PHIL 412 B: Ethical Theory

Meeting Time: 
TTh 12:30pm - 2:20pm
Joint Sections: 
B H 502 A, B H 402 B
Nancy S. Jecker

Syllabus Description:


For a PDF of the course syllabus and daily schedule, click here

Nancy S. Jecker, PHD
Professor, UW School of Medicine, Department of Bioethics & Humanities
Office: Health Sciences Bldg. A204J

Office Hours: By appointment
Website: UW Faculty Website

GOALS: By the end of the quarter students will be able to: (1) distinguish normative and non-normative approaches to ethics; (2) identify teleological and deontological ethical theories; (3) demonstrate advanced knowledge of Kantian ethics, utilitarianism, and perfectionism; (4) demonstrate basic knowledge of ethical egoism, Plato's ethics, and divine will theory; (5) demonstrate basic knowledge of metaethical theories, including relativism, subjectivism, objectivism, absolutism, nihilism, and skepticism; (6) use philosophical methods of analysis and argument; (7) demonstrate awareness of social, cultural and historical assumptions in ethical reasoning; (8) appeal to ethical theories and principles to justify alternative viewpoints; (9) serve as peer reviewers for colleagues (graduate students); (10) prepare a research paper (graduate students).

MEETINGS: In-class meetings are Tuesday &Thursday, 12:30-2:20, in HSB BB 1602.  This class combines in-person & online learning. Refer to the daily schedule on the pdf version of the syllabus for more information. For a PDF of the course syllabus and daily schedule, click here

DESCRIPTION: This course introduces you to some of the most influential ethical theories to date and, with a critical eye, studies the source and ground of their influence. Among the theories we will discuss are classical and contemporary utilitarianism, perfectionism, and Kantian ethics. In the course of studying these theories, we raise and critically discuss questions such as the following. Are ethical standards just a matter of cultural or individual opinion? Is it always morally preferable to perform whatever action produces the best consequences? What reason can anybody have for being moral, rather than just giving the appearance of being moral when that serves one's purposes? Readings will be from historically prominent Western philosophers, such as Bentham, Mill, Nietzsche, and Kant, as well as from contemporary scholars. Cross-cultural perspectives are incorporated throughout, with a focus on Asian and feminist perspectives.

UndergraduatesUndergraduates are required to take 2 in-class examinations, participate in 3 in-class group assignments, and complete 10 philosophical reflections.

  • In-Class Group Projects (33/34 points each, 100 total points, 25% of course grade)
  • Online Philosophical Reflections (10 points each, 100 total points, 25% of course grade)
  • Examinations (100 points each, 200 total points, 50% of course grade)

Graduate Students: Graduate students are required to complete the same assignments as undergraduate and in addition to complete a research paper. Grades for graduate students are based on:

  • In-Class Group Project: (33 or 34 points each, 100 total points, 20% of course grade)
  • Online Philosophical Reflections: (10 points each, 100 total points, 20% of course grade)
  • Examinations: (100 points each, 200 total points, 40% of course grade)
  • Graduate Student Paper (100 points total, 20% of course grade)

Philosophical Reflections
engage students in writing and reflecting on readings to formulate & defend a philosophical position in response to a question posed by the instructor. Student postings are available for viewing by the instructor, but cannot be viewed by classmates.  Students earn full credit for on-time postings that show reasonable quality & effort; no credit is earned for unsatisfactory or late work.  Each reflection should be written in journal format and be approximately 1-2 pages (250-500 words).

Group Projects facilitate working with classmates in small groups to debate a contemporary ethical problem using a case study. Students discuss issues, develop arguments, prepare slides, & present material to classmates.

Exams test student mastery of material covered in online and in-class lectures and discussion. The format combines essays and multiple-choice questions. Exam review sheets will be available online to facilitate exam preparation and the class prior to the exam will be devoted to exam preparation. Exams are online & require an access code, which will be provided in class on exam dates. Use of notes, books, & non-exam websites is strictly prohibited.

Graduate Student Papers consist of an 8-10-page research paper dealing in more depth with one of the topics discussed in class. Prior to submitting the paper, graduate students must submit a proposal to the instructor for approval and a draft paper to colleagues for structured online and in-class peer review.

Extra Credit in the form of unannounced, one-minute papers may be assigned during class. One extra credit point will be available per paper. Extra credit points earned will be posted to Canvas Grade Book and added to your final class grade. For example, if your final score is a 78 out of 100 and you earn 2 extra credit points, your final grade will be raised to an 80.  

UW, Student Academic Responsibility Policy
BH Department, Academic Conduct Policy (includes disability accommodation)
Department, Grading Policy
Instructor, Late Assignment Policy
Instructor, Vericite Policy
Instructor, Missed Class Policy

READINGS: All required readings are available free of charge online at the Canvas Page, E-Readings.

EQUIPMENT: On exam days, a laptop is mandatory.  If you do not own a laptop, borrow one free of charge from the UW Student Technology Fee (STF) Loan Program, which has offices at various campus locations, including HSB I-146 (M-F 8-5, phone 543-3465). Reserve & pickup your computer at least one week prior to the exam. Additional information available at:

Catalog Description: 
Studies the major normative ethical theories, including both teleological and deontological approaches. Emphasizes moral philosophy during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as contemporary commentary. Offered: jointly with B H 402.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:27pm