PHL103 Ethics 

John Wager


The course is designed to help you begin answering some fundamental questions about life and what makes it worth living--Questions like what makes an action "right," or what makes us happy, what kinds of qualities should a person have or avoid having, and how we should treat other people (and ourselves), and what "work ethic" we want to follow. We won't be able to fully answer all of these, but our goal is to become wiser than we were when we started.

This is a "100" (introductory) level course. That means you don't have to have any background in philosophy to succeed here. But it also means that you probably haven't read much philosophy before. So this course has three purposes:

  1. To help you develop your own ethical theories and answers to ethical questions
  2. To learn to read philosophical writing. This is hard to do for all beginning students in philosophy. It was hard for me too. But you have an advantage here that is brand-new: The computer format of this class! I am convinced by four years of testing of on-line instruction that you will learn how to read philosophy much better by this format than by typical classroom instruction! 
  3. To explore major ethical theories by major philosophers. 
In terms of the grade for the course, if you understand what the readings are saying, you will pass. In addition, if you want to do more than pass, you should be able to compare the readings with each other and apply them to concrete ethical issues.

    [Quotes on Ethics]QUOTES ON ETHICS

    Philosophy, rightly defined, is simply the love of wisdom. 
    Cicero (B.C.E. 106-43) 

    By three methods we may learn wisdom:
    First, by reflection which is noblest; 
    second, by imitation, which is the easiest; 
    and third, by experience, which is the bitterest. 
    Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.) 

    In seeking wisdom thou art wise;
    in imagining that thou hast attained it - thou art a fool. 
    The Talmud ( 500? B.C.E.-400? C.E.) 

    The clouds may drop down titles and estates, 
    wealth may seek us;
    but wisdom must be sought. 
    Young (1683-1765) 

    Wise men learn more from fools than fools from the wise. 
    Cato the Elder (234-149 B.C.E.) 

    There are two sentences inscribed upon the Ancient oracle...
    'Know thyself' and 'Nothing too much;' and upon these all
    other precepts depend. 
    Plutarch (46-120 C.E.) 

    The philosopher is Nature's pilot. And there you have our 
    difference: to be in hell is to drift: to be in heaven is to steer. 
    G. B. Shaw (1856-1950) 

    To ridicule philosophy is truly philosophical. 
    Pascal (1623-1662) 

    The wise only possess ideas; 
    the greater part of mankind are possessed by them. 
    Samuel Coleridge (1772-1834) 

    The strongest symptom of wisdom in man is
    his being sensible of his own follies. 
    La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) 

    Common sense in an uncommon degree
    is what the world calls wisdom. 
    Samuel Coleridge (1772-1834) 

    Happy is the man who finds wisdom,
        and the man who gets understanding,
    for the gain from it is better than gain from silver
        and its profit better than gold. 
    She is more precious than jewels,
        and nothing you desire can compare with her. 
    Long life is in her right hand; 
        in her left hand are riches and honor. 
    Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
        and all her paths are peace. 
    She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
        those who hold her fast are called happy.
    Proverbs (1000?-200? B.C.E. ) 

    Perfect wisdom has four parts:
    Wisdom, the principle of doing things aright. 
    Justice, the principle of doing things equally in public and private. 
    Fortitude, the principle of not fleeing danger, but meeting it. 
    Temperance, the principle of subduing desires and living moderately. 
    Plato (427?-347? B.C.E.) 

    Philosophy is the art and law of life, and it teaches us
    what to do in all cases, and, like good marksmen,
    to hit the white at any distance. 
    Seneca (3 B.C.E. -65 C.E.) 

    Wisdom is to the mind what health is to the body. 
    La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) 

    The weak have remedies, the wise have joys;
    superior wisdom is superior bliss. 
    Young (1683-1765) 

    Call him wise whose actions, words, and steps
    are all a clear because to a clear why. 
    Lavater (1741-1801) 
    We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves 
    after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.
    Marcel Proust (1871 - 1922)
    A prudent question is one half of wisdom.
    Sir Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626)


    • All readings for this course will be available entirely on line. There is no textbook required for this course, although you may print out the materials and read them that way if you wish. The online readings for this course will be just as difficult and as extensive as a typical textbook, but they will be available here rather than through a printed textbook. 
    • All the readings will be fairly difficult; think of reading them as a kind of "weight lifting." You should have the same experience of resistance (and the same feeling of satisfied exhaustion) after a workout on the readings as you do after a workout lifting weights; otherwise, you are not growing in your comprehension or ability. 


