Course Description

Catalog Course Description

``The moral principles of conduct and the basic principles underlying these principles such as good, evil, right, wrong, justice, value, duty, and obligation. The ethical works of philosophers are analyzed in terms of these concepts. Three semester hours.'' From the Lander University Academic Catalog 2007-2008:


Lee Archie and John G. Archie. Introduction to Ethical Studies: An Open Source Reader. Version 0.11 GDFL, 2003. (Not available at the Lander Bookstore.)

The textbook is available on the Web at several sites, including these locally in these formats:


If the Lander router goes down, you may also find the textbook and supplementary readings here on the Oxford's :

The GFDL license makes this textbook freely available to anyone for any purpose for no charge. You may print it out for your own use or print it out to sell it so long as you inform the buyer where to access it online without charge.

Supplementary Readings

Lee Archie and John G. Archie, Philosophy Readings: Article Series GDFL 2004-present. Free for any use or resale under terms of the GDFL license.

Book notes and tutorials for the ethics supplementary readings are available at

Purpose of the Course

The class essentially centers around three topics:

  1. What is the nature of the life of excellence?
  2. What is the ultimate worth of the goals you seek?
  3. How do you rightly obtain your life goals?

Although these questions are simply stated, they prove to be most difficult to clarify. The objective of the course is for you to establish some good answers to these questions in light of a critical analysis of several important theories of ethics, including, among others, the ethics of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Marcus Aurelius, Kant, Bentham, Mill, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Sartre. Additionally, the ethics of utilitarianism, duty, religion, decision theory, naturalism, self-realization, and existentialism are studied in their own right.

Objectives of the Course

Some specific aims of our ethics course are

  1. What are the differences among folkways, mores, morals, ethics, and metaethics?
  2. What are the distinctions among moral, nonmoral, amoral, and immoral concerns?
  3. What are cultural relativism, ethical relativism, ethical absolutism, ethical nihilism, and ethical skepticism?
  4. How do we distinguish contributing, necessary, and sufficient conditions for a good life?
  5. What are the advantages and disadvantages to various criteria of truth, such as authority, consensus gentium, legality, conscience, revelation, intuition, science, and reason?
  6. Why be moral?
  7. What are the varieties of egoism and hedonism? Are these philosophies mistaken?
  8. What are the central tenets of some classical theories of ethics?
  9. What are the aims of duty ethics, religious ethics, naturalistic ethics, the ethics of self-realization, and utilitarianism?
  10. What are the relations between individual ethics and societal ethics?

Specific Skills Achieved

Upon completion of this course, all students should be able to

  1. demonstrate basic skills of Internet research.
  2. distinguish clearly among factual, attitudinal, and verbal disputes in ethics,
  3. construct premisses and conclusions for inductive arguments,
  4. identify the common fallacies in ethical reasoning,
  5. evaluate various types of ethical theories,
  6. identify the differences between a sound ethical theory and a persuasive ethical theory.
  7. understand some of the common mistakes made in business, medical, and ecological, and environmental ethics as taught in other disciplines, and
  8. understand some of the limitations of current theories of ethics and metaethics.

Course Procedures

The methods used to obtain these ends are

  1. to learn to identify ethical arguments, to evaluate and counter them, and to construct good arguments,
  2. to obtain the ability to relate arguments to one another and to judge the relative strength of different kinds of arguments,
  3. to analyze different techniques of definition and kinds of meaning in ethics,
  4. to obtain the ability to identify common mistakes in ethical reasoning and to reconstruct arguments to avoid them,
  5. to gain skill in evaluating ethical theories,
  6. to recognize the differences between the inductive and deductive sciences and how they relate to ethical theories,
  7. to study classic, influential, and abiding methods of experimental inquiry into the nature of ethics,
  8. to apply usefully the several methods of inductive reasoning in everyday life and ordinary language.

This course will help you gain skill in asking interesting, productive, and insightful questions and will analyze ethical passages to obtain facility in the clear, complete, and methodological understanding of their content. It will also help you to learn effective methods of analysis and criticism in the evaluation of ethical argumentation.

