PHIL 3100 -- Ethical Theory
Fall 2015
MWF 1:00-1:50
Hellems 229

Chris Heathwood
Office: Hellems 192
Hours: Wednesdays 2:30-4:30, and by appointment

Course Description

We make moral and evaluative judgments – e.g., "You shouldn't litter," "It's unfair that some children have no health care," "Friendship helps make life worth living," "Abortion is wrong," "Martin Luther King was a great man" – all the time.  But what are we doing when we do this?  Are we describing an objective moral reality, or ultimately just expressing our feelings?  Are such statements ever true?  Can we ever know one to be true?  If there are moral facts, are they just a subclass of the natural facts about the world?  Assuming that we do have moral obligations, why should we care about them?  These are some questions in metaethics, to which the first part of this course will provide an introduction.

Then we will turn to normative ethics, where we attempt to figure out which moral claims – and, in particular, which fundamental moral principles – are actually true.  Our main questions will be, What makes an act right or wrong?, and, What makes a state of affairs good or bad?  Consequentialists believe that an act's rightness or wrongness is to be explained solely in terms of how good or bad its outcome would be.  We will explore this theory, as well as theories about what makes an outcome good or bad (and especially about what makes an outcome good or bad for someone).  Deontologists reject the view that consequences are all that matter.  They typically believe that we have special obligations (e.g., to our children, to people with whom we have made agreements) that are not explained by the value of outcomes, and that there are constraints against certain kinds of behavior (e.g., lying, harming the innocent) even when doing so would lead to the best outcome.  We will explore deontology as well.

This is a difficult class, especially for those not majoring in philosophy (but even for those who are).  You must have taken at least two courses in philosophy at the university level to be eligible to take this course.  But more experience than that is recommended.  Talk to me about it if you are unsure.

Course Website
The course website, which you should check regularly, can be found here:

Here you will find:

One book is required:

Michael Huemer, Ethical Intuitionism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). ISBN: 0230573746.

I ordered it at the CU Bookstore.  There will be many additional required readings, which are or will be linked to below on the course schedule.  Some of these require a password, which I will give you in class.

Class Mates
So that you will have someone from whom to get the notes and any other pertinent information should you miss class, introduce yourself to two classmates and get their email addresses and phone numbers.

Course Requirements
1. Technology.  You must have an email account and regular access to the internet, and you must check your email address and the course website frequently.

Text messaging during class is strictly prohibited.  First-time offenders will be asked to stop; repeat offenders will lose points.  When you get to class, please turn your cell phone OFF and put it away.

The use of laptops is also prohibited.  This is because students who use laptops in class do less well in college, as do those who sit near them.  (See also: "Why students using laptops learn less in class even when they really are taking notes" and "Attention, Students: Put Your Laptops Away.")

If you simply must communicate with someone from the outside world during class, that's fine; please just leave the room to do so.

2. Reading Quizzes (20%).  There will be quite a few "pop" quizzes throughout the semester.  These quizzes are designed to test that you are doing and understanding the readings, and to give you an incentive never to miss class (the quizzes are unannounced).  For each reading, there will be a set of Reading Questions posted on the website.  All of the questions on the pop quizzes will be taken directly from these reading questions.  Furthermore, these quizzes are open-note.  Thus, as you are doing each reading and taking notes on it, you should copy down each question in your notes and then write your answer to it, which you can find by studying the reading.  Then bring these notes with you to class.  All of the answers to the pop-quiz questions should then be right in your notes!  So, yes, there is no reason that you all shouldn't ace all of the reading quizzes.

You are permitted to use notes only that you yourself created from doing the reading; you cannot use or copy a classmate's notes.  Though the pop quizzes are open-note, they are not open-book or "open-reading."

Quizzes are not restricted to readings that were due on the day of the quiz.  They might cover readings that were due on earlier days.

There might be a couple of short homework assignments.  If there are, they will be lumped in with your quiz grades.

3. Two Papers (40%).  Two papers are required.  One will be due a third to a halfway through the term, the other close to the end of the term.  Exact due dates will be posted on the course schedule below.  For each paper, you will be given a set of paper topics.  You can choose one of those, or you can come up with your own topic.  Late papers will be penalized 1/3 of a letter grade per day late unless you have a legitimate, documented excuse.  I'll say more about the papers later on; in the meantime, you can look at my Philosophy Paper FAQ.

4. Two Exams (40%).  There will be two exams: a midterm exam and a non-cumulative final exam.  Each exam has two parts, and will take place over two class periods.  The first part of each exam will consist of very-short-answer questions (e.g., multiple choice or true/false questions); the second part will consist of short-answer questions (questions that can usually be answered in a sentence to a paragraph).  For the second part of each exam you'll need to bring a bluebook.  Both parts of both exams will take place in class, and will be closed-note and closed-reading.

To help you prepare, a study guide will be made available before each exam.  We will also have a review session (during class) before each part of each exam.  During these, I take your questions about the study guide or anything else related to exam preparation.  You must come prepared for these review sessions by having already written out your own answers to the questions on the study guide.

