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SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2019

EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 10:00-11:15 AM
OFFICE HOURS: By appointment, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8.30-10 a.m., 1.30-3 p.m., and 4.15-6 p.m.

What is right and wrong, good and bad? Where do ethical ideas and standards come from? How do we make ethical decisions? And why should we be ethical at all? This course introduces students to ethical thinking by studying both concrete issues and more abstract moral theories. Students will explore theoretical ideas like “virtue”, “duty”, and “utility” and philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, Singer, and Nussbaum. These will be considered in relation to concrete issues such as abortion, charity, climate change, free speech, and genetics.

What is ‘love’? What and how do we love? How does love for friends, romantic lovers, family, strangers, nature, and even ‘God’ differ? And why should we love at all?

On this course in ethics, we will explore these questions about love by studying specific kinds of love and the ethical questions that they raise, and by considering how these can illuminate, and be illuminated by, broader theories of the meaning and value of love. In doing so, we will also consider related philosophical ideas about the self, emotion, responsibility, community, and religion. Our focus throughout will be on your own views and on how you can reflect on, develop, and defend them by engaging with concrete examples and philosophical ideas, both in class and in writing.

The course is divided into three parts. In the first part we will focus on four kinds of personal love: friendship, romantic love, sex, and family. Here we will examine opposing views of the meaning of friendship, what differentiates romantic love and the role of commitment in it, how sex can and cannot express love, and the nature of love between parents and children. Then, in the second part, we will consider these kinds of love in the light of classical philosophers’ theories and contemporary philosophers’ doubts about love. Thus we will study Plato’s account of beauty, Aristotle’s idea of ‘mirroring’, and Augustine’s Christian conception of love for and by God, along with Dawkins’s evolutionary explanation of altruism, Firestone’s feminist concerns, and Žižek’s theory of fantasy in love. In the final part of the course we will consider three outstanding questions: whether and how we should ‘love’ strangers, what it might mean to love animals and even nature in general, and how religion has influenced non-religious ideas of love. Here we will study the ‘effective altruism’ movement and Habermas’s communicative ethics, ‘deep’ ecological views and ideas of animal rights, and conceptions of trust, forgiveness, and ‘unconditional’ love. After each part of the course you will prepare a written assignment on a topic within it.


By the end of the course you will be able to:

• explain and evaluate concepts and arguments used in debates in applied ethics over specific kinds of love;

• explain and evaluate the more abstract theories of classical and contemporary philosophers;

• reflectively develop your own reasoned views of these issues, concepts, and arguments;

• glean meaning from and interpret primary philosophical texts, and make appropriate use of secondary academic sources;

• do all this in appropriately academic oral and written forms and in individual and group contexts.

Class participation Classes will involve a mixture of lectures, seminar discussions, group presentations, and other activities. The emphasis will be on helping you to develop your own and others’ opinions and arguments and your ability to discuss them with others, as well as your understanding of the readings and other materials and the positions and arguments presented in them. Your active involvement in discussions and other class activities, based on adequate preparation outside class, is therefore essential. 25%
Forum contributions Since the class forum is intended to allow for free discussion, I will not assess the content of your posts. Your grade for this assessment will be simply the percentage of times that you post on time, out of the possible total posts. You may also miss up to two posts unexcused without this affecting your grade. 10%
Three written assignmentsThe three written assignments will be ‘take-home’ assignments of 1800-2000 words. You will prepare a written assignment after each of the three parts of the course. I will give you a set of questions from which to choose on the last Thursday of the relevant part, although you may also agree an alternative question with me. The assignment will be due a week later, after the review and writing classes. 25% for the best one, and 20% for the other two

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


A maximum of two unexcused absences from class will be accepted. Beyond this, a zero grade will be given for each unexcused absence, bringing your average grade down. It is your responsibility to inform me if you miss or cannot participate fully in a class for a good reason. Good reasons include illness, unavoidable appointments, religious holidays, and transport strikes, but not trips, guests, or malfunctioning alarm clocks. Note that arriving late to class, leaving for lengthy ‘toilet breaks’, and using a laptop or mobile phone in class also count as ‘unexcused absences’.

Note also that you may make up a missed assessment only with the permission of the Dean’s Office. This permission is granted only in cases of serious impediment – such as a documented illness, hospitalization, or attendance at an immediate family member’s funeral – and when you notify the Dean’s Office beforehand.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Class schedule and topics

Week 1:           Thursday: What is love?                              

Week 2:           Friendship                                                                       Personal loves

                        Tuesday: Friendship as self-disclosure

                        Thursday: How friends change us 

Week 3:           Romantic love

                        Tuesday: True love?                

