Philosophy 2310: Theory of Ethics

Fall 2018


INSTRUCTOR: Prof. Richard C. Taylor

OFFICE: 437, Marquette Hall, fourth floor

MAILBOX: Marquette Hall, first floor

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


OFFICE HOURS:  Tuesdays 1-3 pm, Thursdays 12-1 pm and by appointment


CLASS: Phil 2310: Theory of Ethics TT 3:30-4:45 pm Location LLH 332

( class ID TBA, Enrollment password ANNOUNCED IN CLASS)

(ARES class password ANNOUNCED IN CLASS)

General course short description:

An investigation into the moral dimension of human life. Among the topics to be considered are the norms of morality and the general process of moral decision-making. Traditional natural law will be one of the points of view included.

Our approach to the ethics of individuals and communities in this class is as follows:

    Philosophical investigation of ethics begins with a theoretical examination of the ethical dimension of life and thought. What is the good life? What is a good character? What is a good deed? And what is a bad life, character, or deed? Every theory makes constant reference to the theme of the relationship between an individual and a community. For the good life is necessarily the life of an individual, or group of individuals. Characters and deeds are those of individuals. But every life, character and deed impacts others, indeed, each indirectly impacts the whole community. Many theories, such as natural law ethics, take the impact on the community to be a fundamental aspect of ethical evaluation. This leads to even deeper questions. Which communities are relevant in ethical evaluation? Is it the family, the tribe, the state, all humankind, or the whole ecological community? How does one weigh the sometimes competing obligations to these various communities?

    This class is conceived and structured such that my role is to assist you (1) as you come to understand how several important ethical systems attempt to deal with moral problems in the context of individuals and community; 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 as individual members in the communities of city, state, nation and the world. 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. This means that we will focus on the social context of ethical values and the way human beings attain, analyze and judge modes of thinking and actions regarding what is right & wrong, permissible & impermissible, and what is positively obligatory (or what we ought to do) in the contexts of social epistemology and individual rational reflection.

    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 in the multiple contexts of community, that is, toward the creation of a morally mature person who acts with purpose and takes responsibility for those actions both as an individual and as a member of various kinds of communities. And it is our actions and the purposes behind them which constitute or create the moral persons we become and the societies we also constitute or create.

     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.


PHIL 2310 Course Objectives 

By the end of the course, 

1. The students 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. 

2. The student will be able to state and provide reasons for principle objections to major Western ethical theories, including ethical egoism and various forms of moral relativism. 

3. The student will be able to discuss a significant alternative to traditional Western ethics as it relates to Western ethics. 

4. The student will be able to compare and contrast positions of the ethical theories studied in the course. 

5. The student will be able to take and defend a position in ethics that addresses significant objections to the position. 

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, natural law, natural rights and more. This involves students showing how such terms apply in regard to both the goods of individuals and communities (Core Objectives #1-5)

• Identify, construct and evaluate ethical arguments in regard to both the goods of individuals and communities (Core Objectives ##1, 2, 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 — both individual and communal —  underlying these (Core Objectives ##1, 4, 5)

• State principal objections to traditional Western theories from the standpoints of ethical egoism (the thesis that the moral good is the individual good)  and moral relativism, both cultural, that is, grounded in the norms of the community, and individual.  (Core Objective #2)

• Discuss Western theories in relation to significant alternative theories, including feminist theory and others (Core 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 (Core Objectives ##1-4)

• Use terms and theories discussed and logical skills for analysis and assessment of moral decisions and processes (Core Objective ##4 but also 1 and 3)

• Develop and defend her own ethical positions on the basis of her studies against significant objections (Core Outcome # 5)

All of these will be assessed on three exams, one substantial course essay, and in classroom discussion performance.


Students are required to use these


(1) Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, translated by Terence Irwin. *2nd ed.* Indianapolis, Hackett Publ. Co. 2000.

Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, translated by James W. Ellington. Indianapolis, Hackett Publ. Co. 1993.

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

Hackett Publ. Co. 2002.

(4) Alan Donagan, The Theory of Morality, University of Chicago Press. 1977.

(5) Other readings: All will be available through D2L.

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

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: lecture and video indicated on the Detailed Syllabus (Syllabus Part 2)

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 are also required to submit questions in advance of class as explained below. At class students must be prepared for written work on important questions and 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 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) 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:

Exam #1  Aristotle & Feminist critique 20%.                                                          

Exam #2 Kant & Mill 20%.    

Exam #3  Donagan’s Theory of Morality & Comprehensive Essay 20%             

Course Essay (ca. 1500 words, 7-8 double spaced pages + bibl.)  20%

Participation 20%

      5.1 Class Discussion, Attendance, Essay Exercise to mid-term  5%

      5.2 Class Discussion, Attendance mid-term to end 5%    

      5.3. Questions submitted on D2L 10%    

Re. Extra Credit, see below.


While grades will be recorded on D2L for student access, only my own version of the grade sheets is official.

Normally there will be no make-up exams permitted and no late papers will be accepted.

Note the following:

Grading will be with a 100 point system. A 93, A-90-92, B+ 87-89, B 83-86, B-80-82, C+ 77-79, C 73-76, C- 70-72, D+ 67-69, D 63-66, D-60-62, F less than 70.

Participation 20%

The participation grade is based on active involvement in the course.

10% of the course grade is based on questions submitted for (nearly) every class via the D2L Discussion module. These are to be on the assigned readings and must show clear evidence of study of the readings and thoughtful reflection on the readings. These questions will be graded 0 = inadequate, 1 = adequate, 2 = good or excellent.

The remaining 10% for participation will be determined 5% at midterm and 5% at the end of the course. This will be based on attendance and active discussion in class, including written work in or outside of class.

Course Essay: 20% of the final course grade. For the course essay the movie, THE ISLAND, must be rented or purchased to be watched outside of class.  Essays must conform precisely to the Guidelines indicated on the Detailed Course. LATE PAPERS WILL NORMALLY NOT BE ACCEPTED AND, IF ACCEPTED, MAY BE REDUCED ONE LETTER GRADE PER DAY LATE.

Three exams: 20% each.  These exams can be found on the course website.


A very 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 2 points added to their final exam grade.

SPECIAL EXTRA CREDIT OPPORTUNITIES may arise depending on current events and on-campus special events and speakers.

The maximum number of Extra Credit Opportunities for each student is one Special Extra Credit and one In-Class extra credit. For each extra credit exercise completed in a satisfactory way, 2 points will be added to the final exam grade. Extra Credit Opportunities will be available only until 20 November 2018. None will be accepted after that date.

ANOTHER ONE-TIME EXTRA CREDIT OPPORTUNITY WILL BE ANNOUNCED AT THE FIRST CLASS. This will allow students the opportunity to write a reflection essay to earn an addition of up to 3 pts to the grade for the first class exam.


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 Misconduct 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. Attendance will be taken. Students arriving later will be marked absent. 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.


Monty Python: Philosophers’ World Cup:



passwords: announced in class

All course video lectures can be located on YouTube by searching for the hashtag “muphil2310rt”.