  • Completion of four on-line timed quizzes
  • 20%
  • Journal
  • 25%
  • On-Line Reading Assignments  Quizzes
  • 25%
  • On-Line  Class Discussions
  • 10%
  • 2 Short Written Unit Assignments (1-3 pages each)
  • 20%

    Explanation of Quizzes

    • The four "units" of the course will have a timed on-line multiple-choice quiz of 20 questions. These will be released to the class after the start of a unit and will be available until about a week after the end of a unit.
    • Your grade for this will be determined by the percent of questions you get right. To get an "A" for all the quizzes, you should have a 90% or higher quiz average. For a "B," you should have 80%, a "C" is 70%, and a "D" is 60%.
    • When you submit your quiz on-line, you can ask for it to be graded immediately and you can then view the results immediately.
    • You will have a 55 minute time limit for each quiz.  Once you start working on a quiz, you should finish it in 55 minutes or less.  Note: If you start a quiz and then log out of the class, when you go back to the class the next day you will probably get a message saying you have been working on the quiz for 24 hours--23 hours longer than you are allowed! The 55 minutes starts when you start taking the quiz and it ends when you finish pressing the "submit" button for all of your answers.  55 minutes should be enough time to finish the quiz without feeling pressured for time.
    • You will have two chances to take each quiz, although the questions may be slightly different for each time.
    • I will record the higher of the two grades you get if you take the quiz twice.  If you are satisfied with the grade you get the first time, just don't take it a second time.
    • On-campus students who do not wish to take these quizzes on-line can complete them in room RC-215 or by making arrangements with me.
    Explanation of Journal
    • A philosophy journal is a record of your own personal reactions/thoughts/experiences about the material we cover in class. It should be your personal reaction to what you study or your (rough) attempt to think about philosophy. It does not need to be a polished "paper." Grammatical errors won't be graded. A philosophy journal is not a daily dairy of what you did. Neither is a philosophy journal just a record of what we discussed in class - it's not the same as class notes. It is your personal reaction to class topics, and usually will take a half-page to a page per entry. 
    • Your grade on this assignment will be determined by how many "acceptable" entries you have. If you make 2 entries a week for 15 weeks, you'll have 30 entries. To get an "A", you must have 25 entries. For a "B", you must have 20 entries. A "C" is 15 entries. A "D" is 10 entries. An "F" is fewer than 10 "acceptable" entries.
    • You should "keep" the journal by writing something in it at least twice a week. Make a heading for each date you make an entry - "Sept. 28" - then whatever thoughts you have that day. Each day's entry is one entry. I'll read the entries and decide if they are focused on the philosophy material and if they relate that material to your own life. If they are, you get a "yes" - if they do not seem to be, you get a "no." An entry might be a VERY insightful, VERY perceptive single sentence, a paragraph, two separate paragraphs, or a couple of pages, but anything less than a page may not be a fully-explored "entry." 
    • I will sometimes make comments on your journal, but I will not grade the entry. Feel free to explore the ideas in class, even if you're not sure where your thoughts will wind up. You can get full credit for an entry even if what you say is completely wrong. 
    • I have set up a special Journal for you to keep your journal in. This is accessible from the course start-up page, or from the "Journal" icon on the left side of the "Course Content" pages.  
    • Only you and I have access to your journal forum.  No students have access to anyone else's journal forum.
    Explanation of On-Line Reading Assignments
    • Each on-line reading assignment will have several built-in study questions.  A blank space will be provided for you to answer to these questions in a few lines and automatically send your answers to my email.
    • I will determine your grade for the reading assignments by looking at the quantity and quality of your answers, and how much improvement your answers show. To get an "A" for the reading assignments, you should submit at least 75 answers. For a "B," you should send at least 60. A "C" is at least 45 answers, and a "D" is at least 30 answers.  You don't have to do every one of the reading assignment questions.
    • I will let you know at mid-term time how many reading assignments and class discussion entries you have sent.
    Explanation of Class Discussions
  • We will use BlackBoard's "Discussions" for conducting On-Line class discussions.  Each of the four units has its own discussion area.
  • Your grade for this will be based on the quantity and quality of the messages you leave on-line , or based on the quantity and quality of the comments you make in class. To get an "A" in on-line class discussions, you should submit at least 25 messages or replies to other messages. For a "B," you should send at least 20. A "C" is at least 15 messages or replies, and a "D" is at least 10 messages or replies. 
  • You can participate on-line by leaving messages at any time; there won't be a scheduled required class meeting time.
  • The class discussions will take place either in the classroom or "on line" in the Class Discussions Forum.
  • Explanation of 2 Short Written Unit Assignments
    • Two of the four units will have a short writing assignment that asks you to respond to one or two questions in a one to three page essay.
    • Your grades for these will be based on the quality of your essays. They should be written in standard, formal English. You will be able to work on them on-line all through each unit, and be able to go back and revise them before you submit them to me for grading and comments.
    • These will all ask you to apply some theory to a particular "case" in ethics.
    • The main difference between these written assignments and your journal is that these assignments ask you to write in a more formal, disciplined way in response to particular essay questions.  Your journals are wide open; anything you are thinking about the class is fair game for a journal entry!


