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PHIL1003 Ethics & Society

Diogenes the Cynic

Course Coordinator:

Dr Timothy O’Leary

Office Hours:

Weds 4-5pm, in Room MB 309

Ph: 2859 2796


Lectures: Semester 1, 2010-2011; Wednesdays  & Fridays    10:30-11:20am



This course is an introduction to some of the most important conceptions of individual and social well being in Western philosophy. It will help you to philosophically  explore questions such as: How should I live? What is really wrong with cheating in an exam? What’s so good about individual freedom? Can one society be better than another? And, does the environment really matter? We will work through some of the classics of the Western tradition, including Plato, Aristotle and Kant. We will also discuss contemporary accounts of justice and utility (‘happiness’), before turning to the ethical and political questions that are raised today by global climate change. Reading texts by ancient, modern and contemporary philosophers, and viewing clips from some recent movies, we will explore philosophical questions about the way we relate to other people and the world around us.

The course (20 Lectures + 4 Tutorials) will consist of two parts: Part One: Why Be Moral?; and Part Two: Society.


Readings will be available in the Department Office and the Library.


Four Tutorial Papers (300 words each): 4 x 5% = 20%

Four times during the course you will be asked to write a 300 word summary of a given reading. These summaries must be handed in to your tutor on the day of the tutorial which covers that topic.

Mid-Term Paper (1,500 words), Mon Oct 25th = 30%

You will write three 500 word answers to questions on the first part of the course.

End of Term Paper (1,500 words), Fri Dec 3rd = 30%

The requirements for this paper will he explained towards the end of the semester.

Tutorial Attendance & Participation: = 20%

You are expected to attend ALL tutorials, to do the preparatory reading, and to participate in discussion.


You must consult this website:


Lecture l: Sept 1

Introduction to course.

Part One: Why Be Moral?

Lecture 2: Sept 3

The Question of Morality.

Reading: Plato, Republic, extracts (Section I : Ring of Gyges).

** No lecture Sept 8 **

Lecture 3: Sept 10

Does morality benefit the moral person?

Reading: Plato, Republic, extracts (Section II : Harmonious Soul).

Lectures 4 & 5: Sept 15 & Sept 17

Aristotle – Virtue Ethics

Reading: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, extracts.

Lectures 6 & 7: Sept 22 & Sept 24

Kant – the Morality of Duty.

Reading: Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, extracts

Lectures 8 & 9: Sept 29 & Oct 1

The ethics of happiness: Utilitarianism.

Reading: J.S. Mill, Utilitarianism, Ch. 2 ‘What utilitarianism is’, extract.

Lectures 10 & 11: Oct 6 & 13  ** No Lecture Oct 8 **

The Ethics of killing

Reading: Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, extracts.

Lecture 12: Oct 15

Writing Philosophy

HKU Reading Week: 18 Oct- 24 Oct

Part Two: Society

Lecture 13 & 14: Oct 27 & 29

The Liberal State

Reading: J.S. Mill, On Liberty, extracts.

Lectures 15 & 16: Nov 3 & 5

Justice Today?

Reading: John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, extracts.

** No Lectures Nov 10 & 12 **

Lecture 17 & 18 & 19: Nov 17 & 19 & 24

Climate Change: Ethical and Political Challenge

Reading: The Ethics of Climate Change, James Garvey, extracts.

Lecture 20: Nov 26

Concluding lecture.

Guidelines for Take-home Exam.

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