Course Syllabus

PHIL 112.01 History of Ethics

Instructor: Prof. Kyle Swan

Contact: Canvas message

Meetings: Monday, Wednesday 1:30-2:45pm in Douglas 110

Office hours: Monday, Wednesday 11:30am-1pm in Mendocino 3030, or by appointment


From the catalogue:

Investigation of the main approaches to ethics in Western moral philosophy. Emphasis on Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant and Mill.


Prepare yourselves for a no-holds-barred cage match between ancient and modern moral philosophy. The idea in this presentation of the history of ethics is to see ancient views as interlocutors in conversation and (quite often) disagreement with modern views, rather than outdated positions that deserve to be left behind. To get maximum play out of this idea, we’ll be discussing the moderns first and, in addition to noting the important differences among their social contractarian, utilitarian and duty-based moral theories, also highlight features of these views that make the moderns an apt target for the ancients: the modern/enlightenment emphasis on people’s fundamentally equal moral status and their attendant rights and freedoms. Generally speaking, according to ancient views, this sort of emphasis misses something important about the propriety of traditional authority structures, rules and other practices that promote the common good of a well-ordered community. And maybe they’re right about that. Let’s see.

Learning Outcomes

By the conclusion of this course, it should be true that students (a) understand the moral and political issues that affect questions the authority of the individual relative to the authority of a community or society (b) apply this understanding to make sense of existing social practices and institutions (c) analyze current problems and controversies that have been affected by this history debate and (d) evaluate proposed solutions to them. You will need to give evidence of your ability to understand, apply, analyze and evaluate in your writing and contributions to class discussions.

Phil 112 is a GE course in area C2. Area C2 learning outcomes are that you:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of the conventions and methods of the study of the humanities.
  2. Investigate, describe, and analyze the roles and effects of human culture and understanding in the development of human societies.
  3. Compare and analyze various conceptions of humankind.
  4. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the historical development of cultures and civilizations, including their animating ideas and values.

Texts, Assigned Readings

There is no text to purchase. Click links to readings as shown in the Modules section of Canvas.


Class procedures and conduct

You must come to class each scheduled meeting prepared to discuss the assigned readings in an intelligent and informed way. This requires you to have read and thought about all materials assigned for that meeting. Moreover, you should expect to be required at each scheduled class meeting to put these preparations on display as an active participant in the lectures, discussions, assessments, activities, contests and games. Please avoid disrupting class meetings and other ways of being rude. This means that you shouldn’t use electronic devices, carry on private conversations with people around you, sleep, read, arrive late or leave early.

The course is graded on 100pts (1pt = 1%), with these point thresholds:

A 93+

A- 90

B+ 88

B 83

B- 80

C+ 78

C 73

C- 70

D 60

F <60

There are these ways of earning points:

1. Be an active and thoughtful participant in class meetings. (30 possible points)

Someone who earns all these points would:

  • Demonstrate familiarity with the readings;
  • Offer original and thoughtful ideas and perspectives;
  • Share relevant perspectives and experiences;
  • Pose good questions; and
  • Take stands and defend them with references to readings and discussions.

I will assess this in a variety of ways in class throughout the semester. I may ask for a summary and/or response(s) related to the assigned reading or some other activity or “thought question” or quiz that requires you to engage with the course material. These aren’t always announced ahead of time. You’re either in class to earn the points, or you aren’t.

2. Submit an analytical essay of about 2000 words (50 possible points)

You will submit and revise your essay in different stages throughout the semester. At each stage I will provide feedback with suggestions on how to revise the section in subsequent stages. The breakdown of points goes like this:

  • Stage 1: Introduction and outline (5 possible points)
  • Stage 2: Summary and explication (10 possible points)
  • Stage 3: Critique/evaluation (10 possible points)
  • Stage 4: Revised and polished full essay (25 possible points)

Submissions will be examined and evaluated by Turnitin for plagiarism and the use of online bot text generators. See Assignments folder for due dates and further instructions.

3. Answer questions on a scheduled final exam. (20 possible points)

Exam is TBA.

Course Policies and Expectations

CSUS attracts a diverse population of students, faculty and staff with a wide range of cultural norms, lifestyles, beliefs and backgrounds. Opinions may vary on many issues, but students and faculty in this course will be expected to converse and debate in a respectful and tolerant manner.

This course will only be successful if everyone feels free to express her/his views and personal understanding of the course material.  Let us all be mindful and respectful of each other’s opinions.  Everyone has a responsibility to make the course environment a place where we can respectfully agree to disagree, and perhaps even settle some long unsettled questions. 

Plagiarism and cheating are serious academic offenses which will not be tolerated in this class. Assignments in which plagiarism or other forms of cheating are found will at the least be graded at 0 (not just an F). Incidents of cheating and plagiarism may be reported both to the Department Chair and to the Judicial Officer in the Office of Student Affairs for possible further administrative sanction. It is your responsibility to know and comply with the University’s Academic Honesty Policy. 

Students who have a documented disability (visible or invisible) and require accommodation or assistance with assignments, tests, attendance, note taking, etc., must contact the instructor by the end of the second week of the term so that  arrangements can be made. Failure to notify and consult with the instructor by this date may impede his ability to offer you the necessary accommodation and assistance in a timely fashion. Also be sure to consult with the Services to Students with Disabilities to see what other campus services and accommodation options are available for you. All information will remain confidential.

Students with other types of accommodation requirements, such as English as a second language, are invited to discuss them with the instructor to facilitate understanding and the best learning experience for all. All information will remain confidential.

Course Summary:

Date Details Due