Syllabus last updated: 12-03-07

University of Massachusetts Lowell

Department of Philosophy

45.203.205 Introduction to Ethics (3 Credits) Gen Ed ADE

Fall Semester 2007 MWF 12:30pm-1:20pm

Class Location: SO 407 (North Campus)


Instructor Information

Instructor: Professor Eric S. Nelson

Instructor Availability: Office Hours at Olney 101b: MWF 1:30-3:00 pm or by appointment.

Office Location and Telephone Number: Olney 101b; 978-934-3996




Course Description

The primary goals of this course are to promote students’ (1) awareness of ethical questions and knowledge of their historical contexts from antiquity to the present; and (2) ability to critically interpret and evaluate philosophical texts, positions, and arguments. In particular, we will examine a variety of ethical issues by focusing on forms or ideals of life (How should one/I live? What is the good life?), and models for relating to others (Why should I care about or be just toward others? Do we need friendship, love, community, and justice? What are just social relations?).


Prerequisites for the course: None

Students for whom course is intended: All levels


Course Goals and Objectives

1. The goals of this course are to promote:

(a) Familiarity with a wide-range of ethical positions and arguments from antiquity to today, and from diverse cultural and social-political contexts, and

(b) Critical reasoning and ethical reflection through considering a variety of moral issues and approaches to ethical questions.

2. The objectives of this course are for students to develop their ability and skills in:

(a) Interpreting texts by accurately and fully describing concepts and arguments

(b) Reasoning about ideas by (i) evaluating the content, structure, and strategies of ethical works and (ii) applying concepts and arguments to contemporary issues and their own lives, and

(c) Collaborating with other students, and presenting and supporting their ideas in public through class participation.


Course Requirements

Students are required to:

1. Complete all assigned readings

2. Maintain regular attendance

3. Participate in class discussion and in discussion groups

4. Complete all written assignments on-time


Course Assignments

1. Three Exams = 60% of final course grade.

2. In-class and take-home individual and group discussion and writing assignments = 20% of final grade.

3. Class Attendance and Participation = 20% of final grade. Note that beginning with the fourth absence, each additional absence will lower the grade by 0.3-0.4 out of a 4.0 scale.


Instructional Rationale

Assignments are intended to familiarize you with the readings, encourage you to develop your skills in reasoning, and reflect on ethical issues in different contexts and from a variety of perspectives. It is better to do this directly than use unreliable sources on the internet. For example, you can look at sites such as wikipedia to gain an initial impression of the average public understanding of a topic or figure but your own thinking and writing should be more critical, engaged, rigorous, and it should be your own on the basis of the text and the class lectures and discussions.


Special Instructions for Assignments

1. Exams will cover the assigned readings and class discussions of them, and will involve describing, explaining, and evaluating texts, concepts, and arguments.

2. In-class group discussion assignments will engage questions from the reading and discussion for that day of class. They will require that groups of students debate the meaning and validity of arguments, formulate possible alternatives, and arrive at a solution to be turned in at the end of class.

3. Students are expected to attend class regularly, and attendance will be taken daily. Attending class and actively participating will improve your final grade by 20%.


Required Texts

We will use three inexpensive texts available at the UML North Campus Bookstore:

(GL) 1. Charles Guignon (ed), The Good Life (Hackett, 1999) ISBN-10: 0872204383

(OS) 2. Michael Pakaluk (ed), Other Selves (Hackett, 1991) ISBN-10: 0872201139

(RR) 3. Nancy Fraser and Axel Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition? A Political-Philosophical Exchange (Verso, 2003) ISBN-10: 1859844928





Reading Assignment

1. Sept. 5, Wed

Introduction to the Class


I. Virtue, Friendship, and the Good Life

2. Sept. 7, Fri

Plato, from The Republic

Read GL, pp. 10-21

3. Sept. 10, Mon

Plato, Lysis

Read OS, 3-25

4. Sept. 12, Wed

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Read GL, pp. 22-31

5. Sept. 14, Fri

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Read GL, pp. 31-41

6. Sept. 17, Mon

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (Book VIII)

Read OS, 30-43

7. Sept. 19, Wed

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (Books VIII-IX)

Read OS, 43-56

8. Sept. 21, Fri

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (Book IX) / Discussion Groups

Read OS, 56-69

II. Pleasure and Tranquility

9. Sept. 24, Mon

Lucretius, from On the Order of Things Read GL, pp. 42-52

10. Sept. 26, Wed

Epictetus, The Handbook

Read GL, pp. 53-61

11. Sept. 28, Fri

Epictetus, The Handbook

Read GL, pp. 62-71

12. Oct. 1, Mon

Seneca, “On Philosophy and Friendship” and “On Grief for Lost Friends”

Read OS, pp. 117-128

13. Oct. 3, Wed

Lucretius, Epictetus, Seneca Discussion Groups  

14. Oct. 5, Fri

(In-Class) EXAM ONE!

