PHIL 120W Introduction to Moral Philosophy

Spring Semester 2013 | Day | Burnaby


INSTRUCTOR: D. Heide,WMC 5655 (


In this course, we shall occupy ourselves with a range of questions concerning the nature of the good life and right action, including both very specific questions about pressing ethical issues and very abstract questions about the fundamental nature of moral value. We shall begin by considering the question of our obligations to the impoverished: is Peter Singer right when he suggests that it is morally wrong to choose to spend one’s money on, for example, iPhones and expensive shoes when we could instead use it to provide for the basic necessities of a family living in abject poverty? In considering this question, we shall be led to reflect upon the very practice of moral philosophy: is there an objective answer to this question and others like it?

We shall thus be led to consider some classic and profound moral theories: systems that purport to tell us what it is in the world that is valuable in itself and how we ought to act in light of this. Is the hedonist correct in thinking that pleasure is the ultimate standard of the good life? Is the utilitarian correct when she says that morally right actions are the ones that have the best consequences, even if the best consequences can sometimes be achieved through, say, lying or even murder? Or should we accept Kant’s view of morality, according to which certain types of actions – like lying – can never be morally right and it is an agent’s motive that determines whether an action is right? Or is morality ultimately socially constructed? We shall motivate and test these abstract theories by considering some other very particular moral questions – about, for example, the morality of abortion and torture and about our obligations to non-human animals. Finally, toward the end of the course, we shall consider objections by philosophers who doubt that there is any moral objectivity at all – because morality is relative to individuals or cultures, or else because morality simply doesn’t exist.


  • Shafer-Landau, The Fundamentals of Ethics. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press. (ISBN: 9780199773558)
  • Shafer-Landau, The Ethical Life: Fundamental Readings in Ethics and Moral Problems. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press. (ISBN: 978-0199773527)


  • Six short written assignments, written in tutorial - 10%
  • One 400 – 600 word paper, including revision - 15%
  • One 600 – 800 word paper, including revision - 20%
  • One 1400 – 1600 word final paper, including revision - 30%
  • Final exam - 25%

 Philosophy 120 has no prerequisites and may be applied towards the Certificate in Liberal Arts, the W-requirement, and the Breadth/Humanities requirement.