I think a lot of people -- and perhaps especially college undergrads -- want their lives to "make a difference". So I think it'd be a lot of fun to design a practical ethics course around this theme.
We might begin by asking Why Make a Difference?, with possible answers including Singer-style moral demands, along with more self-centered arguments concerning what it takes to lead a genuinely meaningful life (cf. Nozick's experience machine).
A second brief section on Maximizing Impact would start students thinking rigorously about practical matters by introducing insights from the likes of GiveWell on charity evaluation (e.g. why 'overhead' is not a good measure of impact, why 'room for more funding' is important, etc.) and 80k hours on career choice.
The bulk of the course would then explore a range of broad "causes" that have at least a prima facie claim to being of great importance. We'd need to examine both empirical evidence (to get a better sense of the facts relating to the issue) and fundamentally philosophical arguments (concerning the normative significance of those facts). Candidate "causes" might include:
* Global poverty
* Animal welfare
* Immigration reform
* Prison reform
* The "War on Drugs"
* Pacifism and War
* Environmentalism / Global Warming
* Existential Risk
... along with more "topic-neutral" / indirect / procedural improvements like:
* Institutional reform (e.g. Lessig on corruption)
Of course, thus far the course has mostly interpreted "making a difference" in broadly utilitarian terms. So I think it would be good to wrap up with a section exploring Competing Ideals, e.g.:
- Should we favour our “nearest and dearest”? (Agent-relative value)
- The Simple Life (Agrarianism?)
- Art, Faith, and the Sublime (Perfectionism)
Any thoughts? Suggestions -- whether for fleshing out some of the above ideas, supplementing them with further ideas, or restructuring / developing the theme in a different direction -- would be most welcome!