Introduction to Morality and Society Syllabus

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Instructor: Keith Buhler
Twitter: keith_buhler
Office Hours: Monday, Wednesday, 12-1pm; after class; by appointment
Text: The Moral Life, Pojman and Vaughn (Fifth Edition)


This course is an exercise in careful and deep thinking about morality, society, good, and evil. Each week will introduce a topic and encourage reflection on a literary or philosophical writing, which will be discussed in class. You will not only learn some new terms, concepts, and facts, but we will practice thinking philosophically about these topics and about our own lives. We will argue for and against significant truth claims, testing ourselves and the argument. In this way, we will not only think abstractly but may see our own moral failings, become more self-aware, more humble, and more moral.


  • To practice thinking philosophically by examining, understanding, and critiquing complex arguments.
  • To become familiar with major ethical theories, such as utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, commonsense intuition, divine command theory
  • To reflect on our own lives, thoughts, and actions and become more virtuous, thoughtful, and wise human beings in the pursuit of goodness, truth, and beauty.

Scope and Sequence:

The course is broken into 4 Units of 3-4 weeks each:

  • Unit 1. The Nature and Purpose of Morality (weeks 1, 2, 3)
  • Unit 2. Moral Theory (weeks 4, 5, 6, 7);
  • Unit 3, What is Worthwhile (weeks 8, 9, 10); and
  • Unit 4 Applied Ethics (weeks 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16).

Each unit consists of three components. (1) Reading and weekly quizzes, (2) Discussion in class, (3) Writing.


Readings = 25%
Participation = 25%
Disputations = 50%
Extra Credit = 0-5%

You will be graded on reading, participation, and papers, plus applicable extra credit. The best way to earn an ‘A’ is to read carefully, participate in and out of class, and write well.


The Outline (subject to minor changes) tells you the reading, topic for each day. All readings are from Pojman, The Moral Life unless otherwise noted.

Week 1 Introductions

W Jan-11: Syllabus day (no reading)
F Jan-13: Pojman, “Introduction” (pp. 1-5) and discussion of Ethics

Week 2 The Nature and Purpose of Morality

M Jan-16: MLK Day
W Jan-18: Chapter 1 Introduction; “Lord of the Flies”, and Pojman, “On the Nature and Purpose of Morality”
F Jan-20: Thomas Hobbes “On the State of Nature” (10-49) and Kreeft “Moral Law” handout and Discussion of Nature of Morality (Buhler)

Week 3 Good and Evil

M Jan-23 Chapter 2, Introduction; Melville “Billy Budd”, Nietzsche, “Beyond Good and Evil”, (optional: Styron “Sophie’s Choice”, (51-)
W Jan-25 Chapter 3 Introduction; Herodotus “Custom is King”, Benedict “The Case for Moral Relativism”, Rachels “Why Morality is Not Relative” (130-152)
F Jan-27 Discussion of Good and Evil (Buhler)

Week 4 Utilitarianism

M Jan-30 Part II, Chapter 4 Introduction; “Seaman Holmes and the Longboat”, Bentham “Classical Utilitarianism”, Mill “Utilitarianism refined” (191-205)
W Feb-1 Nielsen, “A Defense of Utilitarianism” and Williams, “Against Utilitarianism” (205-234)
F Feb-3 Discussion (Buhler) and Writing Workshop for Unit Paper 1

Week 5 Deontological Ethics

(Unit Paper 1, Nature of Morality Due Monday by Midnight)
M Feb-6 Chapter 5, Introduction; “Immanual Kant” and “Kant’s Theory” (237-259)
W Feb-8 “Does Morality Depend on Religion?” and “Divine Command Theory” (294-300)
F Feb-10 Discussion of Deontological ethics

Week 6 Virtue Ethics

M Feb-13 Chapter 6, Introduction; Aristotle, “Virtue Ethics” and MacIntyre “the Virtues”, (314-346)
W Feb-15 “Sermon on the Mount” (388-391) and “Stoic Catechism” (415-425)
F Feb-17 Discussion on Virtue Ethics (Group 1)

Week 7 Feminist Ethics

M Feb-20 Chapter 7, Introduction; “Feminist Ethics” (439-456)
W Feb-22 “The Need for More than Justice”, and “Ethics of Care” (465-490)
F Feb-24 Discussion on Feminist Ethics (Group 2)

Week 8 Egoism

(Unit Paper 2, Moral Theories Due Monday by Midnight)
M Feb-27 Chapter 8, Introduction; Plato, “Ring of Gyges” and Rand, “In Defense of Ethical Egoism” (495-513)
W Mar-1 Chapter 8, Pojman, “Egoism and Altruism” and “Critique of Ethical Egoism” (521)
F Mar-3 Discussion on Egoism (Group 3)

