Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592: Character, The Basis of Ethics: Ancient and Modern, East and West, Religious and Secular

Instructor: W. Heath White

This course aims to introduce and familiarize students with major issues and writings in the ethical tradition that focuses on character development. Sometimes called "virtue ethics" or "the ethics of character," thinkers in this tradition emphasize:

  • reflection on one's life as a whole, as opposed to focusing on the morality of individual actions.
  • a taxonomy of virtues and vices of character, as opposed to categories of permitted/obligatory/forbidden activities.
  • emotions and affections, as opposed to merely intellectual reasons for action • moral development and education particularly of young people, as opposed to an exclusive focus on competent adults.
  • the harmony between social and individual good, as opposed to an assumed conflict between them.

A major goal of this course is to show how these basic emphases can be found in the ethical thought of many different cultures and traditions, and to compare and contrast the viewpoints and emphases we find there. Readings will include selections from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Aquinas' Summa Theologiae, Mengzi's Mengzi, and contemporary work by either Tom Morris or Stephen Covey. Students will be encouraged to select further readings for their own research paper: Cicero, Hsun Tzu, Alasdair MacIntyre, and other contemporary and past philosophers, thinkers, and religious figures would be acceptable authors.

The latter part of the course will include a structured process for developing the final term paper of about 20 pages. This process consists of

  1. a research proposal with annotated bibliography, followed by
  2. a 1-3 page précis, followed by
  3. a 10-page draft,
  4. some version of which is presented to the class, and finally
  5. the full paper.

At each stage, the student will receive feedback from peers and/or the professor. Grades will be based on the paper and the process leading up to it. The course as I envision it will meet the following GLS SLOs:

  • to apply critical theories to the subject of the course - via comparison and contrast of the various readings with each other, and critical reflection and discussion on the readings as a whole;
  • to make connections between various theories and ideas to the specific subject of the course - via comparison and contrast of the various readings with each other, and reflection and discussion of how these theories relate to everyday life;
  • to express oneself articulately in the written portion of the course - via the lengthy editing process leading up to the final term paper;
  • to express oneself articulately in the oral portion of the course - via the oral presentation aspect of the course;
  • to conduct complex research, synthesize it, and argue persuasively in support of a claim based on evidence - via the main term paper in the course.

Last Update: February 10, 2017