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Topics in Philosophy: Ethics



PHIL, Elective

Admissions requirements



How are we to live? What would make a good life? The question cannot be avoided, as each of us will have to make decisions, shaping the kind of life we lead. Which profession do I pursue? Should I marry? Is there anything more important than my freedom? How does my happiness relate to that of others? Should all of this be understood in terms of rights and duties, or is that fundamentally misguided? The riddle of good and evil lies at the very heart of our lives, and refusing to solve it is but another way of making a guess at it.

In this course, students will be introduced to moral philosophy through an in-depth consideration of three fundamental positions in the western debate: utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics. This is undertaken through the study of three core texts: Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Hume’s Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, and Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Students thus familiarize themselves with notions of virtue, duty, moral sentiment, happiness, and practical reason. The big questions regarding the foundations of moral theory will be discussed in a manner connecting them to both everyday personal matters and large political issues, as well as to the wider history of western philosophy.

Students may read the core texts in an English translation. No secondary literature will be required, though short excerpts from other relevant texts of the three main authors may be provided by the instructor.

Course objectives

Through this course, students learn to

  • read and understand difficult texts;

  • describe and explain core concepts of moral theory, specifically happiness, virtue, duty, moral sentiment, and practical reason;

  • describe and explain divergent fundamental perspectives in moral theory;

  • discuss problems of moral philosophy in a clear, coherent and civil manner, both in speech and writing.


Once available, timetables will be published here.

Mode of instruction

This is not a lecture course. All classes will be conducted as structured conversations between the instructor and the students, proceeding more or less like a Socratic dialogue with the week’s reading as the subject matter. Students thus improve both their critical thinking skills and their ability to clearly express difficult positions.

This means it is essential all students are properly prepared before coming to class, which will be ensured by requiring all students to answer questionnaires on their reading beforehand. A completed questionnaire serves as an entrance ticket to a seminar.

This teaching style also means the texts and their authors take center stage: Aristotle, Hume, and Kant are the true instructors. The classroom instructor is to be regarded as merely a more advanced student, helping along the other students in their attempt to understand the core texts.

Class will meet for two hours twice a week.


  • Short, weekly essays (450 words each): 40% total, weeks 1-7

  • Midterm essay (2000 words): 25%, week 5

  • Final essay (2000 words): 25%, week 8

  • Participation: 10%, weeks 1-8


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Cambridge University Press

  • David Hume, Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, Oxford University Press

  • Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Cambridge University Press


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact