A History of Moral Philosophy and Ethics

During an Education Week class series, philosophy professor Darin Gates speaks on various philosophers and their moral and ethical beliefs.


PROVO, Utah (Aug. 22, 2014)—“There’s a lot we can learn from philosophers,” Darin Gates told Education Week participants during a week-long class series on the campus of Brigham Young University. Gates, a BYU philosophy professor, taught classes on the history of moral philosophy and ethics.

“A word about philosophy,” Gates said. “Philosophy is often portrayed in a negative light, and certainly there are philosophies contrary to the gospel, but there are many good philosophies.”

He quoted a 1978 first presidency statement that read, “The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.”

Talking about these philosophers, Gates said, “For Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, they each have slightly different views but they all agreed there was some type of universal good.”

Gates compared some aspects of their teachings to the gospel. Similarities include the ideas that “happiness is the goal of our existence” and that “virtue (or moral excellence) is necessary for happiness.” Differences include the fact that these philosophers lacked a knowledge of the Atonement, forgiveness, and the pure love of Christ.

Gates also taught a lecture on Stoicism, which taught not to put happiness in things outside of your control such as bodies, possessions, and reputations. Stoicism argued for one’s commitment to moral character. He said that like the gospel, Stoicism highly regarded agency – interpreted as our ability to choose not to be offended (or even harmed) – as well as the importance of gratitude, and even something similar to meekness, but unlike the gospel, there is no understanding of the Atonement as the only means by which many harms can be overcome.

Gates also discussed Kantian moral philosophies and Utilitarianism, how they related to other philosophies, and how they compared to gospel principles.

Gate concluded the lecture series by saying, “Reading these things can make you a better person…The gospel is true, and while one could say that in many ways philosophy doesn’t hold a candle to the gospel, there are many moral truths taught by philosophers from whom we would do well to learn.”

For more information on this philosophy lecture series, contact Darin Gates.

—Stephanie Bahr Bentley BA English ’14