Tuesday, January 13, 2015

This course is now in Blackboard. The syllabus is here also though:



Introduction to Philosophical Ethics, PHI 302
Spring 2015

Note: Students are responsible for understanding all the information and policies presented in this syllabus. Students will be referred to it if they have questions that are answered here. A syllabus is not a contract and can be revised, if needed, to promote learning and other educational goals.



Instructor:      Nathan Nobis, Ph.D., www.NathanNobis.com
Email:             nathan.nobis@morehouse.edu  

[Note: For security reasons, Dr. Nobis will only respond to emails concerning grades and confidential matters that are sent from an official Morehouse.edu email address].

Telephone:                 404-215-2607 office; 404-825-1740 cell
Office:                         Sale Hall 113, Philosophy & Religion Department
Office Hours:             MWF 11-12; M 2-3; and by appointment: please email!


1.      CATALOG COURSE DESCRIPTION: Provides an introduction to philosophical reflection about the nature and function of morality. Readings will include both historical and contemporary materials.

EXTENDED COURSE DESCRIPTION: This course provides students with the opportunity to improve their skills at reasoning critically about moral issues. Students will learn some basic logical concepts and argument analysis skills and apply them to theoretical and practical questions about morality. We will practice identifying clear and precise moral conclusions and the premises, or reasons, given for and against these conclusions. We will then practice evaluating these reasons to see if they provide rational support for these conclusions or not.
We will think about what helps people think more carefully and critically about moral issues and what factors and influences discourage this.    
We will discuss influential ethical theories and moral principles – answers to the questions ‘What’s the basic difference between a morally permissible and a morally impermissible (or wrong) action?’ and ‘What makes wrong actions wrong and what makes permissible actions permissible?’ – and apply our argument analysis skills to moral issues such as the treatment of disabled newborns, female genital mutilation, homosexuality, abortion, absolute poverty, racism, sexism, and speciesism, drug use and the criminalization of drug use, vegetarianism and the treatment of animals, euthanasia and assisted suicide, and capital punishment, among others.

2.      COURSE PREREQUISITES: There are no formal prerequisites for this course. However, students will benefit most from the course when they enter it with the abilities to:
·         read critically and identify the structure and components of an argumentative essay or passage, i.e., the conclusion(s), the premises(s) or supporting elements, and so forth;
·         write clear, concise and simple grammatical, spelling-error-free sentences and well-organized expository and argumentative essays, as taught in Introductory English courses;
·         speak clearly, concisely, and grammatically.
Basic mathematical and scientific literacy is desirable.
Familiarity with moral issues, common positions taken on them and reasons given in favor of these positions is desirable, since we will build on any previous understanding.
Intellectual and moral virtues, such as curiosity, patience, and openness to the possibility of error and the need for change, are desirable as well.

A general goal is to improve students’ abilities to communicate about controversial issues: accurately state views and arguments, responsibly raise and respond to questions and criticisms, and communicate in clear, well-organized and effective ways.

3.      COURSE OBJECTIVES: Upon successfully completing this course, students will be able to use the set of argument analysis skills below to identify and evaluate moral arguments:
a.       identify whether any presentation is “morally argumentative” or not, i.e., whether it presents an argument for a moral conclusion on a moral issue or not;
b.      identify conclusions of morally argumentative presentations, evaluate these conclusions for clarity and precision, and (if needed) reconstruct / restate the conclusion in clear and precise terms; 
c.       identify stated premises or reasons in morally argumentative presentations, evaluate these conclusions for clarity and precision, and (if needed) reconstruct / restate these premises in clear and precise terms; 
d.      identify (if needed) unstated premises in argumentative presentations that are logically essential to the structure of an argument and state them as part of the argument in clear and precise terms;
e.       identify and distinguish factual/empirical/scientific and moral/philosophical premises in moral arguments;
f.       evaluate moral arguments as (1) logically valid or logically invalid and (2) sound or unsound  (i.e., logically valid with true premises, or not).
g.      identify and explain reasons given to think an argument is sound, reasons to think it is unsound (often using counterexamples to general moral premises), and responses to these reasons.

