Philosophy 1B: How Should I Live?

Philosophy 1B: How Should I Live?


Our lives are filled with choices. We choose what to eat, what to buy, with whom to spend time, which career to pursue, and much more. Some of the choices we make don’t matter much, whereas others matter a great deal. Many of our life decisions apparently matter because they have moral significance; most of us think that there are some things that are morally wrong for us to do and others that we are morally required to do.

We do not live our lives in isolation: we live together in society. The societies we live in have a major impact on which life choices are available and to which individuals. Many of the choices we have to make about how to live together are apparently morally significant; most of think that some ways of arranging society are morally better than others. 

The many choices we make as individuals and together in society work together to shape our lives—but we may not have done much critical thinking about how we should be living. What’s the best life to live? Is it the moral life? The happy life? Something else? And what’s the best way for us to arrange our lives together? One reason to think that answers to these questions are important is because our lives matter. But why do we think that? What makes life meaningful or significant? 

In this course, we’ll begin to think critically about how we should live and why our lives matter. This will not only help us figure out what our values should be, but it can help us live our lives and arrange our societies in ways that reflect those values.  

The Course

The course is split into four sections. 

In the first part, we ask: why be good? We might think it’s obvious that we should at least try to live a morally good life. But being moral might seem to sometimes get in the way of our pursuing other things we want or value. If that happens, should we prioritise morality? Why not just live however we want, as long as we can get away with it? In this section of the course, we’ll begin to consider why and whether we should be good.  

In the second part, we ask: what is good? When thinking about whether to be good, we’ll have taken it as obvious that some things are good and bad. We also probably think it’s obvious that some things are right and wrong. But what makes things right and wrong or good and bad? And if we don´t know, how can we be sure about which things are which? In this section of the course, we’ll begin to consider the nature of these values. 

In the third part, we ask: how should we live together? As individuals, we are likely to disagree about the best kind of life to lead, which things are valuable, and what makes things valuable. But, if we disagree: who gets to decide how we should live together? Typically, we at least partially settle this question by appealing to a state which sets limits on some of the thing we can do and ensures that at least some things are available to everyone. In this section of the course, we’ll consider what, if anything, we owe to the state and what it owes to us. 

In the fourth part, we ask: what is the meaning of life? Answers to questions about how we should live as individuals and together in society may only seem to matter if we assume that our lives matter. And we usually do; we generally assume that our lives are meaningful and significant. But what makes a life valuable? In this final section of the course we’ll look directly at this broad question. In particular, we’ll consider when a life is a good life and the related question of when, if ever, a death is a good death.

Course convener:  Dr Jennifer Corns

Semester: 2
Lecture hour: 10-11 or 2-3
Seminars/Collaborative Classes: Wednesdays at 2-4 or Thursdays at 9-11
Lecture venue: See MyCampus.

Teaching resources for this course, including lecture notes and exercises, will be made available on the Philosophy Moodle site.