Introduction to Ethics and Natural Law


Dr Callan Ledsham (coordinator)
Not offered in 2020

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.




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


  • one 500-word short paper 10%
  • one 1,500-word essay 40%
  • one 2-hour written examination (2,000 words) 50%


  • Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica.
  • Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Christopher Rowe. 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 Immanual 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.