The Greek word ‘ethos’ originally meant ‘custom’ or ‘habit.’ We humans are rather obsessed with observing, explaining, and, most of all, judging our own habits and those of others. Ethical judgments are about the quality or worthiness of choices, customs, habits, or ways of life. In philosophical ethics, we ask how these judgments are justified. For instance, is the best life just the one that adds the most happiness to the world? Or is the goodness of a life independent of its actual consequences? Are these evaluations made true in different ways in different cultures? In this class we will look more closely at these suggestions and see where they lead.

2018 Fall syllabus
2017 Fall syllabus
2016 Fall syllabus
2016 Spring syllabus

Class Schedule, 2018 Fall

(updated: 8/23/2018)

Aug 21, Introduction
Aug 23, Why be moral?
Aug 28, Moral relativism
Aug 30, Introduction to normative ethics
Sep 4, Mill’s utilitarianism
Sep 6, Social contract
Sep 11, Utilitarianism: applications
Sep 13, Utilitarianism: critique
Sep 18, Hume
Sep 20–27, Kant’s deontology
Oct 2, Divine command theory
Oct 3, Deontology: applications
Oct 9, Deontology: critique
Oct 16–18, Aristotle on virtues
Oct 23, Augustine on virtues
Oct 25, McIntyre on virtues
Oct 30, Aquinas on natural law
Nov 6–15, Virtue ethics: applications
Nov 20, Virtue ethics: critique
Nov 27–Dec 4, Abolition of Man
Dec 6, Review


First paper prompt (due: September 25)
Second paper prompt (due: October 23)
Third paper prompt (due: December 6, but see the prompt for details)

Other things