Introduction to Philosophy and Ethics

Course Description

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Single-semester courseIntroduction to Ethics and Moral Philosophy challenges the high school student to learn and acquire the skills necessary to think about, analyze, and discuss ethical dilemmas. This course will center around a three-fold theme of questions regarding the meaning of the word “Good.”—“What is the Good?”, “How can we know what is the Good?”, and “Can we live the Good in our lives?” The course will examine foundational texts from Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Immanuel Kant, among others, and will continue to examine contemporary ethical issues through the lens provided by these classic authors. Because this will be the first introduction for many students to these key thinkers, the passages selected will be abbreviated and students’ work will focus on learning how to read these key thinkers and consider the questions they ask.

Work in the course will consist of the following: 1) a weekly reading assignment in a key text from the philosophical tradition; 2) a set of reading questions to assist the student in comprehension of the text; 3) in-class discussion of that week’s text or passage; 4) a weekly ethical “case-study” discussion forum which will be relevant to the student’s life, where the student will be asked to articulate their position on right and wrong; 5) two extended papers (approximately three pages each) on a text discussed in class; 6) a take-home midterm test; and 7) a take home final exam.

Students are not expected to have any background in the material. The reading passages selected will be appropriate for a high school student with a good ability to read and to comprehend texts on their own. The course will challenge the student to examine their own personal answers and beliefs to the questions listed above. While the course will not necessarily push a particular ethical theory, the course is not an open-ended questioning of all ethical thought. The goal of the course is to help the student understand that a “good” life is possible, and that the examination of life’s moral dilemmas requires careful discernment, as informed by the ethical tradition of Western thought.

Example Syllabus (Download the PDF)

Course texts:

Nota Bene: This class uses online versions of the readings that are available for free to all students. 

  • The Nicomachean Ethics (Selections), Artistotle
  • Selections from the Summa Theolgiae (specifically the Treatise on Virtues), Thomas Aquinas
  • Retractions (Selection), Augustine
  • Correspondence between Descartes and Princess Elisabeth (Selections), Rene Descartes
  • What is Enlightenment?, Immanuel Kant
  • Crito and Meno, Plato
  • The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, Ursula Le Guin
  • Billy Budd, Herman Melville
  • The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival Crime in Connecticut, Mark Twain

Class meets once per week for 50-55 minutes.

Class cap: 15 students.

Designed for grades 10-12.

Students in grades 10-12 may be awarded .5 Social Sciences credit upon completion of this course.

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