*October 8 Monday *Columbus Day (University Closed)*

III. Charity, Compassion, and Religious Passion

15. Oct. 10, Wed

Siddhartha Gautama Buddha

Read GL, pp. 73-78

16. Oct. 12, Fri

Augustine, from the Confessions

Read GL, pp. 79-91

17. Oct. 15, Mon

Aelred of Rievaulx “Spiritual Friendship” (De Spiritali Amicitia, Book 1)

Read OS, pp. 129-145.

18. Oct. 17, Wed

Thomas Aquinas, Questions on Love and Charity (from Summa Theologiae)

Read OS, pp. 146-160

19. Oct. 19, Fri

Thomas Aquinas, Questions on Love and Charity (from Summa Theologiae) / DG

Read OS, pp. 160-171

20. Oct. 22, Mon

Thomas Aquinas, Questions on Love and Charity (from Summa Theologiae)

(Additional Reading: St. Thomas Aquinas, On War

Read OS, pp. 171-184 )

IV. Authority, Autonomy, and Authenticity

21. Oct. 24, Wed

Immanuel Kant, “What is Enlightenment?

22. Oct. 26, Fri

Immanuel Kant, “Lecture on Friendship”

Read OS, pp. 208-217

23. Oct. 29, Mon

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

Read GL, pp. 211-226

24. Oct. 31, Wed

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship”

Read OS, pp. 218-232

25. Nov. 2, Fri

Kant and Emerson Discussion Groups


26. Nov. 5, Mon

Søren Kierkegaard, “You Shall Love Your Neighbor” (from Works of Love)

Read OS, pp. 233-247

27. Nov. 7, Wed

Jean-Paul Sartre, from Being and Nothingness Read GL, pp. 241-251

*28. Nov. 9, Fri: No Class Today*

*November 12 Monday *Veterans Day (University Closed)*

29. Nov. 14, Wed

Jean-Paul Sartre, from Being and Nothingness Read GL, pp. 251-260

30. Nov. 16, Fri

(In-Class) EXAM TWO

V. Ethics and Society: Redistribution or Recognition?

31. Nov. 19, Mon

Nancy Fraser, Redistribution or Recognition?

Read RR, pp. 7-26

32. Nov. 21, Wed

Nancy Fraser, Redistribution or Recognition?

Read RR, pp. 26-42

*November 22-25 *Thanksgiving Recess*

33. Nov. 26, Mon

Nancy Fraser, Redistribution or Recognition?

Read RR, pp. 42-60

34. Nov. 28, Wed

Nancy Fraser, Redistribution or Recognition?

Read RR, pp. 60-78

35. Nov. 30, Fri

Nancy Fraser, Redistribution or Recognition?

Read RR, pp. 78-94

36. Dec. 3, Mon

University Closed Due to Weather  

37. Dec. 5, Wed

Axel Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition?

Read RR, pp. 110-130

38. Dec. 7, Fri

Axel Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition?

Read RR, pp. 130-150

39. Dec. 10, Mon

Axel Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition?

Read RR, pp. 150-170

40. Dec. 12, Wed

Finish Axel Honneth Reading, Evaluations, and (Take-Home) EXAM THREE

Read RR, pp. 170-189

EXAM THREE due in my office by 5pm on Wed., Dec. 19, 2007



1. If you need help, or if you have any suggestions, questions, problems, or other concerns, feel free to talk with me before or after class, during office hours, or by arrangement. Also see the following website: Guide to the Study of Philosophy,

2. Professionalism: students are required to adopt a professional attitude toward class conduct and fellow students. Please be on time and leave when the class is over. Please do not engage in discussions that are unrelated to class material and distract your fellow students. Cell phones and pagers should be turned off and calls should be taken after class is over except in cases of extreme emergency such as imminent mortality or imprisonment.

3. Work must be done on time. Late or missed work will be penalized by being lowered a whole grade for each day. Missed in-class assignments cannot be made up because they are part of the attendance/participation grade which requires that you attend class.

4. Attendance is mandatory and not an option. Beginning with the fourth absence, each additional absence will lower the grade by 0.3-0.4 out of a 4.0 scale. Failing attendance and participation will result in failing the course.

5. You are expected to keep up with the reading assignments and participate in class discussions. Consistent failure to keep up with the readings will seriously compromise your ability to succeed in the course.

6. Plagiarism, cheating, and other forms of academic dishonesty are serious violations of personal and educational integrity and will result in automatic failure of the course and other possible penalties. The University's definitions and polices on academic dishonesty are available here:

7. Grading Policy: This will be a reading, thinking, and writing intensive class. The grade of “A” will be given to excellent work that shows that you understand the arguments and issues and that you can work with the question in your own voice. Answers should be accurate, clear, consistent, complete, and involve a thoughtful response to both the readings and class-discussions.

8. If you have a disability that presents a difficulty for you in this class, or are experiencing problems that are interfering with your work in this class, please discuss this with me immediately during the first week of classes and we will attempt to come up with an appropriate solution.


Information on this syllabus is subject to change, and important updates will be posted on the course webpage.