Alleviate Suffering

Jan 23

Pick your Professor

What’s your moral code? Starting with this class, we’ll be wrestling with the question of what it takes to live a moral life. According to utilitarians, the key to acting morally is to do whatever will alleviate suffering and promote pleasure in the world. As a result, anything that can feel pain or pleasure deserves your moral consideration. And we might be called upon to make some significant sacrifices if it holds out the hope of making the world better.  

We have three main learning goals for this day. You will:

  1. Understand what “consequentialism” is, and how it relates to virtue ethics
  2. Understand “hedonistic utilitarianism” (a consequentialist view)
  3. Evaluate differences in how virtue ethicists and utilitarians approach practical good life questions.

Read This:

Primary text: Interactive Essay: Utilitarianism (Book II) (John Stuart Mill)

Secondary text: Alleviate Suffering

The purpose of the “Secondary Texts” is to serve as an example to you of how well-trained philosophers apply the primary texts we’re reading to real-world problems. They were all written by GGL instructors (Prof. Blaschko, other professors in the philosophy department, and sometimes PhD students). One of the major goals in this course is to help you get better at this sort of writing, that is: writing that presents complex ideas simply, and in the context of thought-provoking invitations to further thought and argument. You will not often be tested directly on these texts, though from time to they’ll show up in quizzes or in-class lectures or activities. More importantly, by consistently reading, analyzing, and engaging with them, you’ll be in a good position to write well when you start working on your written assignments in this course.

This is the last time this reminder ^ will appear on the course webpage, but we hope you’ll keep it in mind for the rest of the semester!

Do This:


  • Make sure you’ve completed the “How We Argue” (ThinkerAnalytix) course up through lesson 1 by today’s class.
  • After you’ve finished today’s reading, make sure you complete the reading quiz, which you can access through your section’s Canvas page.

Suggested: In our experience, college courses go best when you bring your “whole self” into the material. If you haven’t done this before, consider setting a timer for five minutes to sit back, look over your notes, and just think about how today’s class and content relates to questions you bring to the table, or issues you care deeply about.

In class, your professor will be presenting some material (and making sure you understood what you read), but lessons can be shaped deeply by questions or comments you bring in. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand (or come up before or after class) to raise these sorts of things. You’ve got a lot of agency in God and the Good Life, and — if you use it — you and your classmates (and your instructor and TAs) will be grateful for it!

Watch This:

In class today, we’ll introduce a new assignment that involves taking the “How We Argue” from ThinkerAnalytix (a non-profit that started at Harvard and aims to help people develop critical thinking skills). Watch this short introduction for an overview of the course, and why Nate — the lead instructor for the “How We Argue” course — thinks you should be very excited to take it: