UPDATE: Classes for Spring 2020 are now online.  Please read the readings and lectures online at your own pace, and turn in your three papers by email, with all three due May 25th.  Please email me with any questions, and I can set up individual Zoom appointments if you email me and request them.  Stay safe, healthy and happy!

Syllabus & Schedule

PHIL 31A, SPRING 2020 – 20309 – MON/WED 11 am, BCC Room 54, downstairs & to the right

Instructor: Eric Gerlach –

Office Hours: Mondays & Wednesdays 12:15 -1:15 pm @ K’s Coffee, nextdoor to BCC

Course Description: This course introduces the ethical thought of Egypt, India, Greece, China, Europe & their place in the history of human thought and our world.  Readings for each lecture are posted at the top of each set of lecture notes.

Texts: Links to the online readings are posted at the top of each set of lecture notes.

Jan 22 – Introduction to the Class

Jan 27 & 29 – Egypt & Babylon

Feb 3 & 5 – Hindus & Jains of India

Feb 10 & 12 – Buddha


Feb 19 & Feb 24 – Heraclitus of Greece

Feb 26 – Aristotle

Mar 2 & 4 – Epicurus & the Stoics

Mar 9 & 11 – NO CLASS 


Mar 23 & 25 – Confucianism and Moism of China

Mar 30 & Apr 1 – Daoism

Apr 6 & 8 – Kant

Apr 13 & 15 – Mill

Apr 20 & 22 – NO CLASS

Apr 27 & 29 – Nietzsche 

May 4 & 6 – Wittgenstein

May 11 & 13 – Fanon, hooks and Said

May 18 & 20 – ALL ESSAYS Due May 25

3 Essay Assignments 

Two 4 page essays (2 x 25%) & a final 8 page paper (50%), typed, double-spaced and emailed to  Focus on an issue we cover, clearly state and argue for your position with evidence, empathy, and examples from your life, history or fiction.

First Essay: Human cultures argue back and forth about whether or not there are objective, permanent standards of morality and ethics, much as the Egyptians believed that the harmony of the cosmos is permanent and the Buddha argued that all things are impermanent.  Are there things that are objectively good or bad, and why?  Make sure to use several examples from real life or hypothetical thought experiments, and anticipate objections and counterexamples of any possible opponents.  (4 pages)

Second Essay: Pick one idea found in the Indian, Greek and Chinese thinkers we have studied, explain the idea using examples and apply it to an ethical problem we face in the world today to show that the idea is or is not useful for helping with the problem.  Ideas we have covered include the Jain principles of skepticism, the Jain leaky boat, the Buddha’s middle way, Buddha’s codependent arising, Buddha’s monkey mind, Heraclitus’ wisdom in common, Heraclitus’ river twice, Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean, Aristotle’s natural purposes, Epicurus’ happiness as the goal of life, Stoic acceptance of fate, Confucian compassion and balance, Mencius’ humanity as good, Xunzi’s humanity as evil, and Zhuangzi’s complementary opposites, as well as many more you can choose from.  Ethical problems include poverty, war, theft, hunger, racism, ecological destruction and many other things we are all too familiar with.  (4 pages)

Third Essay: Pick one idea found in the European and modern thinkers we have studied, explain the idea using examples and apply it to an ethical problem we face in the world today to show that the idea is or is not useful for helping with the problem.  You can, if you wish, compare the contemporary ideas to earlier ideas found in the ancient thinkers we covered.  Ideas include: Kant’s universal morals, Bentham’s maximizing happiness, Mill’s minimizing pain, Nietzsche’s individual interpretation, Wittgenstein, Fanon, hooks, Said. (8 pages)

Student Learning Outcomes – Upon completion of this class, students will be able to:

  1. Define the main ethical theories covered in the course.
  2. Analyze an ethical theory.
  3. Explain some prominent and on-going moral disagreements in our society.

General Student Requirements:  Students are expected to come to class prepared to ask questions and participate in discussions. It is your responsibility to ask if you missed something; it is not the instructor’s responsibility to remind you. Please read through the syllabus and plan ahead.

Plagiarism, “to use another person’s ideas or expressions in your writing without acknowledging the source” (MLA Handbook,  5th ed., §1.8)—will not be tolerated. Plagiarists, intentional or inadvertent, will receive a zero on the assignment in question; repeat offenders will get an F for the course and will be subject to college disciplinary action.

Disabled Student Program & Services (DSP&S) are provided for any enrolled student who has a verified disability that creates an educational limitation that prevents the student from fully benefiting from classes without additional support services or instruction. Please let the instructor know if you require any support services or would like more information about DSP&S.

The syllabus is subject to change at the discretion of the instructor. Any changes will be announced in class.

3 thoughts on “Ethics

  1. Hi, Mr. Gerlach I wanted to leave you a message because I asked you a question about the caste systems in Europe derived from India because of the Indo-Aryan’s that came from ancient Persia that lead an invasion into the Indian subcontinent. The Indo-Aryans and Indo-Europeans carried their culture to India and that’s where the caste system which led to enlightenment period to their culture which all of the religions and most of the philosophers in that region in that part of the world. I have a link that shows you that.

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