrets and Gossip:
Are we morally obligated to keep secrets? Is gossip always bad? What is the social function of gossip?

Conspiracy Theories:
Is it ever rational to believe conspiracy theories? What evidence could I have against a conspiracy theory?

Case Study: Propaganda and Fake News:
What moral obligations do news agencies and journalists have to to report the truth? What is morally wrong with fake news? Do the moral stake change when one is lying to the public at large? What is morally problematic about propaganda? What is the relationship between trust and manipulation?

By the end of the course students will familiarized with a number of core topics in moral theory and will be equipped to deconstruct and scrutinize challenging philosophical arguments on a number of controversial issues. Upon completion of this course a student should be able to:

• Clearly and confidently express philosophical ideas in both written and verbal forms;
• Identify the strengths and weaknesses of arguments and pose potential objections and counterexamples to them;
• Understand core concepts and issues on a diverse range of topics in moral philosophy;
• Have a keen awareness of respectful classroom etiquette and be able to carry out a collaborative and rigorous discussion on controversial topics;
• Charitably interpret multiple sides of a controversial issue;
• Write a succinct and clear paper on the basis of the class readings.

Prerequisites: This course is appropriate for any high school student. A background in philosophy is not necessary to succeed in this course. Students should come to class ready to participate with an open mind and a respectful willingness to reflect upon challenging philosophical arguments and ideas.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPL0943

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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