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Philosophy 120 - Ethics - Dr Michael McMahan

Professor:Dr Michael McMahan
  • Online
Course Length:
  • Applies to All Course Lengths


Firstly ,I have a passion for this course . It is perhaps the most applicable course in the field of Philosophy .The issues are all so, so,  relevant if not easily solved. That's philosophy where the path is as important as the destination. I have taught Philosophy at College of the Canyons for many years- previously as the Department Chair as well as serving as Dean of the School of Humanities. As time passes I find ethics to be more relevant than ever in a world offering  as much promise as strife, as much moral goodness as moral failing. I have worked a s a professional photographer and have a particular interest in how our moral concerns are related to the images- still and moving- we view of human joy and pain. 

Course Description



A car runs into the guard rail  on the  freeway, should  you stop to help ? Do you if it’s a mother and a child ?


In ancient Greece, Socrates chooses to die by hemlock rather than escape Athens.


Photographs show civilians shot in the head in war-torn Ukraine. Are these war crimes ?


You make a promise. You wonder if ever it would be right to break this promise. Under what circumstances ?


On and on I could go with this list because human life is a ‘mine field’ of moral and ethical questions . We will differ on our answers… but why ? Maybe because we were taught to think that way, maybe because our reasons differ. Reasons, yes humans certainly have their reasons even if when they act it’s not apparent.


So that’s what this course is all about - reasoning and reflecting on the values supporting our moral choices, our concern for ‘the ethical.’

Not what we do, what we should do, which is sometimes what we should do, sometimes not.

Is this course worse it to you take seriously ? Certainly it is if you want it to apply to current events- the war in Ukraine, Global warming, ethical treatment of animals, what might amount to a morally satisfactory life.

For these reasons, this  introductory course in ethics concerns itself with such issues as


 •What makes an action or a person moral?

• Are there objective moral values on which we can all agree, or do moral values depend entirely on our relative factors such as culture, geography ,gender , race, or personal preference?

• Can an ethical decision be absolutely right or wrong?

• Do I have ethical responsibilities to other people? All people, or which people ? Family or distant persons ? Do others have ethical responsibilities to me?

• Do we have a responsibility to future generations?


• Do animals have rights? If not, why ? Do we have a duty to act in certain ways toward them?

• Do the consequences of an action make it right? (Do the ends justify the means?)

  • Can one be moral without God? Is God (religion) the ultimate source/foundation  of moral duty ?


During this course we shall study the key concepts and theories in ethics in detail. These concepts and theories include, but are by no means limited to, absolutism , relativism, moral realism, egoism, utilitarianism, deontological ethics, natural law, our moral sentiments , and virtue-based ethics.

This course will both look at particular relevant moral concerns but the ‘big picture’ view that spans human life in general, what is intrinsically right or morally correct.




The emphasis of the class will be - this is true of philosophy in general- not to argue a right answer to ideas raised in the class but to promote discussion, reasoning and reflective awareness of what is at stake when we are faced with moral problems and to learn how we might go about justifying the kinds of choices we might decide to make in response to these challenging moral problems.


Required Text  ( This means you will absolutely need this text and should have it at the start of class )


A Concise Introduction to Ethics, Russ Schafer-Landau

Other readings and resources will be accessible as on-line links.


Overall Student Learning Outcome

Identify important moral problems, articulate the morally significant aspects of such problems, and apply philosophical concepts from major ethical theories in order to analyze the strength of competing solutions to such problems.


Course Objectives:

1) Describe the basic method of inquiry used in philosophy, and apply this method in the investigation of the problems of moral philosophy.

2) Evaluate the adequacy of competing moral theories.

3) Articulate and offer justification for their moral reasoning on contemporary ethical issues that are prominent in the newspapers, media, and the culture at-large.

4) Employ philosophical concepts from major ethical theories in order to analyze and evaluate viewpoints and assumptions.

What to Expect in this Course

See above 

Types of Assessments

See above 

Textbook Information

A Concise Introduction to Ethics, Russ Schafer-Landau, Oxford Press

A low cost text available by order through the Campus bookstore or online- Amazon, etc. 

Other readings and resources will be accessible as on-line links.

Other Relevant Course Information

Opening day information will be e-mailed to enrolled students prior to class start date. As a short course, be ready to get started first day of course and to allocate sufficient time necessary for success in the course .

Additional Resources


This course can be accessed on the first day of class via Canvas at Log into Canvas using your CanyonsID single sign-on:

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  • CanyonsID Password is your COC student email password

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Online Education

Check out the Online Education website for more information on a variety of topics that can help you be a successful online student such as: exam proctoring, learning styles, computer skills, and tips for student success. If this is your first online course, feel free to take our online learning readiness assessment to assess your skills.

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Last updated: 04/11/2023 Sub#: 1328