This series of classes will provide an introduction to moral philosophy, by looking at the ideas of prominent thinkers from antiquity to the present day, including Aristotle, the Buddha, Kant, Nietzsche, and Mill. Students will be encouraged to evaluate the arguments that they encounter and consider whether ethical questions can ever be answered definitely.
Class 1: What is good? An introduction to moral philosophy
This session will give students an overview of the subject area and some foundations in the key concepts of ethical enquiry.
Reading for the next week: extracts from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics
Class 2: A life of excellence: Aristotle’s virtue ethics
An explanation of the character-based ethical theory of Aristotle, his understanding of human flourishing, and the role of virtue (excellence).
Reading for the next week: extracts from Buddha’s discourses
Class 3: Suffering and its end: The Buddha’s ethics of universal love and compassion
An overview of the teachings of Siddhartha Gotama, the Indian philosopher better known as the Buddha. A discussion of the place of suffering, its cause, and its end. The ideals of universal love and compassion, and the ethics of non-harming.
Reading for the next week: extracts from Kant’s Groundwork and commentaries
Class 4: Do your duty: Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative
An exploration of the duty-based ethical theory of Immanuel Kant, its foundation in rationality and respect for persons, its influence on human rights.
Reading for the next week: extracts about utilitarianism.
Class 5: The greatest happiness for the greatest number: Bentham, Mill, and Utilitarianism
A session on the consequence-based ethical theory of the Utilitarians, their emphasis on happiness and pleasure, Utilitarianism’s demanding moral principles, and the implications for charitable giving today.
Reading for the next week: extracts from Nietzsche’s Genealogy.
Class 6: A transvaluation of values: Nietzsche’s challenge to European morality
A look at the provocative ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche and his challenge to European moral philosophy and its Christian roots.
Reading for the next week: extracts from Blackburn on challenges to morality.
Class 7: Does moral truth exist? Is there such a thing as right and wrong?
A discussion of metaethical challenges to the existence of moral truth and whether morality can be grounded in reason, empirical evidence, or something else.
Class 8: Conclusion: evaluating the theories
A final discussion of the course’s topics, a recap of key arguments, and a chance for students to decide which theory – if any – they find most convincing.
Dr Andy Wimbush AFHEA holds a BA and a PhD from the University of Cambridge, where he has taught courses on nineteenth-century, twentieth-century, and contemporary literature, close reading, film studies, and moral philosophy. He is the author of Still: Samuel Beckett’s Quietism (ibidem/Columbia University Press, 2020) and his research has been published in Literature and Theology, The Journal of Beckett Studies, and various academic books. He has taught courses for adults in continuing education since 2015.
- Format: Live online group classes
- Maximum Class Size: Class sizes are kept deliberately small, ensuring participants have the opportunity to interact with the course teacher through Q&A discussions within each session
- Platform: Lessons will take place on Zoom. All sessions are recorded and made available to participants, allowing you to review material or catch up on any missed sessions.