Philosophy 2310: Theory of Ethics

Fall 2015


INSTRUCTOR: Prof. Richard C. Taylor

OFFICE: 437, Marquette Hall

MAILBOX: Marquette Hall, first floor

TELEPHONE: 414-288-5649; FAX: 288-3010


OFFICE HOURS:  Tuesdays 9 am - 12 noon & by appointment




Phil 2310-118 (#5756): Theory of Ethics TT 12:00 pm - 1:45 PM, Wehr Life Science 100

( class ID 11447285, Enrollment password ANNOUNCED IN CLASS)

Phil 2310-120 (#2518) : Theory of Ethics TT 2:00 pm - 3:15 PM, Emory Clark Hall 117

( class ID 10179336, Enrollment password ANNOUNCED IN CLASS)

     The broad goals of this course are for me to assist you (1) as you come to understand how several important ethical systems attempt to deal with moral problems and (2) as you take from them the insights which you come to deem most valuable for the formation of your own moral thought here and now. The starting point of our work in this course will be your own reflections on language, meaning, ethics and morality as representatives of or participants in contemporary American culture and society. Although the title of this course is "Theory of Ethics," the study of ethical or moral systems of thought involves more than theory. Individual and group human experiences of life as lived play a significant role in the critical judgments we will need to bring to bear upon the theories. What is at issue here is the judgment of what constitutes right, correct, proper, or good human behavior and action and what constitutes behavior for which human beings should be admonished or condemned. And, insofar as we take this seriously, the study of ethics is not just theoretical but also practical. That is, ethical studies bear on human life and concern what we should or should not do with our lives. To that extent, the study of ethics provides us with a special opportunity to reflect critically on our own actions, motives and goals and to work toward the creation of a moral self or person who is rationally sophisticated and critically aware of the complexity of the human person, that is, toward the creation of a morally mature person who acts with purpose and takes responsibility for those actions. And it is our actions and the purposes behind them which constitute or create the moral persons we become.

     In this course we will consider the philosophical views of the following:

(1) Moral Relativism; (2) Ethical Egoism; (3) Aristotle in his NICOMACHEAN ETHICS; (4) the Feminist critique of Aristotle and the methodology employed by Feminist thought; (5) Immanuel Kant in his GROUNDING FOR THE METAPHYSICS OF MORALS; and (6) John Stuart Mill in his UTILITARIANISM. We will then turn our attention to (7) Alan Donagan who presents a contemporary systematic approach to the theory of morality locating foundations for a philosophical system of morality in the Hebrew-Christian tradition of philosophical and religious thought. Aristotle, Kant, Mill and Donagan present philosophical approaches to the theory of morality which contain four dominant classical traditions in ethical thought: virtue  ethics, deontological ethics, utilitarian ethics, and natural law ethics. Critique from the perspective of contemporary feminist thought presents a challenge to the Aristotelian Virtue Ethics tradition.  We will also discuss religious ethics and in particular Islamic ethics.

     Our class discussions will be aimed at critical understanding of these with the purpose of taking from each what we find after reflection to be of value for your own efforts at moral thought. The purpose of the course is not to study history, ideas or culture for their own sake but rather to use these as important opportunities for formulating your own sophisticated ethical views and principles.

     Intellectual reflection and dialogue to stimulate thoughtful understanding and deeper thinking are essential in philosophy as well as in other sciences.  To further these in the course, students are required to bring one written question to each and every regular class session.  These will be discussed at the start of each class. These will be part of the participation grade for the course.


University and Department Learning Outcomes

As a course in the University Core of Common Studies, Phil 2310 Theory of Ethics is required to meet two of the three Core Knowledge Area Learning Outcomes.  (Note: Outcome 1 is addressed in Phil 1001 Philosophy of Human Nature and as background for Phil 2310 Theory of Ethics is not directly assessed in this course.)  The Outcomes are as follows:

1. Assess views of human nature in various philosophical traditions, including classic Greek and Catholic philosophical traditions.

2. Argue for one of the major ethical theories over another in terms of philosophical cogency and practical outcome.

3. Use philosophical reasoning to develop the student’s own position on central issues in human nature and ethics, for example, the relation between mind and body, the problem of freedom and determinism, the spiritual and affective dimensions of human life, the extent of human knowledge, the justification of moral judgments, and the elucidation of moral norms.

Philosophy Department approved

“General Learning Objectives for Philosophy 104 [now 2310]”

By the end of the course,

1) The student will be able to state and provide reasons for the basic positions of the major philosophical theories of Western ethics, including virtue theory, natural law theory, deontology, and consequentialism / utilitarianism. Method of Assessment: This will be assessed in quizzes, in the Final Essay and also in classroom discussion.

2) The student will be able to state and provide reasons for principal objections to major Western ethical theories, including ethical egoism and various forms of moral relativism. Method of Assessment: This will be assessed in the Final Essay and also in classroom discussion.

