The Good Life (Fall 2012)

The Good Life

PHIL 264-02 | CRN# 11719 | TR 10-11:50 | Craig-Lee 050 | Fall 2012

Course Syllabus

Instructor: Dr. Aaron Smuts |


This class will focus on one of the most fundamental questions in moral philosophy: What makes a life worth living? In other words, we are after the nature of The Good Life.

The course begins with the meaning of life. Here we will ask question such as: Is life meaningless if there is no God? If death is the end, should we simply pursue as much pleasure while we can enjoy it? What's the difference between merely feeling fulfilled and living a meaningful life? In the next section of the course, we will briefly look at theories of well-being. These theories tell us what makes a life good for the one who lives it. This is a subtly different question than what makes a life meaningful. Here we want to know what makes a life good for me. Is it pleasure, desire satisfaction, or something else? Finally, we will turn to the big question at the heart of the class: What makes a life worth living? In this part of the course, we will examine theories of the good life.

The readings will come from a mix of classical and contemporary sources. In addition to philosophy, we will read some psychology, drama, and literary fiction. Along the way we'll be thinking about experience machines, deceived business men, bestiality, sadistic killers of children, ascetic hermits, evil universes, grass counters, strangers on trains, drug addicts, and James Dean.


There are seven required books for this course:

  1. Epictetus, The Handbook (Hackett Pub Co) {ISBN: 978-0915145690} [TH] [buy]

  2. Tom Hurka, The Best Things in Life (Oxford University Press, 2010) {ISBN: 978-0195331424} [BTL] [buy]

  3. Moliere, Don Juan, Trans. Neil Bartlett (Oberon Classics) {ISBN: 978-1840024395} (*buy this translation) [DJ] [buy]

  4. Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning (Beacon Press) {ISBN: 978-0807014271} [MSFM] [buy]

  5. Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Illyich & Other Stories, Trans. Pevear & Volokhonsky (Vintage, 2009). {ISBN-13: 978-0307268815} (*buy this translation) [DII] [buy]

  6. Susan Wolf, Meaning in Life and Why it Matters (Princeton University Press) {ISBN: 978-0691154503} [MLWM] [buy]

  7. Albert Camus, The Myth of Sysiphus, Trans. Justin O'Brien (Vintage) {ISBN: 978-0679733737} (*buy this translation) [MS] [buy]

There are two optional books:

  1. Andrew Lawrence Roberts. The Thinking Student's Guide to College: 75 Tips for Getting a Better Education. University Of Chicago Press, 2010. ISBN-10: 0226721159. [buy]

  2. E. D. Klemke (Ed.) and Steven M. Cahn (Ed.), The Meaning of Life: A Reader (Oxford University Press, USA; 3 edition, October 11, 2007) {ISBN-10: 0195327306} [ML] [buy]

Most of the readings will come from articles posted on Blackboard [BB].


There will be two different forms of coursework: (best 20 out of 26) daily quizzes and three take-home examinations. I will give a short quiz at the beginning of each class that will require one or two sentence answers. The quizzes are closed-book, but open-note. The bulk of your grade comes from the take-home exams. All assignments must be completed to pass the course.

Quizzes (10%) + first exam (30%) + late-term exam (30%) + final exam (30%).

I encourage students who are doing well to write a term paper in place of the final exam. If you chose this option, please let me know two weeks before Thanksgiving. I'll help you refine your topic and develop an outline. You must give me an abstract and a rough outline one month before the final exam period. I will not accept a term paper otherwise.

Attendance Policy

Although I record every class meeting, attendance is required. If you miss 6 or more classes, you will receive a 0 for your quiz grade. If you miss 12 or more classes, you will receive an F for the course. (There are no excused or unexcused absences. But please talk to me if something major comes up that dramatically affects your attendance.)

Laptop Policy

Laptop use is prohibited. The same goes for tablet computers. Consider this rehab for Facebook addiction. You should print the articles posted on Blackboard and bring them to class.

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism—claiming someone else’s ideas or written work as your own—will not be tolerated. The tests are not collaborative. All sources must be cited. Anyone caught cheating will be given a failing grade in the course. I am also required to report you to the Vice President of Academic Affairs. But I would report you even if it was optional. Plagiarism is a serious offense.

Class Schedule

(There will be a quiz every class on the required reading for that day.)