Week 9 The Meaning of Life

M Mar-6 Chapter 9 Introduction; Voltaire, “Good Brahmin”, Epicurus “Hedonism” (534-545)
W Mar-8 Camus “Life is Absurd”, and Pojman “Religion gives meaning to life” (545-557), and Russell, “Reflections on Suffering” 569-571
F Mar-10 Discussion on Meaning of Life (Group 4)

Break Mar 13-17

Week 10 Autonomy

M Mar-20 Chapter 10, Introduction; King “I have a dream”, “Experiment in Autonomy” (573-593)
W Mar-22 Sartre, “Existentialism is a Humanism” (593-601); Vonnegut “Harrison Bergeron” (612-617)
F Mar-24 Discussion on Autonomy (Group 5)

Week 11 Sexual Ethics

(Unit Paper 3, Moral Issues Due by Midnight)
M Mar-27 Chapter 11, Introduction; Kant, “On the Place of Sex”, McMurtry “Monogamy: A Critique”, and Bayles, “Marriage, Love, and Procreation” (619-635)
W Mar-29 Levin “Homosexuality is Abnormal”, Corvino “A Defense of Homosexuality” (664-688)
F Mar-31 Discussion on Sexual Ethics (Group 6)

Week 12 Abortion

M Apr-3 Chapter 12, Introduction; Marquis, “Why Abortion is Immoral” (689-709)
W Apr-5 Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion” (710-727)
F Apr-7 Discussion on Abortion (Group 7)

Week 13 Euthanasia

M Apr-10 Chapter 13, Introduction; Brock “Voluntary Active Euthanasia” (760-780)
W Apr-12 Gay-Williams, “The Wrongfulness of Euthanasia” (781)
F Apr-14 Discussion on Euthanasia (Group 8)

Week 14 Animal Rights

M Apr-17 Chapter 14, Introduction; Orwell “Shooting an Elephant” (793-800)
W Apr-19 Singer “All Animals are Equal”, Cohen “The Case Against Animal Rights” (801-820)
F Apr-21 Discussion on Animal rights (Group 9)

Week 15 Globalism

(Unit Paper 4, Moral Problems due Monday by Midnight)
M Apr-24 Term Paper Work Shop
W Apr-26 Chapter 16, Introduction; Hardin “Living on a Lifeboat” (852-871)
F Apr-28 Murdoch, “A Critique of Lifeboat Ethics” (872-887) (Group 10)

Finals Week

M May-1 No class
W May-3 Reflections and Extra Credit Due by 11:59PM online.
F May-5 Term Paper by 11:59pm online

UK Core

PHI 130 is a UK Core class that satisfies Community, Culture and Citizenship in the USA. From UK Core guidelines:

These courses promote a student’s understanding of historical, societal, and cultural differences, such as those arising from race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, language, nationality, religion, political and ethical perspectives, and socioeconomic class; engage students in grappling with conflicts, compromises, and/or ethical dilemmas stemming from the complex and diverse cultural contexts of US communities; and foster effective and responsible participation in a diverse community or society in the United States.

Part of satisfying this learning goal will be doing outside research for your Term Paper. You will write on one of the specific Ethical Problems discussed in class. You will expand the disputation format of the Unit Paper in the Term Paper, with an introduction, conclusion, and additional outside research.



Letter Grade Percentage
A 99%-90%
B 89%-80%
C 79% - 70%
D 69% - 60%
F < 59%

Reading tips

Read ahead. There is a lot of reading but read carefully and slowly as need be; you will get faster, but start slow and careful. Try to read and understand the book or essay. Ask yourself: What is the main thesis? Is it true? Take notes. Talk with each other before class. Ask yourselves and each other: What is the main point? What confused me? Come to class with objections, questions, and arguments. More are tips available online.


Short reading quizzes assess that you read the day’s text. These are easy points, so be diligent in doing every quiz.


Attendance is mandatory; we need you here! Roll will be taken each class by marking a 3x5 card. (Being repeatedly or egregiously late will count as an absence.) You may check your absences at any time by requesting to see your card in person. I do not email attendance information. Aim for perfect attendance to maximize your learning.

That said, I give 2 personal absences as freebies. These 2 personal absences may be used without penalty for for any reason, including family visits, sickness, sports, or sleep. For other reasons, you need an excuse. The 3rd unexcused absence will cost a 2% deduction from the semester grade. This continues per absence. 6 unexcused absences is a letter grade and 9 will make a passing grade impossible.

