Moral Philosophy (Fall 2007) - Syllabus

Philosophy 3226 | 076669 | R 2:40-5:30 PM | Anderson Hall 706

Instructor: Dr. Aaron Smuts | | office hours: 714 Anderson Hall, 11:30-12:30 T,R


The goal of this course is to introduce students to major works in moral philosophy. Rather than focus on classic works exclusively, we will engage with classic texts by figures such as Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant, and Mill by reading primary sources and contemporary articles engaged with the problems presented in the classic text. Our aim is to understand the historical roots of the major issues discussed in contemporary ethical theory.

Students will gain an understanding of utilitarian, deontological, and virtue-based normative ethical theories. In addition, moving beyond the traditional scope of similar courses, we will explore issues in meta-ethics, axiology, and moral psychology.

Questions that will be addressed include: What makes an action morally right? Why should I be moral? Can morality be grounded in religion? Do moral claims state facts and if so can they be true? What constitutes a good life?


There is just one required text for this course:

    1. Russ Shafer-Landau, editor. Ethical Theory: An Anthology (Blackwell; 2007).


There will be three forms of coursework: weekly quizzes, two papers, and two examinations. Each week I will give a short quiz at the beginning of class that will require one or two sentence answers. There will be one short paper of less than 3 pages and a longer 7 page paper on assigned topics. There will also be a mid-term and a comprehensive final examination.

Quizzes (10%) + Paper 1 (15%) + Paper 2 (25%) + mid term (20%) + final (30%).

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism--claiming someone else’s ideas or written work as your own--will not be tolerated. Anyone caught cheating will be given a failing grade. I will also write a letter will to the dean requesting that you be expelled from the the university.

Disability Statement

This course is open to all students who meet the academic requirements for participation. Any student who has a need for accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact the instructor privately to discuss the specific situation as soon as possible. Contact Disability Resources and Services at 215-204-1280 in 100 Ritter Annex to coordinate reasonable accommodations for students with documented disabilities.

Statement on Academic Freedom

Freedom to teach and freedom to learn are inseparable facets of academic freedom. The University has adopted a policy on Student and Faculty Academic Rights and Responsibilities (Policy # 03.70.02) which can be accessed through the following link:


    • Week 1 8/30 Introduction to Ethics

Topic I (Value)

    • Week 2 (9/6) Hedonism
    • Readings: “Introduction” (pp. 281-285); John Stuart Mill, “Hedonism”; Robert Nozick, “The Experience Machine”
    • Week 3 (9/13) Hedonism and Desire Satisfaction
    • Readings: Fred Feldman, “The Good Life: A Defense of Attitudinal Hedonism”; James Griffin, “The Informed Desire Account”
    • Week 4 9/20 Lives and Worlds
    • Readings: Derek Parfit, “What Makes Someone's Life Go Best”; W. D. Ross, “What Things are Good?”

Topic II (Why be Moral?)

    • Week 5 9/27 Egoism
    • Readings: “Introduction” (pp. 143-146); Plato, “The Immoralist's Challenge”; Lester Hunt, “Flourishing Egoism”

Paper #1 Due.

    • Week 6 10/4 Moral Rationalism
    • Readings: Philippa Foot, “Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives”; Russ Shafer- Landau, “Moral Rationalism”

Topic III (Status of Morality)

    • Week 7 10/11 Anti-Realism
    • Readings: “Introduction” (pp. 3-8); David Hume, “Of the Influencing Motives of the Will” and “Moral Distinctions Not Derived from Reason”; J. L. Mackie, “The Subjectivity of Values”.
    • Week 8 10/18 Realism
    • Readings: Russ Shafer-Landau, “Ethics as Philosophy: A Defense of Ethical Nonnaturalism”; Michael Smith, “Realism”

Topic IV (Ethics and Religion)

    • Week 9 10/25
      • Readings: “Introduction” (pp. 237-240); Plato, “Euthyphro”; Robert Adams, “A New Divine Command Theory”; Erik Wielenberg, "God and Morality"


Topic V (Normative Ethical Theories)

    • Week 10 11/1 Consequentialism
    • Readings: “Introduction” (pp. 453-457); John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism; R. M. Hare, “What is Wrong with Slavery?”
    • Week 11 11/8 Rule Consequentialism
    • Readings: J. J. C. Smart, “Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism”; Brad Hooker, “Rule-Consequentialism”

Paper #2 Due

    • Week 12 11/15 Deontology
    • Readings: “Introduction” (pp. 521-525); Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals; Judith Jarvis Thomson, “Killing, Letting Die, and the Trolley Problem”
    • Week 13 11/22 (NO CLASS: Thanksgiving 11/22)
    • Week 14 11/29 Virtue Ethics
    • Readings: “Introduction” (pp. 663-667); Aristotle, “The Nature of Virtue”; Martha Nussbaum, “Non-Relative Virtues: An Aristotelian Approach”

End of Classes

    • Week 15 12/6 (NO CLASS: Last day of classes W 12/5)
    • Week 16 12/10-14 (Final exam week)