    Grade of A:

    1. Consistently superior scores on quizzes and exams.
    2. Assignments completed in prescribed form, on time, with evidence of careful research on subject matter and planned presentation.
    3. Consistently shows independent thinking in terms of the subject matter of the course, either in written assignments and/or class discussion.
    4. Shows grasp of relationships among various parts of subject.
    5. Applies learning to new situations. 
    6. Asks questions which are appropriate and stimulate relevant discussion.
    7. Complies with attendance regulations.

    Grade of B:

    1. Consistently above average achievement on examinations.
    2. Assignments completed in prescribed form and on time; above average in quality.
    3. Demonstrates independent thinking in written assignments and/or class discussions.
    4. Shows grasp of general organization of subject matter by noting parallels in written assignments and discussions.
    5. Demonstrates that the reasons for learning subject matter are understood and some applications made.
    6. Asks questions which clarify presentation of the subject and demonstrate above average knowledge.
    7. Complies with attendance regulations.

    Grade of C:

    1. Satisfactory scores on examinations.
    2. Assignments completed in correct form, on time, and of an acceptable quality.
    3. Presents evidence of satisfactory grasp of assigned subject matter, either written assignments and/or class discussions.
    4. Shows satisfactory grasp of organization of subject matter.
    5. Demonstrates some understanding of the relationship of the subject to academic, vocational, or social goals.
    6. Asks relevant questions.
    7. Complies with attendance regulations.

    Grade of D:

    1. Below average examination scores but high enough to show better-than-chance responses.
    2. Assignments completed in imperfect form or not completed on time; quality of work is marginal.
    3. Shows grasp of individual units of subject matter but little evidence of inter-relationships.
    4. Shows some application of material, but with little insight.
    5. Is a passive listener rather than an active participant in class discussion.
    6. Complies with the attendance regulations of the college.

    Grade of F:

    1. Unsatisfactory test scores.
    2. Assignments omitted, incomplete or unacceptable.
    3. Is inattentive in class.
    4. Demonstrates little or no interest in or comprehension of subject matter.
    5. Unsatisfactory progress toward achieving intended class goals.
    6. Does not comply with attendance regulations.

    Office: R-215.  On-line Office Hours (available for BlackBoard CHAT): Same as regular office hours, and by arrangement. On Line Office Hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 10:30-11:30 a.m. (Central Time) and by appointment. I always check my E-mail at these times. I will be available through the course "chat" feature at those times, but if possible you should let me know ahead of time if you want to use this because I may be working on a different part of the course and not notice someone in "chat." My home number is (708) 415-1302.  Regular campus E-mail: (This is an E-mail address you can use in addition to the built-in BlackBoard E-mail feature.) The best way to reach me is to leave me a message is in the "mail" feature of your course. My "Home Page" is: