PHIL 4110/5110 -- Contemporary Moral Theory
Topic: Well-Being
Spring 2014
MWF 2:00-2:50
VAC 1B88

Chris Heathwood
Office: HLMS 192
Hours: Wed 3:00-5:00, and by appointment

Course Description
What makes a person's life go well or badly for her? Which things are of ultimate benefit or harm to us? What is it in our interest to get? If someone is well off, or has a high quality of life, what features of their life make this the case? These are various ways of asking the philosophical question of well-being, which is the focus of this course.

The topic of welfare is not only interesting in its own right, it is of fundamental importance to moral philosophy. On any plausible moral theory, how an action or social policy affects the welfare of people is at least one relevant factor in determining whether the action ought to be done or the policy instituted.

We will begin by spending several class meetings trying to answer the question ourselves, before reading what other philosophers have written on the matter. Then, to introduce ourselves to the topic as it is carried on by philosophers, we'll read Thomas Hurka's new little book called The Best Things in Life, followed by one or two other introductory readings. Then we'll move on to reading recent journal articles on well-being, as well as some works-in-progress by your humble instructor. In addition to examining some of the major theories of well-being, we will investigate the controversy over the very concept of well-being, or over what this class is even about. On that topic we'll have a guest speaker. Among the theories of well-being, our focus will be on desire satisfactionism and its problems.

Course Website
The course website can be found here:

On it you will find some or all of the following:

One book is required:

Thomas Hurka, The Best Things in Life: A Guide to What Really Matters (Oxford University Press, 2011).

I did not order it at the CU Bookstore. Amazon sells it for $13.75. You might also find it used. We won't start reading it until the end of the second or the start of the third week of classes, so you have time to order it online. (As everyone knows, Amazon does free shipping for orders over $25, so if you plan to buy from Amazon, you might consider combining your order with that of a classmate who also plans to order from Amazon.)

The other required readings will be provided via the course website. Most of these will require a password, which I will give you in class.

Another book is recommended:

Bryan Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage, Third Edition (Oxford University Press, 2009).

This is a bargain at ~$28. If you plan to write in any capacity in your life, do yourself and your readers a favor and buy this book.

Class Mates
So that you will have someone from whom to get the notes (and any other pertinent info) 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 leave their phones on my desk for the remainder of class; repeat offenders will be excused from class.  When you get to class, turn your cell phone OFF. If you use a laptop in class, you may use it only for taking notes. No web-surfing, emailing, facebooking, etc.  If you use a laptop, disable the wifi.

2. Attendance and Participation. This is going to be a small, discussion-oriented class. It's therefore crucial that you don't miss class and that you participate in class discussion.

3. Take-Home Midterm.  There will be a take-home midterm exam due about halfway through the semester. It will consist of a set of short-essay-type questions designed to test your mastery of the material thus far. You will have about a week to work on it. During that week I have to attend the Central APA conference, which will cause me to miss two of our class meetings (Wed 2/26 and Fri 2/28). There will be no class on these days, and you can use the extra time to work on your midterms.

4. Short Paper.  A short paper (1,500-3,500 words) is due the Monday after Spring Break. The purpose of this paper will be to defend, by means of rational argument, some philosophical claim concerning well-being that you think is true. I'll have more to say later about papers. Late papers will be penalized unless you have a legitimate, documented excuse.

5. Term Paper. A term paper is due at the end of term (on the Monday of finals week). Graduate student term papers should look like journal articles, and should accordingly be between 4,000 and 8,000 words. A shorter paper might be ok, but it runs the risk of being too shallow. The term paper can be a substantially revised and expanded version of your short paper. Undergraduate term papers don't need to be as long.

6. Presentation (graduate students only). The last two or three weeks of class will be spent on graduate student presentations. Each graduate student will get a full class meeting to present a rough draft of his or her term paper (for about 20-25 minutes) and to get feedback on it (for about 20-25 minutes). You don't need to distribute anything in advance for this, though you can if you wish. It would be helpful to have a handout, or some other visual aids, during the presentation. Attendance is still required among all students for these class meetings. That there is no new reading during this period will enable you (both grads and ugrads) to do the extra research and reading required for your own term paper.

Extra Meetings (graduate students only)
I will hold occasional extra class meetings for graduate students who would like to have a deeper discussion of the material. The meetings, when they occur, will be held immediately after the regular class time on Friday. They will occur on the Fridays in which (i) there isn't a departmental colloquium talk, (ii) there isn't a conference going on in the department that day, (iii) there isn't a department faculty meeting, and (iv) I don't have something else going on that interferes. So far it looks like we might have them on Jan 17, Feb 14, March 14, March 21, April 18, and April 25. They are totally optional and are open only to graduate students.

grade inflation is even more severe in graduate school than in college, I use different grading standards for graduate students than for undergraduates.

For graduate students, I use 'A' to mean exceeds expectations, 'A-' to mean meets expectations, and 'B+' to mean fails to meet expectations.  The most common grade in the class among graduate students will probably be an A-, but some A’s and B+’s, and perhaps even some B’s, will also be given.  Your final grade for the class will be determined mainly by your two papers, your midterm, and your presentation, but your classroom participation might make a difference in borderline cases.

