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 critical study of the major approaches to ethics in the Western philosophical tradition – including Socratic ethics, virtue ethics, deontology and utilitarianism. It studies natural law theory in greater detail, and highlights the diversity among classical theories of natural law, by comparing thinkers such as Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Francisco Suarez and Gabriel Vazquez. 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 (New unit)

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


Express a view on the strengths and weaknesses of the most important ethical approaches in the Western tradition, especially the classical accounts of natural law


Relate the diversity among classical natural law theories to the diverse theological and philosophical presuppositions of their exponents


Identify the underlying ethical principles in various responses to contemporary ethical debates


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 (%)

Essay (1,500 words)

0 40.0

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

0 50.0

Short Paper (500 words)

0 10.0

Unit approved for the University of Divinity by John Capper on 1 Nov, 2017

Unit record last updated: 2019-02-01 08:05:34 +1100