nl en

Comparative Ethics




Admission Requirements

Similarly tagged 200/300-level courses.


What makes actions morally right? What makes people morally good? Does morality depend upon God? Upon culture? Upon each person’s own beliefs? Does morality conflict with our personal self-interest? Is it permissible to favor some people over others? How does morality fit with living a good life? In this course we will become familiar with a wide-range of ethical positions and arguments from antiquity to today. We will explore divine command theory, virtue ethics, deontological ethics, and utilitarianism, proceeding historically to consider the major tenets and strengths of a particular theory before introducing certain flaws and oversights that might be better addressed by another theory. Transitioning from theory to theory in this manner, we will eventually finish up (time permitting) with questions of emotivism, subjectivism, and cultural relativism.

Course Objectives

This course depends heavily on group discussion of significant primary texts in the history of philosophy. Each class will begin with the instructor introducing the topics and readings for that day and offering an interpretation of the works being discussed. Students should join in the discussion at any time, asking questions, making suggestions, or making comparisons with other texts we have read. For each meeting, each student should mark out a short passage (one or two sentences) from the day’s reading that especially stood out.
Upon completion of this course, you should be able to:

  • display awareness of ethical questions and knowledge of their historical contexts;

  • critically interpret and evaluate philosophical texts, positions, and arguments;

  • reflect on and examine both shared and diverse human experiences so that you recognize the similarities and differences across cultures as well as historical periods;

  • and comprehend the relevance of the past to your understanding of the present while becoming more familiar with the perspective of your own cultural assumptions and values.

Mode of Instruction

Each teaching week of the course (Weeks 1 – 8, with one week in total missed due to holidays) will consist of two 2-hour interactive discussions on the weekly topic, with reading completed prior to the meeting.

A BlackBoard site will support the course and provide for virtual interaction with the course material. 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”.


To be confirmed in course syllabus:

In-class participation: 18%
Four web-postings (250 words): 24%
One mid-term essay (1000 words): 18%
Final essay (2000 words): 40%


ETHICS: HISTORY, THEORY, AND CONTEMPORARY ISSUES (fifth edition), Ed. Steven M. Cahn and Peter Markie (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Other readings posted on Blackboard

Contact Information

Dr. Adam Buben:

Weekly Overview

Week 1: Introduction to Ethics
Week 2: Plato on Piety
Week 3: Aristotle on Virtues
Week 4: Traditional Religious Views
Week 5: Kant on Duty
Week 6: Mill on Utility
Week 7: Criticisms and Difficulties
Week 8: Reading Week

Preparation for first session