For undergraduates, generally speaking, 'A' is for excellent work, 'B' is for satisfactory work, and 'C' is for less than satisfactory work.  For undergraduates, the average course grade that I usually give is about a B-, even for classes that are mostly majors. Since this is a smaller, elective class, maybe that average will be higher. Your final grade for the class will be determined mainly by your two papers and your midterm, but your classroom participation might make a difference in borderline cases.

Course Schedule (continually evolving)

Date Topic

Readings, Homework
(due on date listed; subject to change)

M 1/13 Introductions, Syllabus  
  W 1/15

Different uses of 'good'

HW: The Uses of 'good'

F 1/17 Welfare vs. Value Simpliciter
Distinctions in goodness
M 1/20 NO CLASS:
Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday
Some videos to mark the occasion:
(1) MLK speech (1963); (2) Bicycle Thieves (2010)

Instrumental vs. Intrinsic Value

  F 1/24 Which things are intrinsically good for us? HW: How do we determine what is of intrinsic welfare value?
M 1/27 Hurka's Introduction Heathwood, "Welfare" (2010)
Hurka, Introduction, pp. 1-8
W 1/29

The Nature of Pleasure
Psychological Hedonism
Kinds of Pleasure: Sensory, Attitudinal, Moods

Hurka, Ch. 1, pp. 9-21
  F 1/31 The Value of Pleasure Hurka, Ch. 1, pp. 21-30
M 2/3
The Getting of Pleasure
The Paradox of Hedonism
Hurka, Ch. 2
W 2/5 Is Pleasure as Good as Pain Is Bad? Hurka, Ch. 3, pp. 53-58
  F 2/7 Interlude: Portmore paper, in preparation for his talk today at 3:15 in HLMS 199. Portmore, "Acts, Attitudes, and Rational Choice" (unpublished manuscript)
M 2/10 Time Bias and the Value of Pleasure,
Bad Pleasures, Mindless Pleasures
Hurka, Ch. 3, pp. 58-73
  W 2/12 The Value of Knowledge Hurka, Ch. 4
  F 2/14 The Value of Achievement Hurka, Ch. 5
M 2/17 The Value of Virtue Hurka, Ch. 6

W 2/19 The Value of Love and Friendship Hurka, Ch. 7
F 2/21 Value Aggregation Hurka, Ch. 8
M 2/24 WDRWB? Heathwood, "WDRWB?" (draft)
W 2/26 NO CLASS: work on Take-Home Midterm  
  F 2/28 NO CLASS: work on Take-Home Midterm  
M 3/3 WDRWB?

Take-Home Midterm Due (submit by email, in MS Word format)
Heathwood, "WDRWB?" (draft)

W 3/5 Overview of Main Theories of Well-Being Tiberius, "Prudential Value" (draft), §§1-3
  F 3/7 Overview of Main Theories of Well-Being Tiberius, "Prudential Value" (draft), rest
M 3/10 Overview of Main Theories of Well-Being
The Desire Theory
Heathwood, "Subjective Theories of Well-Being" (2014), §§1-2
W 3/12 Objectivism vs. Subjectivism  

F 3/14 Subjectivism
The Resonance Constraint
Heathwood, "Subjective Theories of Well-Being" (2014), rest.
M 3/17 Writing a Philosophy Paper For Me Philosophy Paper FAQ
  W 3/19 Sidgwick's Discussion of the Desire Theory Sidgwick, "Good," from The Methods of Ethics (1907), read it all, focus on §3.
  F 3/21 Sidgwick's Discussion of the Desire Theory Adams, "Well-Being and Excellence," from Finite and Infinite Goods (1999)
S  P  R  I  N  G     B  R  E  A  K
M 3/31 More Sidgwick, and maybe Adams' Criticisms

Short Paper Due
(no new readings)

W 4/2

The Problem of Remote Desires

Heathwood, "The Problem of Remote Desires" §§1-2
  F 4/4 The Problem of Remote Desires Heathwood, "The Problem of Remote Desires" §3
M 4/7 The Problem of Remote Desires Heathwood, "The Problem of Remote Desires" §4-5a
W4/9 What even is our topic? Campbell, "Concepts of Well-Being"

F 4/11 What even is our topic?
(Guest: Steven Campbell)
M 4/14 Graduate Student Presentation: Anthony K.  

W 4/16

Graduate Student Presentation: Caleb
Comments by Ben

F 4/18 Graduate Student Presentation: Tucker
Comments by Alex
M 4/21 Graduate Student Presentation: Bodhi  

W 4/23 Graduate Student Presentation: Mark
Comments by Jas
  F 4/25 Graduate Student Presentation: Alex Z.
Comments by Eric
M 4/28 Graduate Student Presentation: Zak
Comments by Rachel

W 4/30 Graduate Student Presentation: Philip
Comments by Alex Z.

F 5/2
Realizing the Good Life  
M 5/5 Final Paper Due

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
The University of Colorado at Boulder Discrimination and Harassment Policy and Procedures, the University of Colorado Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedures, and the University of Colorado Conflict of Interest in Cases of Amorous Relationships Policy apply to all students, staff, and faculty. Any student, staff, or faculty member who believes s/he has been the subject of sexual harassment or discrimination or harassment based upon race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status should contact the Office of Discrimination and Harassment (ODH) at 303-492-2127, or the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) at 303-492-5550. Information about the ODH, the above referenced policies, and the campus resources available to assist individuals regarding discrimination or harassment can be obtained at