What is the good? Why should we act according to it? How do we determine what is ethically good? This unit introduces students to the foundations of ethics by a study of the major approaches to ethics in the Western philosophical tradition – including Socratic ethics, virtue ethics, deontology and utilitarianism. It also studies natural law theory by introducing the natural law positions of Thomas Aquinas. By drawing on key texts from both ancient and contemporary thinkers, the unit gives a foundation for understanding basic ethical concepts such as virtue, conscience, moral responsibility, moral norms, and the common good. It provides a solid grounding for advanced studies in ethics and moral theology.

Unit code: AP1200C

Unit status: Approved (Minor revision)

Points: 18.0

Unit level: Undergraduate Level 1

Unit discipline: Philosophy

Proposing College: Catholic Theological College

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Learning outcomes


Explain the meaning of key ethical and natural-law concepts


Articulate the distinguishing features of major conceptions of the good and of natural law in the Western tradition


Outline some standard criticisms of the most important ethical approaches in the Western tradition, especially the classical accounts of natural law


Explain Thomas Aquinas' natural law theory, especially its relation to divine and human law, and whether natural law is universal and can be changed.


Lectures, seminars and tutorials

Indicative Bibliography

  • Aquinas, St. Thomas. Summa Theologica.
  • Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translation and Historical Introduction by Christopher Rowe. Philosophical Introduction and Commentary by Sarah Broadie. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Cunningham, Stanley B. Reclaiming Moral Agency: The Moral Philosophy of Albert the Great. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2008.
  • Deigh, John. An Introduction to Ethics. Cambridge Introductions to Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • Epicurus. Letter to Menoeceus.
  • ———. Principal Doctrines.
  • Irwin, Terence. The Development of Ethics, Vols. 1–3. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007–2009.
  • Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. In Practical Philosophy. Translated and Edited by Mary J. Gregor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Mill, John S. Utilitarianism.
  • Singer, Peter. How are We to Live? Ethics in an Age of Self-Interest. Melbourne: Text, 1993.
  • Uleman, Jennifer K. An Introduction to Kant's Moral Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.


Type Description Word count Weight (%)

Variant 1


Short Paper (500 words)

500 10.0

Essay (1,500 words)

1500 40.0
Written Examination

Written Examination (2 hours) (2,000 words)

2000 50.0

Variant 2


Short paper (500 words)

500 10.0

Essay (1,500 words)

1500 40.0

The report will comprise various parts answering questions provided during week 14 of the unit.

2000 50.0

Unit approved for the University of Divinity by Prof Albert Haddad on 25 Jul, 2023

Unit record last updated: 2023-07-25 15:27:56 +1000