On this page you will find a course overview and below that the official syllabus for the course.


About the Instructor

Course Overview 

What you will learn

In this course I hope to offer you new ways of viewing the world around you, new ways of understanding yourself, your place in the world, and the world itself. Morality, moral claims, moral concerns, and moral conflicts are central to our experience whether we realize it or not. Our economy, our form of government and our laws are the result of moral and political philosophy and choices individuals have made based on their beliefs about what is right and fair.

And we even have the opportunity to change and affect those things based on what we think is right and fair! Maybe I’m biased but I think moral and political philosophy is pretty important.

Certainly, you will be more educated by coming into contact with the ideas of many of the most brilliant thinkers of Western history. If nothing else you will be smarter for having read and engaged with these thinkers. You will gain valuable skills in reading, writing, and critical thinking which will serve you in all aspects of your life.

And hopefully, you will be better equipped to make moral decisions that make your life and the life of those around you better.

How the Course Material is Organized

(video explaining the course content)


There will be three larger units in the course.

The first unit will deal with questions about the very nature of moral philosophy. Essentially we will be seeking to answer the question, “What is morality?” Are moral rules determined by culture? Is morality subjective, or based just on how we feel? Is morality what is commanded by God? And, is the right thing to do simply what benefits us? This is area of moral philosophy is called “metaethics.” The second part of the course we will exam the most important ethical theories. Technically this is called “

The second part of the course we will examine the three most influential theories of morality. This area of moral philosophy is called “normative ethics” because it relates to norms of right and wrong. In addition to theories of right and wrong action we will look at theories about what forms of government and what laws are fair or just. This area of moral philosophy is called “political philosophy.”

And, in the last unit of the course we will look a wide number of contemporary moral issues including abortion, animal rights, drug decriminalization, issues related to the environment, issues related to race and even what moral obligations we might have to future generations. This area of moral philosophy is called “applied ethics.”

The material we will be covering is organized to help you get some sense of the history of moral and political philosophy, to understand where these ideas came from, how they affected history, and how they continue to affect our lives.

In the first unit our story begins in pre-history, before the existence of the first humans. The psychological foundations of morality go back that far and understanding them will help you to better understand human nature, human history, the natural world, and yourself. And in this unit we will consider the role of culture and religion as they are related to morality.

The second unit begins with Thomas Hobbes whose theory is the first we take a more detail look at. This is because around the time of Hobbes the most important period of history begins. Hobbes begins, roughly speaking, the modern period of history and the period from which our current theories of moral and political are derived. (And also of course all our other theories in the various sciences as well). From Hobbes we attempt to trace some of the main developments in moral and political philosophy leading up to the current political situation we find ourselves in now.

In the final unit we will look at a number of contemporary moral issues including abortion, animal rights, gay marriage, affirmative action, capital punishment, drug-decriminalization, the environment, our moral obligations to future generations, and more.

The Way the Course Will Work

The course is organized into weekly units, all of which are on the main page of the course website. There you will find the readings and videos for each week, except for those that come from the textbook. Be sure to do all the readings!

Each week there is a set of questions based on the readings. Your responses should be at least half a page to each question. They should show that you’ve done the reading. If your answer makes a factual claim you must do some research and find a credible source that supports this claim. The purpose of these questions is not to test your writing abilities but you are required to possess basic writing skills i.e. you cannot get an A on these assignments without good spelling and grammar. You cannot simply state your opinion. You must try to provide good reasons why your opinion is correct i.e. you have to do philosophy!

Discussion Forums / Class Discussion (150 points)

For the online sections:

There will be a question posted in the discussion forum for that week. You will need to make one substantive posts per week AND read what your fellow classmates are writing. Your post can either be a direct response to the prompt or a response to one your classmates’ responses. As with the reading questions, you cannot simply state your opinion. You must try to provide good reasons why your opinion is correct

For face-to-face classes:

We will cover the discussion questions in class. You will receive a grade for your class participation. See the syllabus for the class rules.

If you don’t get a good grade for your class participation it will make it almost impossible to get a good grade in the class. If you lose all your class participation points it will be impossible for you to pass the class.

What to do if you don’t understand the material

Philosophy is hard. You will be encountering many new ideas. They will not be easy to grasp. Frankly, philosophy should be harder than anything else because it is an attempt to answer the most difficult questions there are!

If you are having trouble with the concepts I would first recommend that you read the material again. Second I would recommend that you do some research to see if you can figure it out. The Internet is a magical place. You should get used to educating yourself with the help of the Internet. Third ask questions. If you are in the online class you can post these questions in the discussion forum. In sections that are not online you can (and should!)  ask questions in class.

And you can, of course, email me if you have any questions about anything! And I am available during my weekly office hours.

Good luck!!!!

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