If you miss any part of any exam during the semester, you will be permitted to take a makeup exam only if you have a legitimate, documented excuse (e.g., non-trivial illness, death in the family, religious obligation).  If you need to miss an exam, you need to let me know in advance, by email.

Your final grade for the course is determined according to the following scheme:

Reading Quizzes
20% 100 points
First Paper 20% 100 points
Midterm Exam 20% 100 points
Second Paper 20% 100 points
Final Exam 20% 100 points
100% 500 points

There are no "extra-credit" opportunities.  So there's no need to ask if you can "do extra credit" to boost your grade.  If you want to get a good grade, don't miss class, arrive on time, do the reading, take notes on readings and in class, ask questions when you have them, contribute to class discussions, start working on your papers early, start working on the study guides for exams well in advance, work on these study guides by actually writing out your answers to the questions on them (as you would have to do if it were a question on the real exam), come to the review sessions having already put a lot of work into the study guides, come to office hours when you are confused about the material, and arrange study groups with your classmates.

We will use a standard "non-curved" grading scale, as follows:



Course Schedule (continually evolving)

Date Topic
(links below are to lecture slides)
(due on date listed; subject to change)
M 8/24 Introductions, Syllabus  
  W 8/26 Finish Administrative Stuff
Our initial views in metaethics
this syllabus
  F 8/28 Our initial views in metaethics


M 8/31 Philosophy, Ethics, Metaethics;
Taxonomy of Metaethical Theories
Huemer, Ethical Intuitionism (EI), Introduction (2005)
  W 9/2 Finish Metaethical Taxonomy
[slides for What is Metaethics?]
Huemer, EI, §§2.1-2.2
F 9/4 Cognitivism and Non-Cognitivism;
Arg. from MJI against Cognitivism
OPTIONAL: Smith, "What is the Moral Problem?" (1994);
REQUIRED: Van Cleve, "Necessity ... " (1999), 15-27 (the rest is optional)

  W 9/9 Arg. from MJI against Cognitivism
Ayer, "Critique of Ethics and Theology" (1936), 102-113
Huemer, EI, §§2.3, 2.8 (2.4-2.7 optional).
F 9/11 Analytic/Synthetic Distinction;
A Priori/Empirical Distinction;
Empiricism vs. Rationalism
Hume, excerpts (1740 and 1751)
M 9/14
Why Ayer is a Non-Cognitivist;
[slides for Non-Cognitivism]

Moore, "The Nature of Moral Philosophy" (1922), 329-332.
W 9/16 Constructivism / Subjectivism;
Humean Subjectivism;
Huemer, EI, §§3.1-3.3.
Moore, "The Nature of Moral Philosophy" (1922), 333-336.

  F 9/18 Moore's No-Disagreement Arg.;
Divine Command Theory;
Ideal Observer Theory
re-read Moore, "The Nature of Moral Philosophy," 333-336.
M 9/21 Kantian Constructivism
(Guest Class by Bodhi Melnitzer)

Korsgaard, "Realism and Constructivism in Twentieth-Century Moral Philosophy" (2003), §§1-2, 5-7 (rest optional).
  W 9/23 Moore's No-Disagreement Arg. and other Constructivisms;
The Arbitrariness Problem
Plato, Euthyphro (excerpt) (380 B.C.E).
Huemer, EI, §§3.4-3.6.

Antony, "Good Minus God" (2011)
  F 9/25 The Arbitrariness Problem
[slides for Constructivism]
re-read Huemer p. 50 last ¶, p. 52 last full and after that, p. 57 from 'Sixth' to end of §3.4, p. 63 last of §3.5.
M 9/28 Discuss First Paper;
Philosophy Paper FAQ
and Topics.

W 9/30 Reductionism
Huemer, EI, §4.1.
Heathwood, "Reductionism in Ethics" (2013), 1-5.

Huemer, EI, §4.2.
F 10/2 The Open Question Argument Moore, from Principia Ethica (1903), §§5-7, 9-10, and esp. 13.
Ayer, "Critique of Ethics and Theology" re-read 104-105.
Heathwood, "Reductionism in Ethics" (2013), the rest

M 10/5 The Open Question Argument
[slides for Reductionism]
Ross, The Right and the Good (1930), 19-20, 28-34, 40-41;
Huemer, EI, §§5.1-5.4
W 10/7 First Paper Due
[Combined Handout on Metaethics]
Intuitionism and Nihilism

  F 10/9 Intuitionist Moral Epistemology
Mackie's Arguments
Mackie, "The Subjectivity of Values" (1977)
Huemer, EI, §5.5
M 10/12 Moral Disagreement
[slides for Intuitionism]
Huemer, EI, ch. 6
W 10/14 Review for Midterm Part 1
  F 10/16 Midterm Part 1
M 10/19 Return Midterm Part 1; Review for Midterm Part 2
W 10/21 Midterm Part 2  BRING A BLUEBOOK!

