PHIL2306: Honors Introduction to Ethics

Matthew Daude Laurents, Ph.D.


MW 10:30-11:50 AM
RGC 026

Spring, 2013

Course Description and Prerequisites

Course Description: Students will be introduced to the principles of morality through a critical examination of various ethical theories and their application to contemporary moral problems.

This course introduces the major ethical theories of the Western tradition by applying them to issues in human sexuality. Various philosophical and literary texts, film, and works of art that deal with the ethical aspects of sex and sexuality will provide opportunities to learn and practice philosophical analysis.

My basic approach to honors courses involves the presumption that honors courses are not more work than "regular" courses, but work at a higher level. Consequently, I will expect more self-directed inquiry, and course assignments will operate at a higher level of synthesis. I will also provide opportunities for honors students to participate in the design by proposing additional course materials and assignments.

For an overview of the course, see the prospectus and a draft of the syllabus. For a more detailed discussion of the philosophical motivation for the course, click here.

There are no course prerequisites for Ethics. A passing score or the equivalent on the reading and writing portions of the TASP is required. As this is an honors course, admission to the Honors Program is required. Contact the Honors Program at 223-6555 or visit the Honors website ( for enrollment information.

Course Texts and Materials

Ryan and Jetha. Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. (ISBN13: 978-0061707805)
Readings in Classical Ethical Theories (available online in the Blackboard classroom)

The assigned classical readings, handouts, and any additional material will be posted to the instructional website in Blackboard.

The books will not be available in the ACC bookstores. Both books are available as ebooks. (I read them on my iPad.) We'll start discussing Sex at Dawn in a couple of weeks, and the Ethical Slut after midterm.


They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing (ISBN-13: 9780393924091)

Instructional Methodology

The class will consist predominantly of seminar-style discussion of the course material, which will involve group work and group presentations. The major forms of individual assessment will be writing assignments and online posting. I may also use online forms to gather information about your progress in the coursework.

Course Rationale

One of the most distinctive things about human beings is that we are not simply determined by natural forces; we have the capacity to decide how to act. One of the greatest challenges for human beings is that along with the capacity to decide how to act comes the responsibility to do so rightly. Through the study of ethics one can gain greater insight into how to meet this responsibility successfully.

PHIL2306 Objectives

Departmental Course Objectives

  1. Students will be able to read, think, and write critically with respect to Ethics.
  2. Students will understand several philosophically significant ethical theories.
  3. Students will be able to apply these theories to contemporary moral problems.

Coursework and Grading Policy

Your grade for this course will be based on collaborative and written work demonstrating the pursuit of the objectives of the course. (See the Coursework Guide for a more detailed explanation of the written work.)  These are the components of the course for grades up to a B:

Component Points
Writing assignments 250
Theory application essays (5) 250
Research Project 250

Research Paper

Total 1000

Please review the Grading System for a more detailed exposition of my approach to coursework evaluation.

Due dates for written work will be arranged in class and posted on the main page for your course. Please note that I will not accept work after the stated due date, except by prior agreement. All written work done outside of class must be submitted by email or posted on the Blackboard site for our class. Please see the Orientation for further instructions.

I expect everyone to participate in class discussion. Class participation should be informed. By this I mean that everyone should participate after having read and thought about the assignments. Morality can be a difficult subject for open discussion, and people sometimes have wildly differing views of which topics are offensive--particularly in a course that focuses on ethics and sexuality. Consequently, the conventions of respect and responsibility discussed in the Course Policies are of particular importance in this course. If you do find some aspect of the class discussion offensive, please discuss the matter with me, bearing in mind that people do have different levels of tolerance for critical investigation of such topics. "Respect" does not necessarily mean "agree"; however, to the best of our ability, we will approach the topics of our discussion from the perspective of philosophical inquiry.


Review the Course Policies page and the instructions in the online Orientation. The Course Policies and the Orientation are to be considered part of this syllabus.

Course Outline

This is a tentative coursework calendar:

Cultural presumptions: What the Greeks thought (and did) about sex
Sex in the City: The role of sex in The Republic
Sex in the Wild: Sex at Dawn
Theory: Natural Law (Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae)
Theory: Utilitarianism (Mill's Utilitarianism)
Theory: Contractarianism (Hobbes Leviathan, Rawls)
Theory: Kantian ethics (excerpts from Kant's Metaphysics of Morals, R. M. Hare)
Theory: Virtue Ethics (Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics)

11 through 15

Seminar: moral problems concerning sexuality (including review of fieldwork and research project presentations)

Concluding discussion

A complete Coursework Calendar, which includes course assignments, is available in the online classroom in (Blackboard). Check the Coursework Calendar frequently for due dates, announcements, and important links.

Proceed to the Orientation

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