Students will be able to accurately explain historically influential moral theories and common arguments against them, in light of their implications, explanatory power and theoretical virtues and vices.

Students will be able to accurately explain (in essays and oral presentations) the most common arguments given on a number of controversial moral issues, from a variety of perspectives, and criticisms of these arguments. Students will be better able to evaluate their own moral views and create their own moral arguments.


A GREEN SYLLABUS: This course contains content that allows it to contribute to Morehouse’s Institute for Sustainable Energy program, its planned academic Minor in Energy and the Morehouse-Wide Initiative for Sustainable Energy (M-WISE) program:
This content is indicated in green below.

4.      REQUIRED MATERIALS, which must always be brought to class: students without course materials may be asked to leave and counted absent for that day.
  1. James and Stuart Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy (McGraw Hill Publishing, 2012) (7th edition is ideal, but any will do). http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0078038243/information_center_view0/table_of_contents.html
  2. Bryan Garner, HBR (Harvard Business Review) Guide to Better Business Writing (2013): http://hbr.org/product/hbr-guide-to-better-business-writing/an/10946-PBK-ENG

Computer Policy:
Unless authorized for a specific purpose, there will be no computer or phone use in class, not even for taking notes. This is because scientific research has shown that computer use in class is contrary to legitimate educational goals. There is a lot of research on this:
Thus, any “electronic readings” must be brought in hardcopy also.


5.      ASSIGNMENTS & GRADING:
All writing is done for an audience: for this class you should always assume that your readers are not familiar with the course material so you must explain everything very clearly for them, so that they understand and learn from you! You must intentionally focus on effective communication of complex ideas and arguments.

ALL WORK MUST HAVE STUDENTS’ NAME, EMAIL ADDRESS, CLASS, CLASS TIME AND A VERY CLEAR INDICATION OF WHAT THE ASSIGNMENT IS; POINTS WILL BE DEDUCTED IF ANY OF THESE ARE MISSING.

Please use this template for your work; download the file and state from there:



Discussing readings and assignments is highly encouraged, but each student must always do his or her own written work, unless specifically told otherwise. 

  1. 15 weekly short writing assignments, often on the readings, usually due Monday at the time of class, submitted through ): 5 points each, 75 points total.
    • There will likely be options for many of the writing assignments; generally they are opportunities for the student to explain the issues and arguments and so teach the material to someone else. Two typical options are these:
      • A very detailed outlines or summaries of some assigned readings. You will want them to be so detailed that you can use them for a detailed open outline quiz.
      • Alternatively, an essay where you explain the main topic of the reading, the main conclusion(s) advanced in the reading, the main reason(s) given in favor of that conclusion; that argument stated in logically valid form and your evaluation of the argument as sound or unsound. This essay should also be so detailed that it could be used for an open-note quiz.
  2. Group project: an online educational tool: a webpage or blog, made in groups of 3 or 4 (and no more), that introduces a moral issue, explains how to identify and evaluate moral argument, presents and critically evaluates at least 5 arguments concerning that issue and thus teachers the reader or viewer how to think about that moral issue. 20 points.
  3. Argumentative paper (approximately 5 pages) or lecture or speech (around 15 minutes) done on webcam (or an alternative) and posted online (privately or publicly). 20 points. Including rough drafts, peer and instructor review and revisions. See: http://www.jimpryor.net/teaching/
  4. One “service project,” that will involve engaging some aspect of the community (such as other AUC students) regarding some moral issue. There will be a variety of options here including volunteering (at some organization that addresses a moral issue), interview projects, hosting a forum, showing a film and holding a discussion, and more. 20 points. See https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/87659135/courses/Ethics/Philosophical%20Community%20Service%20Project.rtf
  5. A “comparative ethics” project: find, on your own, a writing that presents a non-United States (or non-north-American) and non-European perspective on a contemporary moral issue that we discuss: so, e.g., an African or Asian or South American or other perspective on a moral issue. Write up a report on the arguments presented and evaluate the arguments. Details forthcoming. 10 points.
  6. 3 Tests: In class. 20 points each, 60 points total.

