PHIL 003: Persons, Moral Values, and the Good Life


This introductory course focuses on themes in ethics and in social and political philosophy. The main learning objectives are: to understand some of the central questions of the Western Philosophical traditional concerning human life and human action; to be able to discuss a range of answers that have been given to each of these questions; and to practice the skills of critical reading, thinking, and discussion that allow one to develop and justify ones own views on these matters.


This is a course for which my approach has changed somewhat since I began teaching it.

The first time through, I started with Plato’s Dialogues on Socrates, then moved to Augustine’s Confessions, and on to Kant’s Groundwork, before considering some more recent and more popular materials. This provided a good historical range, and it showed students three very different literary genres for the expression of philosophical thought, but I don’t think there was enough variety to keep it interesting and give a broad enough range of themes.

By the next time I taught the course, I had developed a research interest in moral literacy and its place within the multiliteracies required for a digital age. I decided to adopt the rhetorical structure of looking at and evaluating claims being made within popular culture about ‘kids these days’. This encouraged students to reflect consciously on the role of new social media in their own expressions of personhood and how this related to their moral values and their sense of purpose. I set up a course blog for them to interact with one another outside of class, and asked them to create short videos reflecting on the changes in our culture since my generation began college.

Beginning the discussion where they are and asking them both to use, and to reflect on, the tools that are increasingly being thought to define their generation, helped me establish a connection that made them more willing to follow me into the discussion of Plato’s Dialogues, fragments from Epicurus and the Stoics, excerpts from Kant’s Groundwork, and Harry Frankfurt’s Taking Ourselves Seriously, and Getting it Right.

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