PHIL 3100 -- Ethical Theory
Fall 2016
Tu/Th 3:30-4:45
HUMN 135

Chris Heathwood
Office: Hellems 192
Hours: Fridays 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon, and by appointment

Jules Guidry
Office: Hellems 15
Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m.

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.  The prerequisite is two prior courses in philosophy.  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.")

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

* If you really feel that you will benefit from using a laptop, talk to me about it.

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.  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 write down each question in your notes and then write your answer to it, which you can find by reading, studying, and re-reading 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.

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.

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."

There might be a short homework assignment or two.  If there are, they will be lumped in with your quiz grades.

3. Two Papers (40%).  Two papers are required: a short, pre-structured paper, and a longer, more open-ended paper.  The shorter one will be due a third to halfway through the term, the other close to the end of the term.  Exact due dates will eventually be posted on the course schedule below.  For the shorter paper, we'll give you the topic and the structure for the paper.  For the second paper, you will be given a set of topics from which you can choose, or you can come up with your own topic related to the course.  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 us 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)
Tu 8/23 Introductions, Syllabus  
  Th 8/25 Our initial views in metaethics this syllabus
Tu 8/30 Philosophy, Ethics, Metaethics;
Taxonomy of Metaethical Theories
Huemer, Ethical Intuitionism (EI), Introduction (2005)
  Th 9/1 Finish Metaethical Taxonomy
[slides for What is Metaethics?]
Cognitivism and Non-Cognitivism
Huemer, EI, §§2.1-2.2
Tu 9/6 Analytic/Synthetic Distinction;
A Priori/Empirical Distinction;
Empiricism vs. Rationalism
Van Cleve, "Necessity ... " (1999), 15-27 (the rest is optional)
Ayer, "Critique of Ethics and Theology" (1936), 102-113
  Th 9/8 Why Ayer is a Non-Cognitivist;
[slides for Non-Cognitivism]
Re-Read Ayer, "Critique of Ethics and Theology"
Huemer, EI, §§2.3, 2.8 (2.4-2.7 optional).
Hume, excerpts (1740 and 1751)
Tu 9/13
Constructivism / Subjectivism / Response-Dependent Theories
re-read Hume, excerpts (1740 and 1751)
Moore, "The Nature of Moral Philosophy" (1922), 329-332.

Th 9/15 Humean Subjectivism
Moore's No-Disagreement Arg.;
Divine Command Theory;
Ideal Observer Theory

Huemer, EI, §§3.1-3.3.
Moore, "The Nature of Moral Philosophy" (1922), 333-336.

Tu 9/20 The Arbitrariness Problem
[slides for Constructivism]
Plato, Euthyphro (excerpt) (380 B.C.E).
Huemer, EI, §§3.4-3.6.

Antony, "Good Minus God" (2011)
  Th 9/22 Reductionism Huemer, EI, §4.1.
Heathwood, "Reductionism in Ethics" (2013), 1-5.
Tu 9/27 First Paper
Philosophy Paper FAQ

Why Be a Reductionist?
Huemer, EI, §4.2.
Moore, from Principia Ethica (1903), §§5-7, 9-10, and esp. 13.
Ayer, "Critique of Ethics and Theology" re-read 104-105.

Th 9/29 The Open Question Argument
[slides for Reductionism]
re-read Moore, from Principia Ethica (1903), §§5-7, 9-10, and esp. 13.
re-read Ayer, "Critique of Ethics and Theology" re-read 104-105.

Heathwood, "Reductionism in Ethics" (2013), the rest

Tu 10/4 [Combined Handout on Metaethics]
Intuitionism and Nihilism
Intuitionist Moral Epistemology
First Paper Due
Ross, The Right and the Good (1930), 19-20, 28-34, 40-41;
Huemer, EI, §§5.1-5.4
Th 10/6 Mackie's Arguments
Moral Disagreement
[slides for Intuitionism]
Mackie, "The Subjectivity of Values" (1977)
Huemer, EI, §5.5

Huemer, EI, ch. 6
Tu 10/11 Review for Midterm Work on Study Guide for Midterm before this review!
Th 10/13 Midterm Exam, Part 1
Return Midterm Part 1; More Review
Tu 10/18 Midterm Exam, Part 2  BRING A BLUEBOOK!
Th 10/20 Intro to Normative Ethics  
Tu 10/25 Intro to Normative Ethics
[Slides for Intro to NEB]
Mill, from Utilitarianism (1863)
Feldman, "What is Act Utilitarianism?" (1978)
Also look at the first 22 slides of my Intro Ethics Slides on Utilitarianism
Th 10/27 Act Utilitarianism
Feldman, "Problems for Act Utilitarianism" (1978)
Tu 11/1 Rule Utilitarianism
[slides for Utilitarianism]
Smart, "Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism" (1956)
Feldman, "Rule Utilitarianism" (1978), 61-67 (rest optional)

Th 11/3 Rights Theory Nozick, from Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), 26-33
Tu 11/8 Rights Theory
[slides for Rights Theory]
Tännsjö, "Moral Rights" (2008)
Th 11/11 Second Paper Assignment
Intro. to Axiology and Welfare
Tiberius, "Prudential Value" (2015), §9.1, §9.3
Bentham, excerpt from IPML (1781)
Tu 11/15 class cancelled due to illness

Th 11/17 Hedonism
The Argument from Malicious Pleasures
re-read Bentham, excerpt from IPML (1781)
Nozick, "The Experience Machine" from ASU (1974), 42-45
M 11/21 - F 11/25:  T H A N K S G I V I N G   B R E A K
Tu 11/29 The Experience Machine
Desire Satisfactionism
re-read Nozick, "The Experience Machine" (1974), 42-45
Heathwood, "Faring Well and Getting What You Want" (2014)
Philosophy Paper FAQ

Th 12/1 Second paper due
Impromptu paper presentations
[Slides for Welfare]
Rice, "Defending the Objective List Theory" (2013)
Tu 12/6 Review for Final (do study guide in advance)

Th 12/8 Final Exam, Part 1
Return Final Part 1; More Review
Th 12/15 Final Exam, Part 2: Thursday, Dec. 15, 4:30 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.

It is the policy of the Philosophy Department that anyone caught violating CU's academic integrity policy (in any way) will automatically receive an F for the entire course.  We take cheating very seriously.