PHIL 120W Introduction to Moral Philosophy

Spring Semester 2013 | Evening | Vancouver


INSTRUCTOR: J. Johnson (


What makes actions morally right or wrong? One answer to this question is that there is no objective standard of rightness or wrongness: morality is always relative to a particular culture. We'll start the course by discussing what moral relativism is and whether it could be true. We'll then turn to a discussion of "consequentialism" - the view that the rightness of an action is determined by its consequences - and rival moral theories such as "deontology," "contractarianism," and "virtue ethics". Some of the specific questions to be covered include: What role, if any, should a consideration of the consequences of an action play in moral judgements? What moral duties or obligations do we have? Are there particular character traits or virtues that are a constituent part of leading a moral life? Towards the end of the course, we will turn to a discussion of particular moral problems. Topics to be covered include: Are there moral limitations on the conduct of a just war? What is a just distribution of wealth and income in a society? The aim of the course will be to introduce students to the most historically influential ethical theories and to help students to think critically about moral claims.


  • Exploring Ethics: An Introductory Anthology, edited by Steven M. Cahn, Oxford University Press
  • Reserve readings 


  • Attendance, participation, group work – 10%
  • 500 word essay, plus one revision – 15%
  • 700 word essay, plus one revision – 20%
  • 1000 word essay, no revisions – 25%
  • Final exam – 30%
  • All papers must be processed through

 Philosophy 120W has no prerequisites and may be applied towards the Certificate in Liberal Arts, to the W-requirement.  and to the Breadth/Humanities requirement. This is an SFU NOW course.