The Good Life (Spring 2009) - Syllabus

The Good Life

PHIL 3226 | CRN 036352 | TR 1:20-2:30 | Room: Anderson Hall 721 | Spring 2009

Course Syllabus

Instructor: Dr. Aaron Smuts | | office hours: 746 Anderson Hall, 4:15-5:00 TR


This class will focus on one of the most fundamental questions in moral philosophy: What makes a life good for the one who lives it? To answer this question is to provide a theory of well-being. We will study four different types of answers: Hedonism (pleasure), Preferentism (desire-satisfaction), Perfectionism (perfecting human nature), and Objective List theories. The readings will come from a mix of classical and contemporary sources. We'll be thinking about experience machines, deceived business men, porky pig, sadistic killers of children, ascetic hermits, evil universes, grass counters, strangers on trains, and drug addicts. Along the way we explore several related issues. Is there anything common to the experiences that we call "pleasures"? Can you can be harmed after your death? Can one have a good but meaningless life? What is the meaning of life?


There are eight required texts for this course:

  1. Joel J. Kupperman. Six Myths About the Good Life: Thinking About What Has Value. Hackett, 2006. ISBN 0872207820

  2. E. D. Klemke (Editor), Steven M. Cahn (Editor). The Meaning of Life: A Reader. Oxford UP, 2007. ISBN 0195327306.

  3. Steven M. Cahn (Editor), Christine Vitrano (Editor). Happiness: Classic and Contemporary Readings in Philosophy. Oxford UP, 2007. ISBN 0195321405.

  4. L. W. Sumner. Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics. Oxford UP, 1999. ISBN 0198238789. [WHE]

  5. Fred Feldman. Pleasure and the Good Life: Concerning the Nature, Varieties, and Plausibility of Hedonism. Oxford UP, 2006. ISBN 0199297606. [PGL]

I will post several additional readings on Blackboard. [BB]


There will be three forms of coursework: (best 20 out of 27) daily quizzes, two papers, and two examinations. I will give a short quiz at the beginning of each class that will require one or two sentence answers. Early in the semester there will be a very short (1 page) paper followed a couple of weeks later by a short (2 page) paper. These will be used to hone your philosophical writing. There will be two 5 page papers on assigned topics. There will also be a mid-term and a final examination.

Quizzes (10%) + Paper 1 (5%) + Paper 2 (5%) + Paper 1 (15%) + Paper 2 (25%) + midterm (15%) + final (25%).

Attendance Policy

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.

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 in the course.

Class Schedule (tentative)

Topic I The Concept of the Good Life

Week 1

T (1/20): C1: Introduction

R (1/22): C2: Feldman, "The Quest for the Good Life" [PGL, ch. 1, pp. 1-21]

Week 2

T (1/27): C3: Sumner, "The Concept of Welfare" [WHE, ch. 1, pp. 1-26]

R (1/29): C4: Sumner, "Welfare and Subjectivity" [WHE, ch. 2, pp. 26-45]

Topic II Hedonism

Week 3

T (2/3): C5: Feldman, "Hedonism: A Preliminary Formulation" [PGL, ch. 2, pp. 21-38]

R (2/5): C6: Mill, "What Utilitarianism Is" [Cahn and Vitrano, pp. 121-133]

Week 4

T (2/10): C7: Nozick, "The Experience Machine" [Cahn and Vitrano, pp. 236-238]; Nozick, "Happiness" [BB]

R (2/12): C8: Feldman, "Classic Objections to Hedonism" [PGL, ch. 3, pp. 38-52]

Paper I Due (1 page)

Week 5

T (2/17): C9: Feldman, "Attitudenal Hedonism" [PGL, ch. 4, pp. 55-79]

R (2/19): C10: Epicurus, "Letter to Menoeceus" [BB]; Feldman, "Epicurus and the Evil of Death" [BB]

Week 6

T (2/24): C11: Sumner, "Hedonism" [WHE, ch. 4, pp.81-113]; Feldman, "Replies to Some Objections" [PGL, ch. 5, pp. 108-123]

R (2/26): C12: Kupperman, "Myth One" [Six Myths, pp. 1-22]; Haybron, "Why Hedonism is False" [Cahn and Vitrano, pp. 173-179]; Kahneman, "Objective Happiness" [BB]

Paper II Due (2 pages)

Topic III Preferentism

Week 7

T (3/3): C13: Sumner, "The Desire Theory" [WHE, ch. 5, pp. 113-138]

R (3/5): C14: Heathwood, "Desire Satisfaction and Hedonism" [BB]

Week 8

Spring Break (3/9-3/13)

Week 9

T (3/17): C15: Smuts, "The Feels Good Theory of Pleasure" [BB]; Optional: Feldman, "Reflections on the Attitudinal/Sensory Distinction" [PGL, ch. 4, pp. 79-91]; Heathwood, "The Reduction of Sensory Pleasure to Desire" [BB]

R (3/19): C16: Luper, “Posthumous Harm” [BB]; Optional: Pitcher, “The Misfortunes of the Dead” [BB]

Paper III Due (5 pages)

Week 10

T (3/24): C17: Carson, "The Desire/Preference-Satisfaction Theory of Value" [BB]

R (3/26): C18: Parfit, "What Makes Someone's Life Go Best" [BB]

Topic IV Perfectionism and Objective List Theories

Week 11

T (3/31): C19: Aristotle, The Nicomachaen Ethics [Cahn and Vitrano, pp. 19-34]; Kupperman, "Myth Two" [Six Myths, pp. 22-45]

R (4/2): C20: Kraut, "Two Conceptions of Happiness" [Cahn and Vitrano, pp. 201-222]

Midterm Due

Week 12

T (4/7): C21: Sumner, "Objective Theories" [WHE, ch. 3, pp. 45-81]

R (4/9): C22: Kagan, "Me and My Life" [BB]

Topic V Well-being and the Meaning of life

Week 13

T (4/14): C23: Wolf, "Happiness and Meaning: Two Aspects of the Good Life" [BB]; Cahn, "Meaningless Lives" [Klemke and Cahn, pp. 236-238]

R (4/16): C24: Sumner, "Welfare and Happiness" [WHE, ch. 6, pp. 138-184]

Week 14

T (4/21): C25: Kagan, "The Limits of Well-being" [BB]

Paper IV Due (5 pages)

R (4/23): C26: Viktor Frankl, "Logotherapy in a Nutshell" (Man's Search for Meaning) [BB]

Week 15

T (4/28): C27: Taylor, "The Meaning of Life" [Klemke and Cahn, pp. 134-143]

R (4/30): C28: Nagel, "The Absurd" [Klemke and Cahn, pp. 143-153]; Optional: Kekes, "The Meaning of Life" [Klemke and Cahn, pp.239-258]

End of Classes

Week 16 (Final exam week)