Foundational Narrative: ETH 2050

"The Good Life: Ethics and Contemporary Moral Problems"

Students in Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences examine distinct accounts of the human person, society, God, and the natural world that are initially mediated to students for their critical reflection through a series of core courses. These courses comprise the start of their undergraduate studies in a college committed to the values that define it as part of a Catholic, Augustinian institution of higher education.

A primary goal of a liberal arts education is to provide students with the skills necessary to examine critically the claims advanced by the various communities and traditions they share or encounter in their lives. Many of these traditions specifically respond to the question of how one should live or offer guidance for a good human life. They characterize right actions and their relation to human excellence; right relations with ourselves, others, our natural environment, and God; how these relations are expressed in human practices and institutions; the nature and sources of moral failure; the nature of practical reasoning; and so forth. Critical examination of such normative claims with respect to human activity is the domain of the academic discipline of ethics. ETH 2050 is the course in the core curriculum whose clear goal is to advance students in the knowledge and development of the skills necessary to engage in that critical examination. This course asks students to examine the ways in which the Christian and secular traditions impact the understanding and pursuit of the good life.

Course Description

In this course we ask this question: What is the good life for human beings? The vision of human flourishing that emerges from Christian, particularly Roman Catholic and Augustinian, sources receives special consideration as a viable resource for answering this question as the central concern of the moral life. There are, however, very robust, convincing, and sometimes competing alternative accounts of the moral life that emerge from other traditions, notably those associated with secular liberalism. Students learn to explore the tensions among these traditions through discussing a variety of contemporary moral topics that highlight their relationship to themselves, to others, and to the natural environment.


Insofar as ethics is a discipline that provides resources for critical reflection on normative claims, the goals of the course are as follows:

1. To provide students an opportunity to examine the normative claims to which they have been introduced in other elements of the core curriculum.

2. To advance understanding and critical reflection on Christian and especially Roman Catholic Augustinian accounts of a distinctive and viable vision of human flourishing that challenges alternative visions in certain fundamental respects.

3. To explore the significance of those differences through the examination of various contemporary moral relations.

Course Characteristics

1. Maximum enrollment: 25

2. This is a writing-enriched course. 
Students are required to write at least 10 pages for this course. This must be accomplished through at least two assignments. One of these assignments must include a review process. The review can be completed via professor feedback, peer review, or a visit to the Writing Center.

3. This is a discussion-based course; space should be made for significant opportunity for student interaction with the texts, with each other and with the instructor.

4. All students in ETH 2050 will have the opportunity to read selections from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and from Augustine’s writings, particularly the City of God.


ACS 1000, 1001

PHI 1000

THL 1000

(or Honors equivalents of these four courses)

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