Skip to main content

Instructor: Douglas MacLean. This course meets MW 3:35 – 4:50 p.m. in CW 105.

Modern (post-Enlightenment) moral philosophy is primarily concerned with analyzing or defining moral concepts.  This includes basic or “thin” concepts like good, bad, right, wrong, and ought; and it includes “thick” concepts like kindness, cruelty, courage, cowardice, empathy, integrity, selfishness, and others that among other things are used to characterize virtues and vices.  Another aim of moral philosophy, which has been less pronounced in the modern era but was the central moral question in the ancient world is: what is the proper or ideal life for a human being?  This seminar will focus on the latter question, but it will draw heavily on modern philosophical works to help illuminate it.

We will begin with the ancient Greeks, especially Socrates, the first philosopher in the Western tradition to focus specifically on ethics.  We will look briefly at the life and teaching of St. Augustine and then move to more modern and contemporary writing, examining what modern moral theories tell us about the nature of a morally ideal life and what critics of these theories say about how human beings ought to live.  Readings will be drawn primarily from philosophy but will also include literature.  We will also watch and discuss several movies.

The class will be conducted as a seminar, and students will be expected to take the lead in discussing various topics.  There will be no exams, but students will write at least five papers in addition to reports given to the class.  Students will also be required to come up with examples of morally good lives and explain and defend their choice of those examples.