PHIL 3100 -- Ethical Theory
Spring 2015
Lecture: Tu/Th 9:30-10:45
Hellems 237

Chris Heathwood
Office: Hellems 192
Hours: Thursday 11:00-12:00, Friday 10:30-11:30, and by appointment

Teaching Assistant
Jay Geyer

Office: Hellems 15
Hours: Monday and Tuesday 11:30-12:30, 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.  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.  Deontologists also typically believe in 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 did not order this book at the CU Bookstore, so you need to order it yourself online.  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 regularly.

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.

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 even more recently, "This year, I resolve to ban laptops from my classroom," both from the Washington Post.)

If you simply must communicate with someone from the outside world during class, please 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.  For each reading, there will be a set of reading questions posted on the website.  Most or 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 your answers to the reading questions in your notes.  Then bring these notes with you to class, since most or all of the answers to the pop quiz questions will be right in your notes.  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 may be occasional, 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 around late February, the other around late April.  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 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 Readings (due on date listed; subject to change)
Tu 1/13 Introductions, Roll, Syllabus

  Th 1/15 Our initial views in metaethics

Tu 1/20 Philosophy, Ethics, Metaethics;
Taxonomy of Metaethical Theories

Huemer, Ethical Intuitionism (EI), Introduction (2005)
Th 1/22 Finish Metaethical Taxonomy;
Cognitivism and Non-Cognitivism;
Arg. from MJI against Cognitivism
Huemer, EI, §§2.1-2.2;
Van Cleve, "Necessity ... " (1999), 15-27 (rest optional);
Ayer, "Critique of Ethics and Theology" (1936), 102-113
Tu 1/27 Empiricism vs. Rationalism;
Why Ayer is a Non-Cognitivist

Huemer, EI, §§2.3, 2.8 (2.4-2.7 optional).

Th 1/29 Problems for Non-Cognitivism;

Hume, excerpts (1740 and 1751)
Huemer, EI, §§3.1-3.3.
Moore, "The Nature of Moral Philosophy" (1922), 329-336.
    Further (optional) reading on Non-Cognitivism:
Van Roojen, "Moral Cognitivism vs. Non-Cognitivism," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2013).
Schroeder, "What is the Frege-Geach Problem?" Philosophy Compass (2008)
Tu 2/3
Divine Command Theory;
Ideal Observer Theory

Plato, Euthyphro (excerpt) (380 B.C.E)
Huemer, EI, §§3.4-3.6.

Antony, "Good Minus God" (2011)
Th 2/5 The Arbitrariness Argument

Huemer, EI, §4.1;
Heathwood, "Reductionism in Ethics" (2013), 1-5.
    Further (optional) reading on Constructivism/Subjectivism:
Street, "What is Constructivism in Ethics and Metaethics?" Philosophy Compass (2010).
Schafer, "Realism and Constructivism in Kantian Metaethics," Philosophy Compass (forthcoming).
Lewis, "Dispositional Theories of Value," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (1989).
Tu 2/10 Reductionism
re-read last two readings;
Moore, from Principia Ethica (1903), §§5-7, 9-10, and esp. 13

  Th 2/12 The Open Question Argument Huemer, EI, §4.2;
Heathwood, "Reductionism in Ethics" (2013), the rest;
re-read 104-105 of Ayer, "Critique of Ethics and Theology"

    Further (optional) reading on Reductionism and the Open Question Argument:
Huemer, EI, §§4.4-4.6
Suikkanen, "Open Question Argument," The International Encyclopedia of Ethics (2013).
Tu 2/17 Discuss First Paper;
Philosophy Paper FAQ
and Topics;
Ross, The Right and the Good (1930), 19-20, 28-34, 40-41;
Huemer, EI, §§5.1-5.4

Th 2/19 Nihilism
Metaethical Exploration Handout
Mackie, "The Subjectivity of Values" (1977)
Huemer, EI, §5.5

