This course focuses on the views of Aristotle (387–321 B.C.) about morality by means of a careful study of his Nicomachean Ethics. Often called “the philosopher of common sense,” Aristotle offers an extremely balanced account of many ethical questions. The goal of this course will be to present his ideas clearly and to suggest ways in which the thought of a philosopher from so long ago still bears tremendous relevance for our own age. After providing some important background about Aristotle’s general approach to philosophy, this course will turn to the text of his main work on ethics. In the first book (and then again in the tenth), he argues that the chief goal of human life must be something desirable for itself and not merely as a means to something else. He then reviews the perennial candidates for this goal, including pleasure, wealth, and honor, before arguing that the only satisfactory answer to the question is happiness. Everything else, including pleasure, wealth, and honor, may contribute to a happy life and may even be necessary conditions for it, but only a life of genuine virtue will make one truly happy.

The courses begins by examining the human mind and seeing the ways in which logic is and is not a natural part of the way we think. We’ll look at some of our cognitive biases, ways in which social psychologists have demonstrated that the brain naturally works against good inferences. Humans can be rational beings, but it takes work to realize the pitfalls we need to avoid. Then, we’ll introduce a wide range of logical concepts. We will rigorously introduce the notion of an argument and examine both the types of arguments—deductive and inductive—and the criteria by which we assess an argument—validity and well-groundedness. We will learn that arguments have two parts: conclusions (that which is being argued for) and premises (the support given for the conclusion). Next, we’ll focus on informal logic—that is, considerations of well-groundedness, the criterion of assessment that considers the truth of an argument’s premises. We’ll learn to spot common fallacies, reasoning errors that sound good to the ear but that undermine the support for the conclusion.