Philosophy 303-01, Great Traditions in Ethics

Office Hours in RH-428 (445-4489)

Prof. Michael Kagan

MWF 9:35 -10:20 AM and by appointment



This course aims at an understanding of the activity of making moral judgments or affirming one value or set of values over another. At issue are, typically, the meaning of the words spoken when people make ethical assertions, the possibility of justifying or proving the truth of such assertions and the implications of discovering situations in which the ethical dimension is problematic. Integral to this course is a study of these questions in the light of the great traditions of ethical thinking as they have come to light in the various wisdom literatures.  (Le Moyne College Catalog)



Plato -  Republic (Allan Bloom’s translation)

Aristotle - Nicomachean Ethics (David Ross’s translation)

Confucius - Analects (D.C. Lau’s translation)

Lau Tzu - Tao Te Ching ((D.C. Lau’s translation))

Martin Buber - I and Thou (Walter Kaufmann’s translation)

Rosemarie Tong - "Feminist Ethics" (SEP),



 In coordination with the Academic Support Center (ASC), reasonable accommodations are provided for qualified students with disabilities. Please register with the ASC Office for disability verification and determination of reasonable accommodations. After receiving your accommodation form from the ASC, you will need to make an appointment with me to review the form and discuss your needs. Please make every attempt to meet with me within the first week of class so your accommodations can be provided in a timely manner. You can either stop by the ASC, Library, 1st floor, or call (445-4118-voice or 445-4104-TDD) to make an appointment.



  No class or office hours on the following dates: Mar. 7-11, Spring Break; Mar. 16-18, instructor presenting at conference; Apr. 21-25, Easter Break.  




 If campus/dorms are closed due to flu or other circumstances, my intent is that the course continue.    Assignments continue to be due by email. Presentations will be replaced by papers, virtual presentations, or extended descriptions of presentations.  In addition to notes and group work already available there on-line, I will post updates, lecture notes, etc., to my Le Moyne College web site at

 As at other times, if your situation results in your needing an extension, please let me know.  Also, if internet service is down or there are other infrastructure problems, please complete the assignments and turn them in when services are restored.



Your grade will be based on the average of the top 4 of the following 5:

1.  (25%) You will have an opportunity to take three short take-home quizzes. These will be handed out at least 4 days before they are due.  Late quizzes will receive a 15% grading penalty for each day they are late.  Unless otherwise indicated, please complete the quiz in less than 500 words.  All work, except in-class writings, is to be typed.  Quizzes are to be turned in on the date due with a copy emailed to me at  In addition to the file attachment, please paste the text of your answers into your message.  If you prefer in-class tests, your grade on the final exam can be used to replace this part of your grade. 
2.  (25%)  Recitation:  From time to time individual students may volunteer or be asked to explain a particular text, and to respond to questions offered by the instructor or other students.  Your grade on the in-class final exam or on the optional final paper can be used to replace this part of your grade.

3.  (25%) Class Participation/Group work.  

4.  (25%)  In-class final. 

5.  (25%)  Optional final paper.  (See “One Way to Write a Philosophy Paper” -

 The paper gives you an opportunity to explore some aspect of a particular traditional ethical theory, at the theoretical and/or applied level.   

  If you decide to write a paper, please confirm your topic with me in advance by submitting a paper proposal by Monday, March 21. Whatever your topic, please feel free to consult me regarding bibliography, style, or as a devil's advocate. The paper is to be a defense of one claim or proposal related to the issue in question. Students should explicitly state the claim they are defending, make a brief case for its importance, develop their arguments carefully, consider objections, and show awareness of alternatives and criticisms of their own position. The paper should be structured in form and content as if it were being addressed to an audience consisting of the undecided and the reasonable opposition.  If you are looking for organizational  suggestions, the people at the writing center can be quite helpful.  The paper should be approximately 5-7 pages in length. The paper is to be turned in TWICE, on the dates indicated below. The 1st draft will be graded and given comments that I hope will aid you in the revision. If you are satisfied with the first grade or decide to accept it for some other reason, you have the option of returning the paper "as-is" with its comments on Mon., May. 2.   If you do so, your grade on the paper will be the grade you received on the first draft. If you opt to revise, you will receive the grade of the revision, if higher (and the grade on the draft, if not).  Students who receive a C or better on the paper can choose to accept that grade instead of taking the final exam.  Please feel free to drop by during office hours to make an appointment to discuss your project.  If you don't find me on campus, you are welcome to call me at home before 8:00 PM.   YOU CAN ALWAYS LEAVE A VOICE MAIL MESSAGE AT 445-4489.


Week #1 (Mon., Jan. 24) Introduce course.  Discussion of nomos, phusis, logos, & reading.  Republic, Books 1-2.
Week #2 (Mon., Jan. 31) Plato’s Republic, Books 2-3.
Week #3 (Mon. Feb. 7) Republic, Books 3-5.  
Week #4 (Mon., Feb. 14) Republic, Books 5-7.
Week #5 (Mon., Feb. 21) Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Books 1-3.
Week #6 (Mon., Feb. 28). Nicomachean Ethics, Books 3-5.
Mon., Mar. 7- Fri., 11, Spring Break
Week #7 (Mon., Mar. 14) Nicomachean Ethics, Books 5-7.
Class does not meet Wed., Mar. 16-Fri., Mar. 18. (Instructor presenting at conference.)  I recommend you use this time to work on your final project proposals. 
Week #8 (Mon., Mar. 21) Nicomachean Ethics, Books 5-7.
Week #9 (Mon., Mar. 28)  Nicomachean Ethics, Books 7-10.
Week #10 (Mon., Apr. 4)  Confucius’ Analects, Books I-X.
Week #11 (Mon., Apr. 11) Analects, Books X-XX.
Week #12 (Mon., Apr. 18) Lau Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, Book One. WRITTEN PROJECTS ARE DUE MON., APR. 18.
Apr. 21-25, Easter Break
Week #13 (Mon., Apr. 27) Lau Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, Book Two.
Week #14. (Mon., May 2)  Martin Buber’s I and Thou,  First Part, Second Part
Week #15 (Mon., May 9)  Martin Buber’s I and Thou,  Second Part, Third Part. (Final evaluations, if they haven't already taken place, last day of class.)
Final Exam:  Monday, May 16, 2100, from 12-2:30 PM.

Some of this page's links:

PHL 303-01, Great Traditions in Ethics Syllabus for Spring 2011

Materials for Great Traditions in Ethics
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