Normative Ethics

Course Description:

In this course, our attention will be focused on normative ethical theory. We will survey alternative normative ethical models, including: consequentialist/deontological alternatives to (rudimentary) utilitarianism and Kantianism; virtue ethics; care-based ethics. It is expected that students have at least some background with ethics. This course is structured as a conversation, or as a series of conversations.

Required Materials:

Ethical Theory: An Anthology, 2nd Edition. Russ Shafer-Landau.

Grade Elements:

Throughout this course, there are 360 points in total available from the following grade components:

  • Basic Discussion Preparation: For every day of class in which a student is not a designated Discussion Leader, that student is expected to come to class having completed a Basic Discussion Preparation (BDP). Each BDP is worth 10 points. Each student will complete 7 BDPs throughout the term.
  • Discussion Leadership Preparation: For every day of class in which a student is a designated Discussion Leader, that student is expected to come to class having completed a Discussion Leadership Preparation (DLP). Each DLP is worth 25 points. Each student will complete 3 DLPs throughout the term.
  • Individual Project: At the end of the term, each student will be tasked with leading a discussion about a paper that they alone have read. This is intended as an opportunity for students to engage with a topic that they find personally interesting as well as an opportunity to practice guiding a discussion individually. A proposal will be due to me by midnight, Friday, July 18th, which is worth 15 points. The project itself is worth 100 points.
  • Final Paper. This is your opportunity to analyze and critique the material covered throughout the term. You will be graded on 1) your ability to express the theories and arguments under consideration and 2) your ability to construct and support an argument for a thesis. It is expected that you can write in a well-structured and grammatically-correct style. More information will be provided later.The paper is worth 100 points.

More information about each of the above is available through Canvas or will be made available through Canvas later.

As should be clear from the above, the emphasis in this course is on discussion. Each day of class will be dedicated to discussing a specific paper. For each class meeting, students are expected to have read the paper and to have prepared for the ensuing conversation. The graded elements in this course are intended to help foster the student’s skillful participation in philosophical conversation.

Of course, one cannot participate in a conversation if one is not present. Thus, attendance is vital. Good faith attendance is mandatory. Over the course of the term, I will excuse 1 absence. Any absences beyond that one will result in 10 points being removed from your final score, unless you complete a make-up assignment. The make-up assignment will require you to engage thoughtfully with the material that you missed. Make-up assignments are designed on a case-by-case basis.


            Basic Discuss Preparations and Discussion Leadership Preparations are intended as preparation for the upcoming class discussions. You will be graded on your apparent comprehension of the text, understanding of the argument(s) and theories presented in the text, and thoughtful analysis, as evidenced by the material you turn in to me. Instructions for both types of preparation are available on Canvas.

In-class participation itself is not graded. However, I will be providing students feedback throughout the term about the nature of their participation.

All grades are final. There will be no options for extra credit.


Late Policy:

All work must be turned in by the due dates listed. Late work will be accepted, but a late penalty will apply.  If you turn an assignment in late on the due date, your score will be lowered by 5%.  If you turn an assignment in late the day after the due date, your score will be lowered by 10%. Each additional day lowers your grade by another 10%. Under unusual circumstances, students may be permitted to redo an assignment or complete an alternative. What constitutes “unusual” circumstances is left to my discretion. If you believe your circumstances may be unusual, see me during my office hours.

In case of emergency, documented in the form of an official leave of absence from either the health center or the Student Life Office, students are allowed to turn work in late without penalty.

Electronic Communication:

I encourage students to contact me!  You are more than welcome to e-mail me with any questions, problems, or comments related to the course.  Usually, I am quick to reply, but please allow me 48 hours to respond.  If I do not respond within 48 hours, assume I did not receive your e-mail. Just send it again. When you e-mail me, please include your full name and the name of the course.  Any e-mail I send to the class will be sent through Canvas, so make sure your account is appropriately set up to receive such e-mails.

Class Conduct:

No laptops, tablets, smartphones, or similar bits of technology are permitted during class. If you believe an exception to this policy should be made for you, talk to me.

It is expected that students will participate significantly in this course. It is a small class, and so each student has the responsibility, right, and privilege of participation.

Academic Dishonesty:

Academic dishonesty is a serious infraction and it is dealt with severely. Possible consequences include permanent dismissal. It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty—see appendix D of the university catalog:


This syllabus is subject to change at my discretion.


Reading List:

Robinson, “A Dialogue on Philosophic Conversation”

Brad Hooker, “Rule-Consequentialism”

Alan Bewirth, “The Golden Rule Rationalized”

W.D. Ross, “What Makes Right Acts Right?”

Aristotle, “The Nature of Virtue”

Rosalind Hursthouse, “Normative Virtue Ethics”

Julia Annas, “Being Virtuous and Doing the Right Thing”

Nell Noddings, “An Ethic of Caring”

Annette Baier, “The Need for More than Justice”

Margaret Urban Walker, “Feminist Skepticism, Authority, and Transparency”