  • 1 = -0
  • 2 = -0
  • 3 = -2%
  • 4 = -4%
  • 5 = -6%
  • 6 = -10% (a letter grade)
  • 7 = -12%
  • 8 = -14%
  • 9 = -50%


The primary competency of this class is philosophical dialog. Hence, you must attend and participate. Class time is primarily focused on discussion of the material for which I expect you to be fully engaged.

To earn participation points, you will voluntarily share your thoughts in discussion at least once per week, and/or respond when called upon. You are not required to write posts on the discussion board online. By default, everyone is an “external processor”.

“Internal processors”: Some may wish to opt out of speaking in class and emphasize writing. To earn participation points, you will post class reflections online every week. You may elect to speak in class as well, and may be called upon.

Everyone starts at an 80% (B-) for the participation grade. You will move up or down depending on whether you pay attention and speak at least once per week. (I prohibit the use of electronic devices in class, although laptop users may request permission to sit in the front of class with their computers.) Other discussion ground rules are posted online.

You are responsible to talk in class. Even if you are confused, tired, or unmotivated, I expect you to make yourself participate and engage. Get out of your comfort zone into your growth zone. Come prepared. Read, take notes, reflect, and come ready to share your viewpoint, defend it, listen to others’ viewpoints, and critique theirs.

We dialog so much because: (1) You must take responsibility for your own learning. (2) We can actually get to know each other. (3) Most people learn (and retain) best in discussion. (4) Philosophy is dialogical.

Critical Readings:

You may be assigned a group “critical reading” assignment. Your group must meet ahead of time to read and discuss the assignment more thoroughly than your normal reading. You will then summarize the reading, analyze it, and present your own opinions. One or all of you will present your summary to the class. Instructions are posted online.

Unit Papers

Every student will write several Unit Papers. These Unit Papers help you synthesize your own views after doing the readings and listening to lectures and participating in the discussions. Be careful to cite your sources correctly, because I do not tolerate plagiarism. Papers may receive a letter grade or may be graded pass/fail -- so follow the instructions closely. The instructions are posted online.

Extra Credit

Those who opt for extra credit may do so. You may do extra reading, extra writing, extra class preparation, for up to 5% of the semester grade. The normal amount of extra credit awarded is 2%. The only way to earn all 5% is to do multiple types of extra credit and do them well. Full instructions are posted online.

Late Work

In general, I do not accept late work. Plan ahead and do work early before vacations, sports trips, or busy times. Do the quizzes ahead of time to avoid technical difficulties. Valid excuses for turning in papers late include medical or family emergencies, or abnormal technical failures. That said, due dates are not eternal laws; I willing to negotiate within reason. If you are very stressed, or if I have not graded everything yet, we can talk about moving a due date. Just ask.


  1. Bring your textbook to every class.
  2. Participate. Participation is your responsibility; I may or may not call on you. Challenge yourself!
  3. Stay focused. Do not distract yourself with side conversations, texting, Facebook, or doing anything else in class. Take a short mental break or bathroom break if you need to, but come back.
  4. No smart phones. No other electronics, laptops, tablets, phones, etc. Unplug, listen and engage. (If you have an important phone call or text, please step outside the class for a moment, then return.)
  5. No laptop/tablets. Rare exceptions must request permission to use their device. If approved, you must sit in the front row.
  6. Be respectful of others: Pay attention when a neighbor is talking. No teasing. Don’t pack up too early – 1 minute before the end of class is fine.
  7. Contact me. The best method is to chat before/after class. Second best is email, Canvas message, or Tweet; I read every email but may not respond to every email. If you need a response but I haven’t responded within three (3) days, email again with the subject “nudge”. (Please use
  8. Contact. For short, quick questions, use Twitter (keith_buhler)
  9. Email. You are expected to have an active e-mail account that you check regularly, and to check “news” or “announcements” section on Canvas (or Discovery, etc.). Section related announcements will be made on this platform and/or via e-mail (e.g. if I am sick, pointers for home work, change in due dates).
  10. Accommodations. Disabilities can be accommodated. Make sure you are properly registered with the Disability Resource Center.
  11. Plagiarism. Do not plagiarize. If I detect plagiarism, I will contact you. The assignment will receive a zero, and disciplinary action may follow. It may jeopardize your standing in the class. If you forget to quote a source, that’s still plagiarism. Also, if you intentionally take anyone else’s work or offer your work to anyone else (under whatever auspices). You’ll submit your papers to SafeAssign to help avoid accidental plagiarism. Don’t even think about stealing someone else’s thought/work. For more information, refer to academic integrity documents like this one.
  12. Enjoy yourself. We are not merely solving abstract puzzles here, but digging deeply into human thinking in a way that could change your life forever. The more you and your fellows allow yourselves to acquire a “taste” for the material, the more inclined you will be to give it the real effort required to master it.