Course Syllabus


  • Spring 2024
  • Monday/Wednesday/Friday 10:10-11:00 a.m.
  • A1 Hearst Field Annex

R. Jay WallaceLinks to an external site.

  • Office: 134 Philosophy Hall
  • Email:
  • Office Hours: Wednesday 4:15–5:15 p.m. (other times by appointment)


 Course Description:

An introduction to some central issues in moral and political philosophy. Questions to be addressed include the following:

  • Are there objective moral standards, or are moral and other values relative? What distinguishes moral reasons from reasons of other kinds? Do moral reasons and moral standards somehow come from God? Can we make sense of moral values and moral capacities in evolutionary terms?
  • What are some of our specific moral obligations and entitlements? Is it ever permissible to kill people, e.g. in the context of warfare or when you are trying to save others from being killed? How much must we sacrifice to help others in need? Does pornography objectify women? Is there a right to sex?
  • Can one lead a meaningful human life in a world without objective values? What is it to live a life of integrity? How might our own lives be affected by global crises (e.g. climate change and the future extinction of the species)? Is friendship necessarily at odds with morality?
  • What makes a society just, and worthy of our allegiance? What role do ideals of equality and freedom play in our conception of a good political community? How might the racism of our history and institutions have infected our philosophical theorizing about the subject of social justice? Do we have obligations to make reparations for injustices committed by our predecessors (such as chattel slavery)?
  • What is tolerance, and why should we practice it? What is the difference between behaviors that call for toleration and behaviors that should not be tolerated? Does the right to free speech extend to "hate speech" that denigrates and provokes antagonism toward vulnerable members of our community?


The texts listed below are available on the bCourses site for the class (click on the hyperlinks to download them). The texts have also been collected in a course reader that you may purchase online for $41.85 through Copy Central on Telegraph AveLinks to an external site.. (The printed reader can be picked up the next day at the Telegraph Ave. location, or it can be mailed to you.) We’d recommend that students purchase the reader (or print out the texts themselves from the bCourses site, if that is easier or less expensive); you will need to study the readings closely and repeatedly, and to refer to them in lectures and sections, and this will be much easier for you to do if you have hard copies to work with.


Two mid-term examinations, on February 2 and March 15; two short papers, due February 27 and April 16; and one final examination, on May 7. Note: all five of these written assignments must be completed and submitted in order to receive a passing grade for the class. Regular attendance at lectures, and conscientious participation in discussion sections, are also important elements of the course.

The short papers and the final exam will each count toward 20% of your final grade; the two mid-term exams will each count toward 15% of your final grade. 10% of the final grade will be based on your section attendance and performance.

Course Policies:

  1. The class will be taught in-person at the scheduled times and places. Lectures will be recorded using Course Capture, and the recordings will be made available to those who are not able to attend particular sessions (e.g. on account of illness or temporary quarantine). Lecture notes (power point slides) will be made available on bCourses in advance of each class meeting.

  2. Plagiarism and cheating are not acceptable (though they are also pretty rare), and they will not be tolerated in this course. Students who violate the Student Code of Conduct will automatically receive a grade of F for the course, and their infraction will be reported to the Center for Student Conduct.

    Information about plagiarism, acceptable and unacceptable paraphrasing, and other aspects of our academic integrity policies may be found at the following links; if you have questions, please ask the instructor or your GSI!

  3. Turnitin will be enabled for the two assigned papers. Your submission will be compared to a database of other papers and materials. (It will be added to the database too, but only for the purposes of future comparisons within UC Berkeley.) About 15 minutes after you submit, an originality report will be generated, which should be visible to you on the page where you submitted. (Don’t worry if the report shows some incidental matches; that's almost inevitable, even if your work is entirely your own.)

    What if the originality report shows that your work was not entirely your own? If you do nothing further, then your plagiarism will be reported to the Center for Student Conduct, and you will receive an F for the course (see #2 above). But you will also have the option of rewriting your paper or exam so that it is entirely your own work, and resubmitting it. So long as your final submission is your own work (and not, say, the product of just enough tweaking to get past Turnitin), we will ignore the earlier submissions. The aim is not to catch anyone, just to make sure that everyone fulfills the course requirements. (Note, however, that final submissions that are submitted after the deadline will be subject to the penalty scheme explained in #5 below.)

  4. It will also be regarded as cheating to have your papers written by Chat GPT or other AI tools. You are free to make use of these tools during the semester if you can think of effective ways to deploy them in support of your learning. But an AI summary is not a substitute for reading the assigned texts on your own, and it is certainly not okay to have a chatbot write a paper that you submit under your own name. A main aim of the course is to develop your ability to understand and analyze challenging arguments and to critically engage with them. You will acquire these skills, however, only if you read the assigned texts for yourself, and only if you write up your critical analyses of them on your own. Philosophy is a form of disciplined reflection, and it isn't the sort of thing that you can really outsource to an app or an AI tool. 

  5. Due dates for written work will be enforced strictly. Students who submit late papers will ordinarily be penalized one grade interval (e.g. from B+ to B) for each 24-hour period that their paper is overdue. Extensions will be granted only for exceptional situations that could not have been anticipated and coped with through careful advance planning (e.g. family emergencies, illnesses, personal crises, etc.). It is your responsibility to contact your GSI and/or the instructor immediately if you think that you have encountered a circumstance of the kind that might merit an extension.

  6. Our goal is that this classroom should be a participatory community where everyone can fulfill their potential for learning; there is no place for sexual harassment or violence. If your behavior harms another person in this class, you may be removed from the class temporarily or permanently, or from the University. If you or someone you know experiences sexual violence or harassment, there are options, rights, and resources, including assistance with academics, reporting, and medical care. For more information, visit or path to care. You may also wish to consult the Department’s statement about equity and inclusion, which includes links to additional resources.


Here are some links to helpful resources for reading philosophy texts and writing papers in philosophy.


1. God, Human Nature, and the Roots of Ethics.

Week of January 15     

[No class January 15: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day]

Week of January 22     

Week of January 29     

[February 2: First mid-term examination]

2. Killing, Helping Others, and Sex.

Week of February 5   

Week of February 12   

Week of February 19   

[No class February 19: Presidents' Day]

[Paper #1 due on February 27]

3. Morality, Friendship, and the Meaning of Life.

Week of February 26         

Week of March 4         

Week of March 11

[March 15: Second mid-term examination]

4. Justice, Equality, and Reparations.

Week of March 18       

[Week of March 25: Spring Break]

Week of April 1

Week of April 8

[Paper #2 due on April 16]

5. Pluralism, Toleration, and Free Speech.

Week of April 15 

Week of April 22 

[Week of April 29: Reading/Review/Recitation]              

[Final examination on May 7, 3:00 p.m.]

Course Summary:

Date Details Due