PHIL 1100 Ethics

About the Course

This course is an introduction to ethics. The course will be divided into three parts. The first part, concerns the questions of why we should be moral, whether there is any objective truth in morality, or whether morality is culturally or perhaps personally relative. Ethics are so difficult to debate that it may seem that there are no real answers. While there are many intelligent people who believe this, this is actually a highly controversial claim and there are some very strong reasons for thinking that it is false -even if moral truths look different and we arrive at them differently from scientific truths. If there are no moral truths then we cannot say that the abolition of slavery or the granting of voting rights to women made the world a better place. We cannot say that the holocaust was wrong. If we do want to say that there is some moral truth to these matters, then it seems like we might really believe that moral progress takes time and its clarity emerges with much hindsight.

In the second part of the course we will look at some theories about what makes an action right. Should we look to the intentions of the agent or look to the consequences of his or her action? We say it’s the thought that counts, but what about when someone wishes for the best but is negligent? Is hoping no one gets hurt from an act of drunk driving enough? Maybe we should look to consequences? In that case is drunk driving only wrong if someone actually gets hurt?

In the third part (the “fun” part) we will examine some contemporary moral controversies that make use of this theoretical background. For example, we will examine moral controversies related to drugs, animals and poverty.

Grade Breakdown

  • 4 -30 minute open note quizzes after each section. These essays will test your comprehension of the material. Worth 20% each.
  • 1 analytical essay. An essay of 5 pages in which you address one of the ethical controversies we have covered. Your essays will be tested for plagiarism on the site You will fail the course if your essay fails an originality analysis. Worth 20%.

Required Text

  • James Rachels and Stuart Rachels, The Elements of Morality, McGraw Hill 6th Edition, 2010. Abbreviated TEM
  • James Rachels and Stuart Rachels, The Right Thing to Do, McGraw Hill, 5th Edition, 2009. Abbreviated RTD

Instructor Contact


Dan Sturgis is senior instructor and undergraduate advisor in the philosophy department at CU. He earned his B.A. in political science and philosophy from Northwestern University in 1992 and his Ph.D. from CU in 2002 in Philosophy. He also directs an outreach program which introduces high school students to philosophy. Outside the university, Dr. Sturgis likes to ski, run, hike, and explore his native state of Colorado with his wife and son.

Dan Sturgis can be contacted via email at

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Monday – Friday
8:00am to 5:00pm


We are located at the corner of University Avenue and 15th Street in a white brick building.


1505 University Avenue
University of Colorado Boulder
178 UCB
Boulder, Colorado