                        Thursday: Commitment and love drugs

Week 4:           Sex

                        Tuesday: Erotic love vs. plain sex

                        Thursday: ‘Hooking up’ and problems of objectification

Week 5:           Families

                        Tuesday: Licensing parents

                        Thursday: Should children love their parents?

Week 6:           Review and preparation of first assignment

Week 7:           Classical theories                                                                     Theories

                        Tuesday: Plato and the love of beauty

                        Thursday: Aristotle on ‘mirroring’

Week 8:           Tuesday: Augustine’s love of God

                        Contemporary doubts         

                        Thursday: Dawkins and the evolution of altruism

Week 9:           Tuesday: Love as oppressive of women

                        Thursday: Žižek on the imaginary gaze

Week 10:         Review and preparation of second assignment    

Week 11:         Love for strangers?                                                              Extensions

                        Tuesday: Maximizing happiness 

                        Thursday: Respect and rationality

Week 11:         Love for nature?

                        Tuesday: Deep ecology vs. materialism

                        Thursday: Animal equality

Week 13:         Love without God?

                        Tuesday: Trust and forgiveness

                        Thursday: To play God, or love a God?

Weeks 14-15:  Review and preparation of third assignment 


Below are the primary texts that we will study, arranged by week. These and other materials will be provided on the class Moodle site.

2. Laurence Thomas, ‘Friendship’, in D. Callahan, P. Singer, and R. Chadwick (eds.), Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics, 4 vols., San Diego: Academic Press, 1997, v. 2, pp. 323-333

Dean Cocking and Jeanette Kennett, ‘Friendship and the Self’, Ethics 108, 1998, pp. 502-527 (extracts, pp. 503-510 and 514-522)

3. Angelika Krebs, ‘Between I and Thou: On the Dialogical Nature of Love’, in C. Maurer, T. Milligan, and K. Pacovská (eds.), Love and its Objects, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp. 7-24

Julian Savulescu and Anders Sandberg, ‘Neuroenhancement of Love and Marriage: The Chemicals between Us’, Neuroethics 1:1, 2008, pp. 31-44 (extract, pp. 35-42)

4. Guy Pinku, ‘Exploring the Association Between Love and Sex’, in M. Bruce and R. M. Stewart (eds.), College Sex: Philosophy for Everyone, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, pp. 158-168

Martha Nussbaum, ‘Objectification’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 24:4, 1995, pp. 249-291 (extracts)

5. Hugh LaFollette, ‘Licensing Parents Revisited’, Journal of Applied Philosophy 27:4, 2010, pp. 327-343

Christina Hoff Sommers, ‘Philosophers Against the Family’, repr. in D. Boonin and G. Oddie (eds.), What’s Wrong? Applied Ethicists and their Critics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 310-321 (extract, pp. 310-317) 

7. Plato, The Symposium, trans. M. C. Howatson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 37-50 (201d-212c)

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. R. Crisp, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, bk. 8, chs. 1-4 and 12, and bk. 9, ch. 4

8. Augustine, Confessions, trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin, London: Penguin, 1961, bk. 2, §§ 1-2 and 4-5, bk. 9, §§ 4, 8-10 and 12, and bk. 10, § 27

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989, chs. 8-9 (extracts)

9. Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, New York: Bantam, 1971, pp. 126-135 and 146-152

Slavoj Žižek, The Plague of Fantasies, 2nd ed., New York: Verso, 2008, pp. 1-11, 43-47, and 81-87

11. William MacAskill, Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical New Way to Make a Difference, London: Guardian Faber, 2015, ch. 9

Jürgen Habermas, ‘On the Pragmatic, the Ethical and the Moral Employments of Practical Reason’, in Justification and Application: Remarks on Discourse Ethics, trans. C. Cronin, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993, pp. 1-17

12. Freya Mathews, ‘Beyond Modernity and Tradition: A Third Way for Development’, in Ethics and the Environment 11:2, 2006, pp. 85-113

Peter Singer, ‘Equality for Animals?’, ch. 2 of Practical Ethics, 2nd ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993 (extract, pp. 55-75)

13. Annette C. Baier, ‘Trust and its Vulnerabilities’, The Tanner Lectures on Human Values 1991, pp. 109-136 (extract, pp. 109-124)

Charles L. Griswold, ‘Forgiveness and Apology: What, When, Why?’ Tikkun 23:2, March/April 2008, pp. 21-26

Simon May, Love: A History, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011, pp. 1-13, 235-241, and 249-256