  • Week 1

    • C01 (T: 8/28) Introduction and Overview

      • Feldman, "The Quest for the Good Life" [BB, PGL, ch. 1, pp. 1-21]

      • {Optional: Sumner, "The Concept of Welfare" [BB, WHE ch. 1, pp. 1-26]}

      • {Optional: Haybron, "What Do We Want from a Theory of Happiness?" [BB]}

      • {Optional: Diener, Wirtz, and Oishi, "The James Dean Effect" [BB]}

Topic I: The Meaning of Life

    • C02 (R: 8/30) Stoicism

      • Epictetus, The Handbook [TH]

  • Week 2

    • C03 (T: 9/4) Meaning and Suffering

      • Frankl, "Experiences in a Concentration Camp" [MSFM, pp. 3-96)

    • C04 (R: 9/6) Super-meaning

      • Frankl, "Logotherapy in a Nutshell" [MSFM, pp. 97-136]

  • Week 3

    • C05 (T: 9/11) An Existentialist Account

      • Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, "An Absurd Reasoning" [MS, pp. 3-65, 119-124]

      • {Optional: Smuts, "Five Tests for What Makes a Life Worth Living" [BB]}

    • C06 (R: 9/13) Don Juan

      • Molière, Don Juan [DJ, pp.13-78]

  • Week 4

    • C07 (T: 9/18) The Absurd

      • Ecclesiastes [BB]

      • Nagel, "The Absurd" [BB, ML, pp. 143-153]

    • C08 (R: 9/20) Subjective Meaning

      • Taylor, "The Meaning of Life" [BB, ML, pp. 134-143]

  • Week 5

    • C09 (T: 9/25) Meaning and God

      • Craig, "The Absurdity of Life Without God" [BB]

    • CXX (R: 9/27) *NO CLASS

      • Wolf, "Happiness and Meaning: Two Aspects of the Good Life" [BB]

  • Week 6

    • C10 (T: 10/02) Meaning and God

      • Wielenberg, "God and the Meaning of Life" [BB]

    • C11 (R: 10/04) Hybrid Theories of Meaning

      • Wolf, "Meaning in Life" [MLWM, pp. 1-33]

  • Week 7

    • C12 (T: 10/09) The Importance of Meaning

      • Wolf, "Why It Matters" [MLWM, pp. 34-63]

    • C13 (R: 10/11) Replies to Wolf

      • Koethe [MLWM, pp. 67-74]

      • Adams [MLWM, pp. 75-84]

      • Arpaly [MLWM, pp. 85-91]

  • Week 8

    • C14 (T: 10/16) Wolf's Response

      • Wolf [MLWM pp. 102-132]

      • {Optional: Smuts, "The Good Cause Account of the Meaning of Life" [BB]}

    • C15 (R: 10/18) Ivan Ilyich

      • Tolstoy, "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" [DII]

Topic II: Welfare

  • Week 9

    • C16(T: 10/23) Hedonism about Welfare

      • Mill, "What Utilitarianism Is" [BB, pp. 121-133]

      • Homer, "Circe's Pigs" (from bk. 10 of the Odyssey) [BB]

    • C17(R: 10/25) Objective List Theories of Welfare

      • Nozick, "Happiness" [BB]

  • Week 10

    • C18(T: 10/30) Hybrid Objective List Theories of Welfare

      • Parfit, "What Makes Someone's Life Go Best" [BB]

      • Brave New World (excerpt) [BB]

      • {Optional: Sumner, "Objective Theories" (BB, WHE, ch. 3, pp. 45-81) [BB]}

    • C19 (R: 11/01) The Limits of Well-being

      • Kagan, "Me and My Life" [BB]

      • {Optional: Kagan, "The Limits of Well-being" [BB]}

Topic III: A Life Worth Living

  • Week 11

    • CXX (T: 11/06) *NO CLASS – ELECTION DAY

      • Smuts, "A Life Worth Living" [BB]"

    • C20 (R: 11/08) Francis Macomber

      • Hemingway, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" [BB]

  • Week 12

    • C21 (T: 11/13) A Life Worth Living

      • Hurka, "Introduction" and Ch.1 "Feeling Good" [BTL, pp.1-30]

    • C22 (R: 11/15) Happiness

      • Hurka, Ch.2 "Finding that Feeling" and Ch.3 "The Place of Pleasure" [BTL, pp.31-73]

  • Week 13

    • C23 (T: 11/20) Knowledge

      • Hurka, Ch.4 "Knowing What's What" [BTL, pp.75-96]


  • Week 14

    • C24 (T: 11/27) Achievement

      • Hurka, Ch.5 "Making Things Happen" [BTL, pp.97-118]

    • C25 (R: 11/29) Virtue

      • Hurka, Ch.6 "Being Good" [BTL, pp.119-139]

  • Week 15

    • C26 (T: 12/04) Love and Friendship

      • Hurka, Ch.7 "Love and Friendship" [BTL, pp.141-161]

    • C27 (R: 12/06) The Good Life

      • Hurka, Ch.8 "Putting It Together" [BTL, pp.163-187]