    Further (optional) reading related to Non-Naturalism and Nihilism:
Russell, "Is There an Absolute Good?" (~1922)
Svavarsdottir, "Moral Cognitivism and Motivation," The Philosophical Review (1999)
McPherson, "Ethical Non-Naturalism and the Metaphysics of Supervenience," OSMe (2012)
Loeb, "Moral Realism and the Argument from Disagreement," Philosophical Studies (1998)
Tu 2/24 First Paper Due
Moral Disagreement
Taxonomy of Metaethics Handout
Huemer, EI, ch. 6
Th 2/26 Review for Midterm

(no new reading)
Tu 3/3 Midterm Part 1
Return and Review Midterm Part 1

(no new reading)
Th 3/5 Midterm Part 2

(no new reading)
Tu 3/10 Return and Review Papers and Midterm Part 2;
Intro to Normative Ethics (slides)
(no new reading)
Th 3/12 Act Utilitarianism;
Understanding Utilitarianism
Mill, from Utilitarianism (1863)
Feldman, "What is Act Utilitarianism?" (1978)
Feldman, "Act Utilitarianism: Pro and Con" (1978), 30-41
Tu 3/17 Objections to Utilitarianism

Feldman, "Problems for Act Utilitarianism" (1978)

  Th 3/19 Rule Utilitarianism

(Slides for Utilitarianism)
Feldman, "Rule Utilitarianism" (1978), 61-67 (rest optional)
Smart, "Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism" (1956)
S  P  R  I  N  G     B  R  E  A  K
Tu 3/31 Introduction to Axiology and Welfare

(no new readings)

Th 4/2 Hedonism
Arg. from Psychological Hedonism
The Experience Machine
Heathwood, "Welfare" (2010)
Bentham, excerpt from IPML (1781)
Nozick, "The Experience Machine" (1974)
Tu 4/7 Desire Satisfactionism

Heathwood, "Faring Well and Getting What You Want" (2014)
Th 4/9 Objective List Theory
Rice, "Defending the Objective List Theory" (2013)

    Further (optional) reading related to Welfare:
Parfit, "What Makes Someone's Life Go Best" (1984)
Kraut, "Desire and the Human Good" (1994)
Crisp, "Hedonism Reconsidered" (2006)
Tu 4/14 Deontology;
Rossian Pluralism

Ross, "What Makes Right Acts Right?" (1930), 16-31, 41-42

Th 4/16 Assessing Deontology
Second Paper Topics posted
(Slides for Deontology)
Ross, "What Makes Right Acts Right?" (1930), 31-42
    Further (optional) reading related to Deontology:
McNaughton and Rawling, "Deontology" (2006)
Otsuka, "Are Deontological Constraints Irrational?" (2011)
Hooker, "Ross-Style Pluralism Versus Rule-Consequentialism" (1996)
Tu 4/21 Moral Uncertainty
(Lecture by Jay Geyer)
Study Guide for Final posted
Sepielli, "Moral Uncertainty" (forthcoming)

Th 4/23 Second Paper Due
Impromptu Presentations

(no new reading)
Tu 4/28 Review for Final Exam

(no new reading)

Th 4/30 Final Exam Part 1;
Return/Review Final Exam Part 1

(no new reading)
Sun 5/3 Final Exam, Part 2, 4:30 PM, HLMS 237

Academic Integrity
All students of the University of Colorado at 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). Other information on the Honor Code can be found at and at

Anyone caught violating the 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.

Disability Services
If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit to me a letter from Disability Services in a timely manner so that your needs can be addressed. Disability Services determines accommodations based on documented disabilities. Contact: 303-492-8671, Center for Community, N200, and

Religious Observances
Campus policy regarding religious observances requires that faculty make every effort to reasonably and fairly deal 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, so we can address them.  For more information about the university’s policies on these matters, see

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. See policies at and at

Discrimination and Harassment
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