F 10/23 NO CLASS  
M 10/26 Intro to Normative Ethics  
W 10/28 Intro to Normative Ethics;
Refuting Moral Theories;
Slides for Intro to NEB
Mill, from Utilitarianism (1863)
Feldman, "What is Act Utilitarianism?" (1978)
F 10/30 Formulating Utilitarianism Feldman, "Act Utilitarianism: Pro and Con" (1978), 30-41

M 11/2 Understanding Utilitarianism Feldman, "Problems for Act Utilitarianism" (1978)

W 11/4 The Organ Harvest Argument Thomson, "Killing, Letting Die, and the Trolley Problem" (1976), §1 (the rest is optional)
Radiolab, "Morality" (up to 13:40)
  F 11/6 The Trolley Problem
Reply to the Organ Harvest Arg.

Rule Utilitarianism
[Slides for Utilitarianism]
Boonin and Oddie, "Arguments from Analogy" (2005)
Feldman, "Rule Utilitarianism" (1978), 61-67 (rest optional)
Smart, "Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism" (1956)
M 11/9 Introduction to Axiology and Welfare
W 11/11 Hedonism
Heathwood, "Welfare" (2010)
Bentham, excerpt from IPML (1781)

F 11/13 The Experience Machine Nozick, "The Experience Machine" (1974)
M 11/16 Desire Satisfactionism
Heathwood, "Faring Well and Getting What You Want" (2014)

W 11/18 Objective List Theory
Rice, "Defending the Objective List Theory" (2013)
  F 11/20 Finish Welfare
[Slides for Welfare]
OPTIONAL: Parfit, "What Makes Someone's Life Go Best" (1984)
M 11/23 - F 11/27:  T H A N K S G I V I N G   B R E A K
M 11/30 Deontology;
Rossian Pluralism
Paper Topics Posted
Ross, "What Makes Right Acts Right?" (1930), 16-31, 41-42

W 12/2 Assessing Deontology
[Slides for Deontology]
Ross, "What Makes Right Acts Right?" (1930), 31-42
  F 12/4 Second paper due
Impromptu Presentations
M 12/7 Review for Final, Part 1 (do study guide in advance)

W 12/9 Final Exam, Part 1

F 12/11
Review for Final, Part 2 (do study guide in advance)
Th 12/17 Final Exam, Part 2: Thursday, Dec. 17, 7:30 p.m., in our room.  BRING A BLUEBOOK!
Make-Up Day & Time: Sunday, Dec. 13, 1:00 p.m., in our room.  BRING A BLUEBOOK!

Accommodations for Disabilities
If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please give me a letter from Disability Services in a timely manner (for exam accommodations you must provide your letter at least one week prior to the exam) so that your needs can be addressed.  Disability Services determines accommodations based on documented disabilities.  Contact Disability Services at 303-492-8671 or by e-mail at  If you have a temporary medical condition or injury, see Temporary Injuries guidelines under the Quick Links at the Disability Services website and discuss your needs with your professor.

Religious Observances
Campus policy regarding religious observances requires that faculty make every effort to deal reasonably and fairly with all students who, because of religious obligations, have conflicts with scheduled exams, assignments or required attendance.  Please let me know well in advance about any such conflicts, and we'll work together to resolve them.  See campus policy regarding religious observances for full details.

Classroom Behavior
Students and faculty each have responsibility for maintaining an appropriate learning environment.  Those who fail to adhere to such behavioral standards may be subject to discipline.  Professional courtesy and sensitivity are especially important with respect to individuals and topics dealing with differences of race, color, culture, religion, creed, politics, veteran’s status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and gender expression, age, disability, and nationalities. Class rosters are provided to the instructor with the student's legal name.  I will gladly honor your request to address you by an alternate name or gender pronoun.  Please advise me of this preference early in the semester so that I may make appropriate changes to my records.  For more information, see the policies on classroom behavior and the student code.

Discrimination And Harassment
We at the University of Colorado Boulder are committed to maintaining a positive learning, working, and living environment. CU-Boulder will not tolerate acts of discrimination or harassment based upon Protected Classes or related retaliation against or by any employee or student.  For purposes of this CU-Boulder policy, "Protected Classes" refers to race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation or political philosophy.  Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against should contact the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC) at 303-492-2127 or the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSC) at 303-492-5550.  Information about the OIEC, the above referenced policies, and the campus resources available to assist individuals regarding discrimination or harassment can be found at the OIEC website.  The full policy on discrimination and harassment contains additional information.

Honor Code
All students of the University of Colorado Boulder are responsible for knowing and adhering to the academic integrity policy of this institution.  Violations of this policy may include: cheating, plagiarism, aid of academic dishonesty, fabrication, lying, bribery, and threatening behavior.  All incidents of academic misconduct shall be reported to the Honor Code Council (; 303-735-2273).  Students who are found to be in violation of the academic integrity policy will be subject to both academic sanctions from the faculty member and non-academic sanctions (including but not limited to university probation, suspension, or expulsion).  Additional information regarding the Honor Code policy can be found online and at the Honor Code Office.

Anyone caught violating CU's academic integrity policy (in any way) will automatically receive an F for this course, and may be subject to expulsion from the university.  I take cheating very seriously.