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COURSE NAME: "Living the Good Life: Religion and Philosophical Ethics"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

INSTRUCTOR: Stefan Sorgner
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 3:00 PM 4:15 PM

What it is to do the right thing, or to be a good person? Where do ethical ideas and standards come from? And why should we be ethical at all? This course introduces students to ethical thinking by studying both concrete issues and more abstract theories, religious and non-religious. Students will explore ideas like “virtue”, “duty”, “conscience”, and “perfection,” philosophers like Plato, Aquinas, and Kant, and religious traditions like Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, alongside concrete issues in areas such as medicine, war, sex, and the environment.

This course presents a historical overview over the most important ethical traditions and it examines some of the most important contemporary ethical issues to help you to develop a familiarity with the debates and your ability to discuss, reflect on and defend your own views.

Initially a basic outline of key terms of the debates and their relevance will be introduced. In the first part of the course, we will study and discuss many central ethical traditions, e.g. Buddhist Ethics, Classical Chinese Ethics, Jewish Ethics, Christian Ethics, Islamic Ethics, Ethics in Ancient Greece as well as central thinkers and movements in the Western philosophical tradition. Then, in the second part, we will focus on a great variety of ethical challenges, whereby we deal with general reflections as well as specific topics in the field of applied ethics, e.g. Environmental Ethics, Animals, Abortion, Sex, and Euthanasia. By considering the pro- and contra-arguments, you should be able to form your own line of thought concerning the questions with which we will deal.

More specifically, by the end of the course you will be able to:


• recognize and analyze ethical issues;

• analyze relevant recent cases, along with specific positions and arguments regarding them;

• analyze and employ broader theoretical ethical approaches, debates and concepts;

• develop informed, reasoned positions regarding these issues, cases and broader theoretical aspects;

• explain and analyze course material orally and in written forms;

• make appropriate use of original and academic resources and undertake guided research work.


Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberCommentsFormatLocal BookstoreOnline Purchase
A Companion to Ethics. Singer, Peter (ed.)Blackwell, 1993978-0631187851     

Class participation 10
Midterm examThe mid-term written assignment will be a ‘take-home’ assignment of 1000-2000 words (incl. bibliography), written in response to one of a selection of questions which I will provide. I will distribute the questions during week 6 and the assignment should be submitted by Friday of week 7. An electronic version of the project must be uploaded on moodle. (Title of Course/Term/Year) A printed version must be given to the instructor. You will find your grade on your written mid-term assignment when it will be given back to you.30
PresentationsIn-class Presentation: Students are required to give two short individual presentations (5 - 10 minutes). The presentation will be well-organized, concise, and include (when opportune) audiovisual and electronic materials. An electronic version of the presentations must be uploaded on moodle. (Title of Course/Term/Year) The deadline is the last class. No materials will be accepted past the deadline. Please ask your instructor about your grade immediately after the class, in which you will have given the presentation.10
Final examThe final exam will consist in an essay. All students will have to answer the same question.20
Final projectFinal Project: The final paper (1000-2000 words, incl. bibliography) will be on any topic of the student’s choice related to the class program. The topic should be precisely defined and worthy of investigation. An electronic version of the project must be uploaded on moodle. (Title of Course/Term/Year) A printed version must be given to the instructor. The deadline is the last class (session 28; the deadline is not the date of the final exam). No materials will be accepted past the deadline.30

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. 94 to 100 A; 90 to 93 A-
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. 87 to 89 B+; 84 to 86 B; 80 to 83 B-
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. 75 to 79 C+; 70 to 74 C; 65-69 C-
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. 60 to 65 D+; 55 to 59 D; 50-54 D-
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. 0 to 49 F


You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until ____________

A maximum of four absences are allowed throughout the semester.  Any additional absence will result in a penalization of one grade level (e.g.: from B+ to B for five absences, B+ to B- for six absences, B+ to C+ for seven absences, etc.).  Two latenesses count for one absence.  Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class by calling students’ names.  Students not answering will be marked absent. Students arrived late will ask the instructor to be market late at the end of the class, after which attendance records will not be modified.
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.


Ethical Traditions

 Week 1:          Monday: Introduction to the Ethics of the Good Life

                        Wednesday: Buddhist Ethics/ Classical Chinese Ethics (chapters 5 & 6)

Week 2:           Monday: Jewish Ethics/ Christian Ethics (chapters 7 & 8)

                       Wednesday: Islamic Ethics/ Ethics in Ancient Greece (chapters 9 & 10)


 Week 3:          Monday: Plato (chapter 10)

                      Wednesday: Aristotle (chapter 10)


Week 4:          Monday: Stoic Ethics (chapter 10)

                      Wednesday: Modern Moral Philosophy (chapter 12)


Week 5:          Monday: Kantian Ethics (chapter 14)

                      Wednesday: Contemporary Deontology (chapter 17)


Week 6:          Monday: Consequentialism (chapter 19)

                      Wednesday: Utility and the Good (chapter 20)


Week 7:          Monday: Virtue Theory (chapter 21)

                      Wednesday: Natural Law (chapter 13)


Contemporary Challenges


Week 8:        Monday: A Female Ethics (chapter 43)

                      Wednesday: Ethics and Religion (chapter 46) 


Week 9:         Monday: Evolution and Ethics (chapter 44)

                     Wednesday: Implications of Determinism (chapter 47)


Applied Ethics


Week 10:       Monday: Environmental Ethics (chapter 24)

                      Wednesday: Animals (chapter 30)


Week 11:       Monday: Abortion (chapter 26)

                      Wednesday: Sex (chapter 27)


Week 12:        Monday: Euthanasia (chapter 25)

                      Wednesday: War and Peace (chapter 34)


Week 13:        Monday: Crime and Punishment (chapter 32)

                      Wednesday: Politics and the Problem of the Dirty Hands (chapter 33)


Final Week 


Week 14:         Review for final examination