Philosophy 2310: Theory of Ethics

Fall 2016


Syllabus Part 1 of 2

INSTRUCTOR: Prof. Richard C. Taylor


OFFICE: Marquette Hall, room 437

MAILBOX: Marquette Hall, first floor

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


OFFICE HOURS:  Tuesdays 10:30 am - 12 pm, Wednesdays 1-2:30 pm & by appointment

Also available via Skype by appointment.


CLASS: Phil 2310-114 (2891): Theory of Ethics TT 12:30 - 1:45 PM, David Straz Hall 565

( class ID 13156571, 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 differing more theories 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 exams, 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 Exam 1 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 Exam 2, 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) selected essays from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

                             (vii) various readings on religious ethics and Islam including



                       (vi) readings and videos on Islamic available through links to be provided.

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.

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 as necessary to make this a valuable learning experience.

For University policy see:

For the implementation of accommodations, students are required to identify themselves to the instructor within the first week of classes as students with a 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 following:

  1. (1)Exam #1  Aristotle & Feminist critique                                                                    15%

  2. (2)Exam #2 Kant & Mill                                                                                                     30%

(3) Course Essay (ca. 1500 words, 6-7 double spaced pages + bibl.)                         10%

(4) Final Exam   Substantial essay plus short answer questions                              25%

(5) Participation (Discussion, Attendance, Essay Exercise)                                      15%

(6) Participation through Submitted Questions                                                          5%

Re. Extra Credit, see below.


Normally there will be no make-up exams permitted and late papers will not be accepted.

(a) Grades are available privately to each student via 22L.

(b) Exams 1 and 2 are available on this website. For details see those webpages. Students with good attendance records but who — for whatever reason earn a grade less than B on Exam 1 or Exam 2 will be permitted to rewrite the Exam for a grade change of up to B, no more. Quality of work counts for the rewrite so there is no guarantee of a grade of B.

(c) Participation as Discussion, Attendance,  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. More absences will likely trigger removal from the course.

(d) Participation through Submitted Questions. By 8 pm the evening before every class meeting (exceptions are noted on the class syllabus) each student is to post to D2L one question derived from study of the assigned readings. Sample questions are indicated on detailed course syllabus but each student must post his or her own question on D2L. Students are not to work together for this. Questions which demonstrate familiarity with assigned texts and the ideas in them and show student reflection on the meaning of these will receive a grade of 1/1 (one out of one point), while those questions which fail to reflect these characteristics will receive a grade of 0/1 (none out of one).

A selection of some of these questions will form the basis for classroom discussion in the latter part of class.

(e) Movie Essay: 15% 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 the Detailed course syllabus webpage at

(f) Final Exam: 25% of final course grade.  This will be a two-part exam with a substantial essay and short answer questions.

(g) EXTRA CREDIT: Occasional extra credit opportunities will arise often in relation to

       visiting speakers at MU. Students successfully completing one extra credit assignment

       will have his/her Final Exam grade raised by 2 points  and those successfully

       completing two extra credit assignments will have that grade increased by 4 points.

       For the Extra Credit Special webpage, click HERE or at the top of this page.


4. FACULTY OFFICE HOURS AND CONTACT INFORMATION: See above at the top of this document.



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


Grades will be recorded on D2L for student private access.


ARES Raynor Library Reserve System:

Course password: mistertea

Search for the course by instructor name.

Monty Python: Philosophers’ World Cup:

Class ID 13156571, Enrollment password ANNOUNCED IN CLASS