Spring 2023 - PHIL 421W E200

Advanced Topics in Ethical Theory (4)

The Work of Peter Railton

Class Number: 7191

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    We 5:30 PM – 8:20 PM
    WMC 2268, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    Two 300-level PHIL courses; it is strongly recommended that students have taken some prior course in moral theory.



A highly focused, advanced examination of a selection of topics in normative or meta-ethics. May be repeated for credit. Writing.


Selected Topics: The Work of Peter Railton

[Note: this course is to be taught concurrently with PHIL 823 G200.]  

This course will look at the work of the influential contemporary philosopher Peter Railton. Railton has written widely on issues in moral philosophy. He is most famous for defending consequentialism (the view that an action moral status depends solely on its consequences) and naturalist realism (the view that there are moral facts, and that those are reducible to or identical with natural facts). But his work is often quite challenging, and so this course will focus on stepping through his views and work carefully.

The majority of the readings will be in metaethics, and so a background familiarity with issues in metaethics as well as metaphysics, philosophy of language, epistemology, and moral psychology will be helpful – though not strictly necessary.


PHIL 421W may be applied towards the Writing Requirement (and the upper division Writing Requirement for Philosophy Majors). This course may be repeated for credit if the topic is different.

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  •  Identify and reconstruct philosophical arguments
  •  Be able to read a text closely and carefully
  •  Engage critically with a variety of views in normative ethics and metaethics
  •  Formulate their views as well-argued essays


  • Participation 20%
  • Short assignments 25%
  • Presentation 15%
  • Term paper 40%


Course delivery method: in person


Written work for this course will be submitted via Turnitin, a third party service licensed for use by SFU. Turnitin is used for originality checking to help detect plagiarism. Students will be required to create an account with Turnitin, and to submit their work via that account, on the terms stipulated in the agreement between the student and Turnitin. This agreement includes the retention of your submitted work as part of the Turnitin database. Any student with a concern about using the Turnitin service may opt to use an anonymous identity in their interactions with Turnitin. Students who do not intend to use Turnitin in the standard manner must notify the instructor at least two weeks in advance of any submission deadline. In particular, it is the responsibility of any student using the anonymous option (i.e. false name and temporary e-mail address created for the purpose) to inform the instructor such that the instructor can match up the anonymous identity with the student.



Students should acquire Railton’s essay collection, Facts, Values, and Norms (ISBN 978-0521426930).

All other readings will be made available via Canvas.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Department Undergraduate Notes:

Thinking of a Philosophy Major or Minor? The Concentration in Law and Philosophy? The Certificate in Ethics? The Philosophy and Methodology of Science Certificate?
Contact the PHIL Advisor at philcomm@sfu.ca   More details on our website: SFU Philosophy

New elective grade policy : P/CR/NC, pilot project in place from Spring 2021 to Summer 2023. List of exclusions for the new policy. Specifically for Philosophy: 

  • Students can use a P or CR to satisfy any requirement for a major, joint major, honours, or minor in Philosophy (with the exception of Honours tutorials).
  • Students can use a P or CR to satisfy any prerequisite requirement for any PHIL course.
  • Students can use a P (but not a CR) to satisfy any requirement for the Ethics Certificate, or the Philosophy and Methodology of Science Certificate.
  • Philosophy Majors and Honours students can use a P (but not a CR) to satisfy any WQB requirement.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html