Shelly Kagan

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Shelly Kagan is the Clark Professor of Philosophy at Yale University and the former Henry R. Luce Professor of Social Thought and Ethics. A native of Skokie, Illinois, he received his B.A. from Wesleyan University in 1976[1] and his Ph.D. from Princeton University under the supervision of Thomas Nagel in 1982. He taught at the University of Pittsburgh and at the University of Illinois at Chicago before arriving at Yale.[2]


According to his Yale web page, his main research interests "lie in moral philosophy, in particular normative ethics. Indeed, his second book is a systematic survey of the field of normative ethics, considered analytically (rather than historically, as is more typical of textbooks in ethics). More particularly still, much of his work centers on the debate between consequentialist and deontological moral theories."[3]

An article in the Yale Bulletin and Calendar says that his book The Limits of Morality "critiques so-called ordinary morality; the view that there are limits to what morality can impose on humans; and defends the doctrine of classical utilitarianism, which holds that people are morally obliged, without limit, to do as much good as they can." His Normative Ethics "examines how to judge the rightness or wrongness of actions, exploring such factors as consequences, harm and consent."[2]

Kagan's Yale course "Death" was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Spring 2007 [4] and the book Death is based on these lectures.[3] In 2010, Yale University reported Kagan's "Death" course had made him one of the most popular foreign teachers in China.[5] Kagan also explores the concept of desert, which is a philosophical concept of what individuals do or do not deserve, in his book The Geometry of Desert.[3]

Kagan is a member of the editorial board of the journal Ethics.[2]

Kagan is considered one of the most prominent ethicists of his time.[by whom?]


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