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Undergraduate Ethics

Fulfill Stanford Ethical Reasoning Requirement


The Center for Ethics in Society is helping facilitate the moral and ethical reasoning requirement. Students are required to take one course that devotes a majority of course time either to exploring ethical theories, or to applying ethical theories to important personal, social, or political questions. 

Human conduct, individually and collectively, involves ethical notions that call for our attention and reflection. Those notions include standards of right and wrong action, judgments about which human ends are worth pursuing, and ideas about valuable qualities of human character. Ethical inquiry thus explores moral rights and responsibilities, fairness and decency, personal virtue and vice, the worthiness of individual choices and the rightness of public policies. An ability to reason about ethical issues, draw defensible conclusions, and assess competing ethical claims is fundamental to individual development and to effective social participation. 

In fulfilling this requirement, students should be able to:

  • Distinguish facts from values 
  • Discern the ethical issues at stake in individual and collective decisions 
  • Identify, understand, and use multiple normative concepts and arguments 
  • Evaluate competing ethical perspectives on human problems and action 
  • Articulate and critically evaluate distinct ethical perspectives on concrete dilemmas 

How students might fulfill this requirement: Students can take courses that examine a particular ethical theory or theories (utilitarianism, for example) or with courses that consider questions of ethics in different contexts. Courses that meet the Ethical Reasoning breadth requirement typically include writing assignments focused on some ethical question or questions, or on analyzing a concrete case, policy, or dilemma using an ethical framework or frameworks.

As the breadth component of Stanford's General Education, the Ways of Thinking/Ways of Doing courses serve as milestones on a roadmap encouraging students to explore and shape their educational paths.