Narrative Description of the Course

There is little doubt that many teachers attempt to inform students to an excessive degree: students have little enough time to assimilate the information given them, much less to entertain such questions as

  1. What is the nature of this information?
  2. What is the scope of its application?
  3. What is the context and limits of its truth?

It might be surprising to learn that some studies show students acquire information just about as well with a teacher as without one. (Indeed, teachers learn the same way students do.) These are some general reasons why our ethics course is not a course designed to be primarily informational, instead the class is more adequately described as an introduction to shared inquiry into the clarification of life's values.

I think you will find that learning, inquiry, and problem solving are most enjoyable human experiences. I expect to learn a great deal from our shared inquiry. You and I both have a personal stake in the quality of the class and personal responsibility for making it challenging. This class, more than any other class in your university career, is designed to encourage you to think about your responsibility for your life course.

We will adopt certain techniques recommended by many educators, namely those of guided discovery through problem-oriented Socratic lectures, group discussion, simulations, papers, and review examinations.

Socratic lectures are used to focus on principles and methods appropriate to our study of ethics. The lectures are not expository. Ultimately, of course, you learn about a method, not by listening to me talk, but by using it yourself. If I do my job correctly, you will discover and evaluate the significance of philosophical principles yourself. Moreover, if I attempt to instruct you on what is important about the topics discussed, the art of inquiry, both shared and personal, is lost. A Socratic lecture is a series of carefully framed questions followed by considered responses. Your answers and those given by other students usually give the direction of the lecture. I might suggest how problems can be best approached, but we will both be thinking.

Class discussion is used to enable you to think and converse critically. In order to understand a given problem, often both questions and answers must be rephrased. We are seeking to solve problems (or at least devise methods to go about solving problems): non-directed or street-corner conversations are out of place. We will attempt to discover the inadequacies of a given hypothesis as well as attempt to develop alternative hypotheses. Responsibility for the direction of the discussion is mine; responsibility for specific contributions to the class is yours.

Simulations are sometimes called ``educational games.'' Very often students and teachers speak of the ``real world'' in contrast to ``the classroom.'' As an individual trained in philosophy, I am not sure that the real world can be opposed to anything, and so it is difficult for me to see that the classroom itself is not part of the real world. Be that as it may, there are definite learning advantages in classroom situations that are absent in less structured situations. ``When you are up to your waist in alligators, it's difficult to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.'' Educational games streamline learning by simplifying otherwise complex situations so that basic principles and strategies become evident. Although experience is said to be the great teacher, good simulations are often the next best thing.

Papers and tests are different in this class from many other classes. If there be the Great American College Student, then that person is one who has learned the technique of passive acquiescence in the memorizing of material, especially material which he or she thinks the teacher thinks is of some importance. Unfortunately, in many classes this strategy almost always works. In our class the strategy of the passive acquisition of facts will probably not be too successful. You will be encouraged to rely on yourself to produce considered responses from a rational perspective. Positions are to be substantiated, and alternative points of view are to be seriously and sincerely explored. Your papers and tests will demonstrate some of the ways an educated mind approaches life's problems. It is my job to supply the tools to help you in this endeavor. We will learn by trial and error how to express ideas clearly, what constitutes a good argument, what constitutes a fallacious one, and how a reasoned position for most persons is usually superior to an intuitive one. Grades assigned to papers are not based primarily on what is written so much as it is based on the reasoning presented. The purpose of the tests is to provide a limited opportunity to organize your thoughts about the readings into some kind of consistent framework.

Reading assignments are fairly short in recognition of the fact that reading philosophy takes time and, in some cases, is exceedingly difficult. As you prepare for your classes, you will probably find that this class is one of the most exciting of your university career. I will attempt to create the conditions under which you can exercise your native curiosity. Class periods will be varied, and I will seek to keep each class tightly organized and effective. If I do my job correctly, our ethics course will also be one of the most valuable in your university career.

Teaching Methods

We adopt specific techniques recommended by many educators, namely lecture, discussion, review tests, a short position paper, homework, and computer applications, including word-processing, online discussion list, message boards, and online supplementary material.

Lee Archie 2010-08-31