teaching ethics.

Next semester I am going to be teaching two sections of ‘introduction to ethics’ at a small liberal arts college, and as i’ve never taught this course before, am interested if anyone who has is willing to share any thoughts/advice. I’ve been told that most courses in the department are taught in a seminar style and usually tend to be based around the discussion of primary texts rather than using a textbook. In light of that, I am hoping to use 4-5 primary texts which exemplify different ethical positions in the western philosophical tradition. Here is what I’m thinking of using thus far:

Nicomachean Ethics- Aristotle

Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals– Kant

Fear and Trembling- Kierkegaard

On the Genealogy of Morals- Nietzsche

I want to add a fifth text, either something that would come before Aristotle (Plato maybe?) or something which would fit in between Aristotle and Kant. Any thoughts would be much appreciated.


5 thoughts on “teaching ethics.

  1. Scu says:

    I guess this isn’t going to help your historical ordering, but I what about an ethical work by a woman? There are really lots of great primary choices. de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity, or something from the feminist ethic of care tradition (Gilligan, or Josephine Donnovan, or Nel Noddings), or other ideas.

    Also, not really helpful for your current list, but it might be useful to teach some utilitarianism, such as something by Mill.

    Anyway, good luck. It probably reflects my own desires, but seminars on ethics is always one of my favorite classes to teach.

  2. michaeloneillburns says:

    Thanks for that Scu, that’s quite helpful. I’ve actually taught a course that dealt with ‘existentialist ethics’ before in which we read Sartre and de Beavoir alongside each other which I think worked really well, so I may have to figure out a way to work that into the discussion.

  3. thomaslynch says:

    Yeah, I would say something representing pragmatism or utilitarianism would be good. Or Spinoza.

  4. Tim Freeman says:

    If I were in an ethics course, I’d like to see a serious response to the moral error theory:


    You asked for a book recommendation. Mackie’s book is cited there, but I have not read it so I cannot honestly recommend it.

  5. I would recommend something by one of the medieval Christians, especially since you’re working up to Nietzsche’s Genealogy; perhaps Augustine or even Hildegard von Bingen.

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