3) The student will be able to discuss a significant alternative to traditional Western ethics as it relates to Western ethics. Method of Assessment: This will be assessed in quizzes and also in classroom discussion concerning Feminist thought and Islamic ethics.

4) The student will be able to compare and contrast positions of the ethical theories studied in the course. Method of Assessment: This will be assessed in quizzes, in the Course Essay and also in classroom discussion.

5) The student will be able to take and defend a position in ethics that addresses significant objections to the position. Method of Assessment: The final essay requires the student state and defend her own position and raise and respond to two significant objections to that position.

These five Philosophy Department approved “General Learning Objectives for Philosophy 104 [2310]” as well as the required University Core Knowledge Area Learning Outcomes ## 2 and 3 are met by these sections of Phil 2310 Theory of Ethics through the specific learning outcomes for this course.

The specific learning outcomes for this course include the following:

Students will:

• define key terms central to the philosophical study of ethics, such as good, virtue, justice, incontinence, intemperance, prudence, wisdom, pleasure, happiness, end, teleology, practical anthropology, metaphysics of morals, good will, free will, duty, autonomy, categorical imperative, freedom, natural necessity, consequentialism, utility, hedonism, utilitarianism, right, first order questions, second order questions, intuitionism, double effect, corrupt consciousness, culpably corrupt consciousness, intension, extension and more. (University Outcomes ## 2 & 3, Philosophy Department Objectives #1-5)

• Identify, construct and evaluate ethical arguments (University Outcomes ## 2 & 3, Philosophy Department Objectives ##1, 4, 5)

• State reasons for basic tenets and themes of a number of major theories of Western Ethics, such as virtue theory, deontological theory, natural law theory, consequentialism / utilitarianism, and divine command theory, indicating also the conceptions of human nature underlying these (University Outcomes ## 2 & 3, Philosophy Department Objectives ##1, 4, 5)

• State principal objections to traditional Western theories from the standpoints of ethical egoism and moral relativism (University Outcome # 2, Philosophy Department Objective #2)

• Discuss Western theories in relation to significant alternative theories, specifically feminist theory (Philosophy Department Objective # 3)

• Compare and contrast the views of various theories identifying similarities and differences among terms and arguments, with explication by way of reasoned analysis (University Outcomes ## 2 & 3, Philosophy Department Objectives ##1-4)

• Use terms and theories discussed and logical skills for analysis and assessment of moral decisions and processes (University Outcome # 3, Philosophy Department Objectives ##1-5)

• Develop and defend her own ethical positions on the basis of her studies against significant objections (University Outcome # 3, Philosophy Department Objective # 5)


Students are required to use the following texts and to bring the relevant texts to each class meeting.

TEXTS:(1) Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, translated by

Terence Irwin. *2nd ed.* Indianapolis, Hackett Publ. Co.

(2) Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, translated by

James W. Ellington Indianapolis, Hackett Publ. Co.

(3) John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, edited by George Sher, Indianapolis,

Hackett Publ. Co.

(4) Alan Donagan, The Theory of Morality, University of Chicago Press.

(5) Other readings: All will be available through the MU ARES Reserve

System at Raynor Memorial Library.

(i) “Aristotle: Women, Deliberation, and Nature” by Deborah K.

W. Modrak in .Engendering Origins: Critical Feminist Readings

in Plato and Aristotle, Bat-Ami bar On, ed. (Albany: SUNY

Press, 1994) pp. 207-222.

(ii) Eve Browning Cole, “Women, Slaves and ‘Love of Toil’ in

Aristotle’s Moral Philosophy,” Engendering Origins, pp.127-144.

(iii) “Moral Relativism” by Chris Gowans,

in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at

(iv) “Egoism,” by Robert Shaver, in the Stanford Encyclopedia of

Philosophy at

(v) “Egoism and Altruism” by Richard Kraut in The Routledge

Encyclopedia of Philosophy available via ARES Reserve.

(vi) Various readings on religious ethics and Islam:

The Blackwell Companion to Religious Ethics, W. Schweiker, “On

Religious Ethics,” pp. 1-15; R. W. Lovin, “Moral Theories,”

pp. 19-26; E. Moosa, “Muslim Ethics?” pp. 237-43; F. M. Denny,

“Muslim Ethical Trajectories in the Contemporary Period,”

pp.268-77; A. K. Reinhart, “Origins of Islamic Ethics: Foundations and

                                   Constructions,” pp. 244-53;and A. Sachedina, “Islamic Ethics:

                     Differentiations,” pp. 254-67.

NOTE: Students accessing the ARES Reserve system from off

campus should do so using VPN Client. For information on VPN 


Study Expectations and Class Participation Expectations

Students are expected to prepare for class in advance of classroom discussions by reading and studying assigned materials before class. Students must be prepared for oral discussion of readings and philosophical issues at every class meeting.  Class participation is an essential part of this course.

