Spring 2020 - PHIL 321 D100

Topics in Moral Philosophy (3)


Class Number: 7803

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 1:30 PM – 2:20 PM
    AQ 5037, Burnaby

    Th 12:30 PM – 2:20 PM
    WMC 3510, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    One of PHIL 120W (or equivalent), 121, 220, 221 or ENV 320W.



An advanced investigation of central issues and theories in moral philosophy. In any given term, the course may focus on a general theory or concept or concern, for example meta-ethics, utilitarianism, or theories of rights. Sometimes it will focus on a particular problem or problems, such as medical ethics, moral personhood, or free will and moral responsibility. May be repeated for credit.


Selected Topics: Metaethics 

This course offers an introduction to contemporary metaethics. Metaethics is the study of moral thought and discourse. More specially, metaethics questions the metaphysical, epistemological, semantic, and psychological commitments of our moral practices. Rather than focusing on first-order normative questions (e.g. which acts are right? Which acts are wrong? What is the good life for human beings?), metaethics takes a step back and asks higher-order questions, such as: “What does it mean to say that an action is morally wrong? Do moral properties exist, and if so, what are they like? Is morality genuinely prescriptively authoritative?”. The first part of the course focuses on moral metaphysics, where we discuss various accounts of the nature of morality (e.g. error theory, expressivism, constructivism, sensibility theories, moral realism). The second part of the course focuses on specific problems in metaethics (e.g. moral motivation, moral reasons, moral explanations, moral knowledge).


PHIL 321 may be applied towards the Certificate in Ethics and the Concentration in Law and Philosophy. 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
  •  Write upper-level undergraduate philosophy papers
  •  Conduct independent research
  •  Engage with fundamental philosophical issues in contemporary metaethics

This course is excellent preparation for: law school, graduate school in philosophy, public policy degrees, business school, or for anyone wishing to participate in public deliberation with their fellow citizens.


  • Two in-class quizzes (10% each) 20%
  • Short midterm paper (1200 words) 30%
  • Final term paper (2500 words) 45%
  • Participation (contributions to class discussions or office hours) 5%



Foundations of Ethics: An Anthology. (2006). Russ Shafer-Landau, Terrence Cuneo, eds. Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.
ISBN: 978-1-405-12952-7

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 philmgr@sfu.ca   More details on our website: SFU Philosophy

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site 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