Introduction to Ethics and Natural Law

Foundational Unit

Dr Callan Ledsham (coordinator)
Semester 2, 2020
Monday 2.00pm — 5.00pm

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.

Census Date

Tuesday 18 August




face-to-face 3-hour weekly classes in semester


  • one 1,000-word short paper 20%
  • one 3,000-word essay 50%
  • one 2-hour written examination (2,000 words) 30%
  • one 2,000-word essay 40%
  • one 4,000-word essay 60% 


  • Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica.
  • Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Christopher Rowe. Philosophical Introduction and Commentary by Sarah Broadie. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Christman, John P., and Joel Anderson, eds. Autonomy and the Challenges to Liberalism: New Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • 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.
  • Irwin, Terence. The Development of Ethics. Vols. 1–3. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Kant, Immanuel. “Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.” In Practical Philosophy, edited and translated by Mary J. Gregor. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. 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 Publishing, 1993.
  • Uleman, Jennifer K. An Introduction to Kant’s Moral Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.