As indicated below at ASSESSMENT AND GRADING METHODS, quizzes may be given at any class without prior announcement. Normally there will be no make up quizzes.

Policy for Students with Disabilities or Special Needs

Please see me privately if you have any documented disabilities or special needs. I will be glad to work with you has necessary to make this a valuable learning experience.

For University policy see:

For the implementation accommodations, students must normally identify themselves to the instructor within the first week of classes as students with documented disability as certified by the Office of Disability Services (ODS).  I will work closely with the staff of the ODS in establishing reasonable accommodations as defined by University policy. Students seeking accommodations must register with ODS and receive appropriate certification..


Grades will be based on (1) Quizzes, (2) Participation in the forms of (a) classroom participation in discussion, (b) student questions, (c ) essay exercise, (3) essay on THE ISLAND, and (4) the Final Essay, in accord with the following weighted values:

(1) Quizzes (10 of 13: 3 lowest dropped)                                                                      50%

  1. (2)Participation (Discussion, Email Questions, Attendance, Essay Exercise)      10%

(3) Course Essay (ca. 1500 words, 6 double spaced pages + bibl.)                              10%

(4) Final Exam                                                                                                                                30%

Re. Extra Credit, see below at (e).

(1) Quizzes: 50% of the final course grade. Quizzes on the assigned readings will be given without advance announcement. NOTE: Quizzes will be reviewed and discussed in detail in class, in most cases immediately following the quiz. Completed quizzes will not be returned and will not be available for extra review, though they will be retained by the instructor as a record of the students’ work. I welcome and encourage students to discuss quiz topics and issues with me during office hours.

Quizzes are in the form of statements with True or False answers.

Quiz grading: 10 A, 9 A, 8 B, 7 C, 6 D, 5 and below F. The 3 lowest of 13 quiz grades will be dropped in the calculation of the final Quiz Grade.

For the final quiz grade, students who achieve 90 points or more on their best 10 quizzes (or an average of 9 or more) receive a grade of A for the quizzes (50% of final grade), 85-89 (8.5-8.9) AB, 80-84 (8.0-8.4) B, 75-79 (7.5-7.9) BC, 70-74 (7.0-7.4) C, 65-69 (6.5-6.9) CD, 60-64 (6.0-6.4) D, below 60 F.  There is no A+ grade; the highest grade attainable for this portion of the course grade is A.

Unofficial grades will normally be posted on D2L. My personal grade sheets will contain official grades.

Make-up Quizzes: There will be no regularly scheduled make-up quizzes.

(2) Participation as Discussion, Attendance, Questions, In-class Essay Exercise: 10% of the final course grade. The participation grade is based on active involvement in the course by way of discussion, questions and other forms of engagement in class.  As with all other grades, your participation grade starts at 0% or F and you may earn your grade up to A. Attendance is used here as a measure. Full attendance but little or no discussion or participation will normally yield a grade no higher than CD. For a higher grade students must be noticeably active and engaged in classroom discussion. Three unexcused absences will lower the Participation, Discussion, Attendance portion of the grade by one letter, five by two letters, seven by three letters.

(3) Movie Essay: 10% of the final course grade. For the course essay the movie, THE ISLAND, must be watched on D2L.  Essays must conform precisely to the Guidelines indicated on Syllabus Handout #2.

(4) Final Essay: 30% of final course grade.  This will be a two-part exam with multiple choice questions and an essay.


A limited number of regular extra credit opportunities in the form of classroom presentations will be available on a ‘first come, first serve’ basis for volunteers. Students who complete these assignments successfully and well will be rewarded by dropping one of the student’s lowest quiz grades.

OTHER EXTRA CREDIT OPPORTUNITIES may arise depending on current events and on-campus special events and speakers. Good work will result in the dropping of a low quiz grade.

The maximum number of Extra Credit Opportunities for each student is two (2).





Academic Dishonesty Policy

Dishonesty in academic matters undermines student intellectual development and the goal of Marquette University to develop the whole person. Further, dishonesty undermines the foundations of the search for the true and the right in ethical matters. Cheating in such forms as copying, sharing answers or questions, plagiarism and the like certainly cannot be tolerated in any university course, and all the more so in this course on the Theory of Ethics.  The Marquette University Academic Honest Policy is spelled out on at

Students who have any questions about just what constitutes academic dishonesty should study the Academic Honesty Policy and bring any questions to me to forestall any problems.



Class Attendance and Absence Policy

For this course students are expected to attend each and every class meeting.  It is the student’s responsibility to be sure to sign the attendance sheet at each class. For this course attendance is included as a measure of academic performance, in accord with the policies of the Helen Way Klinger College of Arts and Sciences. Regarding attendance and grading, see


Unofficial grades will be recorded on D2L for student access. My personal copy of grading sheets will contain official grades for the course.


ARES Raynor Library Reserve System:

Course password: mistertea

Search for the course by instructor name.

Monty Python: Philosophers’ World Cup: