Due to the Corona virus education methods or examination can deviate. For the latest news please check the course page in Brightspace.


nl en

Comparative Ethics




Admission Requirements

The usual LUC prerequisite for this course is Comparative Philosophy of Being, but students who wish to enrol on the strength of another background in philosophy should contact the course instructor before course allocation.


Building on the diverse philosophical frameworks which inform the fundamental concept of the human being, this course focuses on what it means to be human in distinct historical, cultural, and intellectual traditions by investigating the ways in which different traditions have developed sophisticated and varied systems of ethics. From meta-ethical foundations of good and evil to the defensibility of ethical norms, from the principles of applied ethics to the justification of casuistry, we will think through and beyond ethical schools ranging from utilitarianism and deontology to neo-confucianism and stoicism, and engage those central moral themes that motivate constructive comparisons across ancient and contemporary ethical positions. Through our collective analysis of different ethical systems on a topical basis—be it a philosophical paradox, hypothetical scenario, or practical dilemma—we will also confront and clarify the ethical implications of universalism and relativism, towards inspecting the presumptions which underlie our everyday moral decisions and practices.

Course Objectives

By the end of this course, we should expect to achieve:

  • a clear understanding of the central themes, concepts, and traditions related to ethics;

  • a deep appreciation of the range and diversity of the sources of meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics;

  • a keen awareness of the interconnections among different ethical systems, as well as their interaction with politics, law, economics, and society at large;

  • a critical capacity for reading and analysing philosophical texts from different traditions; and

  • a rigorous faculty for constructing, presenting, and defending philosophical arguments.

Mode of Instruction

Seminars (two 2-hour sessions per week, Weeks 1 – 7) will form the main body of this course, and a blackboard site will support our in-class discussion. Do check our course site regularly for up-to-date reading assignments, multi-media material, and announcements. For further details of how the course will proceed, see sections below on “Assessment” and “Weekly overview”.


In-class participation: 15%
Continuous assessment of your individual engagement with the course material, including your constructive interaction with your peers’ philosophical ideas in class from Weeks 1 – 7.

Three short papers: 15% per piece
Regular assessment of the progress of your understanding of course material, and especially of the clarity and precision of your philosophical expression, through a set of three short papers of 950 – 1100 words each, with one due at the end of Weeks 2, 4, and 6. Each short paper will be graded as separate assessments.

Final essay: 40%
Final assessment of your analysis, articulation, and appreciation of the course themes, including your incorporation of formative feedback from Weeks 1 – 7, through an essay on a pre-approved topic of your own choice of 2500 – 3000 words due at the end of Week 8.


There is no set textbook for the course. Assigned readings will be made available on BlackBoard, alongside audio-visual material complementary to the course.

Contact Information

Dr. Cissie Fu at [c.fu@luc.leidenuniv.nl].

Weekly Overview

Week 1 – Moral perspectives: comparative ethics for a plural universe
Week 2 – Moral determinism: egoism, evolution, and the banality of evil
Week 3 – Moral over-determination: consequences, duties, and the good life
Week 4 – Moral under-determination: dilemma, luck, and the question of justice Week 5 – Moral realism: truth, knowledge, and the promise of intuition
Week 6 – Moral relativism: patterns, particulars, and the limits of description
Week 7 – Moral reasoning: thinking, willing, judging
Week 8 – [no classes]

Preparation for first session

Please read Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco (in English, or in the original French), noting themes of philosophical interest and ethical import. If you have trouble locating the text, please e-mail the instructor in good time.