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SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 3:00 PM 4:15 PM
OFFICE HOURS: By appointment, Tues. and Thurs., 11.15 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4.15-6 p.m.

What is right and wrong, good and bad? How do we know? How can we argue over ethical issues? This course introduces students to ethical thinking by studying both concrete ethical issues and more abstract ethical ideas and theories. Students will examine philosophical debates over issues such as free speech, genetic engineering, and friendship, explore the meaning of ideas like “duty,” “virtue,” and “happiness,” and analyze the arguments of philosophers like Aristotle, Kant, and Singer.

What is “love”? What and how do we love? How does love change us? What are our ethical responsibilities in love? How do we love our friends, romantic and sexual partners, and parents and children differently? Why should we love at all? On this course, we will explore ethics by considering questions about love such as these. We will examine specific kinds of love, concrete ethical issues about them, and more abstract philosophical questions that they raise. Thus, for instance, we will study arguments about romantic union and children’s autonomy, issues raised by “love drugs” and by sexual consent, and related questions about the self, rationality, responsibility, and the nature of ethical values. Our focus throughout will be on your own views and on how you can reflect on, develop, and defend them by engaging with philosophical ideas and arguments and with concrete examples, in class and in writing. 


The course is divided into three main parts, each focusing on a particular kind of love. The first part focuses on romantic love: here we will examine four different conceptions of romantic love, as well as debates over “love drugs” and gender expectations. The second part focuses on sex, and particularly on whether sex has “meaning,” the nature of consent, and issues of exclusivity and discrimination. The final part of the course focuses on parents and children: here we will explore the decision to have children, the value of childhood, and questions about the (un)conditionality of parental love and the acceptability of genetic engineering.


After the first and second parts of the course, you will prepare a written assignment, and after the third we will review for the final exam. In the last week of each part of the course, we will also hold a more structured group debate, two of which you will participate in as a member of a group.Throughout the semester you will also be assessed by your participation in classes and your contributions to forums and other exercises on the class Moodle site. 


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

• explain and evaluate important concepts and arguments in the philosophy of love; 

• reflectively analyze and develop your own reasoned views of them;

• understand and interpret primary and secondary philosophical texts;

• do all this in appropriately academic oral and written forms, individually and in groups.


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. 20%
ExercisesSince the exercises are intended to allow for free discussion, I will not assess the content of your contributions. Your grade for this assessment will be simply the percentage of times that you complete an exercise by 9 a.m. on the day of the relevant class, out of the total classes. You may also miss up to two exercises unexcused without this affecting your grade. 10%
Two written assignmentsThe written assignments will be “take-home” assignments of 1400-1600 words. You will write one after each of the first two parts of the course. I will give you a set of questions from which to choose on the last Thursday of the relevant part of the course, although you may also agree an alternative question with me. The assignment will be due a week later, at the end of the writing week.20% each
DebatesFor two of the three more structured debates we will hold, you will defend a position as a member of a group. Your group’s performance in the debate will be evaluated according to the understanding and critical thinking displayed, the quality of responses given in the discussion, and the delivery of the points. Each member of the group will receive the same debate grade. 5% each
Final examinationThe cumulative final examination will consist of an essay written under examination conditions. The questions will be distributed on Thursday of week 13 and at the examination, which will take place in week 15, you will be given a selection of these questions to choose one from. 20%

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


 1. Thursday: How to do philosophy & What is love?


I.  Romantic love


2.  Conceptions

 Tuesday: Romantic union and its critics

Thursday: Is love an emotion? Is it rational?


3. Tuesday: Perception and particularity

Thursday: Language and disagreement                                       


4. Better love?

 Tuesday: Why love hurts women

 Thursday: Love drugs + Writing workshop


5. Preparation of first written assignment                                                                  


II. Sex


6. Should sex have “meaning”?

Tuesday: Casual vs. meaningful sex

Thursday: Desire and meaning            


7. Consent and its limits

Tuesday: Consent and coercion

Thursday: Beyond consent                                                                      


8. Better sex?

Tuesday: Exclusivity 

Thursday: Discrimination                    


9. Preparation of second written assignment


III. Parents and children


10. Having children

Tuesday: Transformative experience

 Thursday: The best available parent


11. Childhood

 Tuesday: What is (good and bad about) childhood?

Thursday: Children’s responsibilities


12. Better parenting?                       

Tuesday: Unconditional love

Thursday: Genetic enhancement


13 & 14. Review for final examination