Foundations of Ethical Thought

Complete a foundational course in the liberal arts through an intensive, eight-day residency on our storied Hyde Park campus.

Ivy-covered rooftop in summer.

Study in historic campus buildings, attend educational and social events, explore local landmarks, and engage in rigorous classroom discussion.

UChicago’s Residential Seminar, Foundations of Ethical Thought, is designed for lifelong learners seeking to rigorously engage big ethical questions during an immersive educational experience. 

Ivy-covered window in summer.

The course will take place from Sunday, September 18th, through Sunday, September 25th, and will feature a popular course from our Master of Liberal Arts program taught by Jason Bridges, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago.

Through a discussion-rich classroom experience, learners will become familiar with the long history of debate—spanning from the Ancient Greeks through modernity—arising from fundamental questions in the philosophical field of ethics.

In this course we will examine five ideas that lie at the root of our ethical thinking. These ideas are: happiness, the collective good, individual rights, the rule of law, and the amelioration of injustice. We’ll consider these ideas both from a philosophical standpoint and in some of their myriad manifestations in real-world problems and concerns. Readings will be drawn from a long and rich tradition of philosophical reflection upon these ideas—a tradition initiated by the ancient Greeks, transformed in the Enlightenment, and put under pressure by skeptics and critics of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Authors read include: Aristotle, Kant, Rousseau, and John Stuart Mill, as well as various contemporary thinkers. We’ll seize the opportunity provided by our presence in Chicago with field trips that consider the city’s place in the history of one the defining ethical projects of modern times: the African-American struggle for civil rights.

Please find the full course syllabus here.

Headshot of Jason Bridges.

Jason Bridges is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. His primary research and teaching areas are the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of language. He also has interests in metaphysics and epistemology, the philosophy of action, the later work of Wittgenstein, and political philosophy. His main current projects are about reasons and rationality, and epistemic and semantic contextualism.


Headshot of Clare Pearson

Clare Pearson joined the Basic Program staff in 1997 after ten years of undergraduate teaching at the University of Chicago and the honors college at Valparaiso University. She did her undergraduate and graduate work with the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, where she worked on the intersections of literature and philosophy with special attention to the interrelationship of literature and ethics. While in graduate school, she studied in Germany on a DAAD fellowship, then taught for three years in Germany in a study-abroad program for American undergraduates. She has given papers and published articles on Martin Heidegger and lectures regularly for the Basic Program. In addition to her work in higher education, she also spent a year as lead teacher and acting principal at a Chicago area alternative high school. From 2004 to 2008, she chaired the Basic Program and co-designed the Asian Classics program, which she also chaired from 2006 to early 2009. She is the 2008 recipient of the Graham School Excellence in Teaching Award for the Basic Program, and also teaches in the Humanities and Philosophy Department at Oakton Community College.

Seminar Sessions

Led by Professor Jason Bridges, the sessions for “Foundations of Ethical Thought” provide the primary focus for the Seminar. “Foundations of Ethical Thought” will be distinct from Professor Bridges’ prior MLA courses, “History of Ethics” and “Philosophy of Political Ethics,” such that students who have previously taken either of those two courses will be welcome to enroll in “Foundations of Ethical Thought.”

Discussion Sessions

Supplementing Professor Bridges’ main course content, there will also be “discussion sessions” during the week led by instructors in UChicago’s Basic Program of Liberal Education. These discussion sessions are designed to provide detailed, close-readings of texts, additional time for reflection, and deeper group discussion of the issues addressed in Professor Bridges’ course.

Guest Lectures

In addition to Professor Bridges’ seminars and the discussion sessions, the week will also feature guest lecturers who will provide applied context to the theoretical ethical issues students grapple with in the course. Topics will include bioethics, business ethics, and ethical leadership.

Associated Activities and Events

Celebrate and meet your cohort at the welcome reception; learn from instructors and faculty in complementary disciplines through our guest lectures and Lunch and Learns; attend a performance of Arsenic and Old Lace at Court Theatre on campus; visit the Chicago History Museum’s Civil Rights exhibit.

Students in the Residential Seminar are asked to reserve their own accommodations. Students wishing to stay in Hyde Park are encouraged to consider The Study at the University of Chicago and The Sophy Hyde Park, which are adjacent to campus.

We offer the Residential Seminar as a non-credit course for $2,995.

If you are accepted into the program, a deposit of $500 will be requested within one week of acceptance to hold your spot. Balances will be due by August 29, 2022.

Note: Students in the Master of Liberal Arts may complete this seminar as a for-credit course (with assignments and grades) by reaching out to Tim Murphy (Director of the MLA program) at Taking this course for-credit requires paying tuition for one MLA course plus a $500 activity fee.

The Residential Seminar is open to lifelong learners seeking a rigorous learning experience, including Graham School students, UChicago alumni, and friends of the University.

To apply, please click on the ‘Apply’ button at the top of the page, then fill out and submit the Application Form.

The University of Chicago implemented COVID-19 vaccination-related requirements for students and staff. Students and employees must show proof of receiving any COVID-19 vaccine authorized for use by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or by the World Health Organization (WHO).  Further, as of January 24, 2022, all students and staff will need to submit proof of receiving a COVID-19 booster shot.

The well-being of students in the Residential Seminar will be our highest priority. To that end, we will follow the health and safety guidelines in place at the time of the Seminar.

A $500 per person deposit is required upon acceptance of your application. The balance of the fee is due no later than August 29, 2022. All cancellations and requests for refunds must be submitted in writing and will be subject to a $250 per person cancellation fee. Cancellations received between August 30, 2022 and September 12, 2022 will result in a forfeiture of 60% of the program cost per person. No refunds will be given for cancellations received after September  12, 2022. In the event of the cancellation of the program by the University of Chicago Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, a full refund of tuition will be given.

The University of Chicago and the University of Chicago Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies have no responsibility in whole or in part for any loss, death, damage, or injury to person or property or accident, mechanical defect, failure or negligence of any nature howsoever caused in connection with any accommodation, transportation, or other services. The right is retained to decline to accept or retain any person as a Seminar member should such person’s health, mental condition, physical infirmity, or attitude jeopardize the operation of the Seminar or the rights, welfare, or enjoyment of other participants.