  1. Attendance and participation, including taking class notes is required. Attendance will be taken at the beginning of class. Each unexcused absence after 4 will result in a 2% reduction from the student’s overall grade. Unexcused tardiness will result in 1% reduction.
  2. EXTRA CREDIT ASSIGNMENTS. There likely will be many extra credit opportunities, including this assignment related to finding your “calling” through your career(s):  http://morehousephilosophyandreligion.blogspot.com/p/career-exploration.html

No work will be accepted late except with a written, college-approved excuse.

Final grades will be determined by the quantity and quality of work done only: students who need a certain grade should work to ensure that they earn that grade.

Plagiarism and cheating is not allowed and will be severely penalized by either a zero on an assignment (and no chance for making up that assignment) or failing the course. Do not consult any outside sources for any assignments or examine the work of any other students – current or past students – unless directed to do so by the instructor. Do not work with other students unless instructed to do so.

Assignments will be posted in class, on the calendar.



First reading and writing assignments:

For next Wednesday and Friday (January 21 and 23) we will discuss logic:
o   Rachels, The Right Thing to Do (RTD: Ch. 2, “Some Basic Points About Arguments,” available here: http://aphilosopher.googlepages.com/rachels-on-arguments.pdf

Almost all the concepts you need to know for this class: http://www.nathannobis.com/2013/11/philosophical-ethics-handout.html

Handouts on Overview of Logic & Arguments
· Overview of Basic Moral Evaluations: Morally Permissible, Obligatory, Impermissible/Wrong
o   Available in Making Moral Progress here, in the section “Right and Wrong? Wrong”:

For next Monday (January 26):
o   Rachels, The Right Thing to Do: Ch.1 “A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy,” available here: http://aphilosopher.googlepages.com/rachels-intro-to-ethics.pdf 

DUE (Friday, January 30): WITHOUT READING ANYTHING ABOUT THESE TOPICS – E.G., DO NOT SEARCH THE INTERNET – please write a short (2-3 page) essay that addresses one of these questions:
·         Is it wrong to use illegal drugs, such as marijuana?
·         Suppose a married woman did not any more children but became pregnant. She could raise another child but does not want to. Would it be wrong for her to have an abortion? Assume the father would support her decision, whatever it is.
·         Are racism and/or sexism wrong? Why?
·         Is the death penalty wrong?
·         Is affirmative action wrong?
·         Or another moral issue, with approval of the instructor, but not homosexuality or the treatment of animals.

Please discuss at least three arguments relevant to the issue.

Please write this essay on the basis of what you already know: again, please do not do any research for this paper (if you do, Turnitin might reveal that and you will be penalized!). This is an assignment to measure where you are at now. If you take it seriously and put in a good effort, your grade will reflect that. J



For Monday, February 2, Ch. 1, "What is Morality?" (Elements of Moral Philosophy, EMP):
Writing assignment 1: very detailed summary OR OUTLINE of this chapter, covering every section.  Due Monday, February 2.

After this, we will briefly review the later chapters on utilitarian and Kantian moral theory in greater detail, discuss John Rawls’s moral theory, an African ethical theory [some writings from http://philpapers.org/s/Thaddeus%20Metz [and then return to earlier chapters of the Elements of Moral Philosophy.

Order of Readings, subject to change with student input. We will not discuss all these readings below. Exact dates and assignments will be announced in class and online:

1.      "Some Basic Points about Arguments," James Rachels (Right Thing to Do): http://aphilosopher.googlepages.com/rachels-on-arguments.pdf

2.      Nobis: basic concepts handout: http://www.nathannobis.com/2013/11/philosophical-ethics-handout.html


5.      James Rachels, "A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy" (Right Thing to Do). Available here: http://aphilosopher.googlepages.com/rachels-intro-to-ethics.pdf  

6.      Ch. 1, "What is Morality?" (Elements)

7.      Ch. 2, "The Challenge of Cultural Relativism" (Elements)
8.      “What’s Culture Got to Do with it? Excising the Harmful Tradition of Female Circumcision,” Harvard Law Review, http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/female_circumcision.pdf
a.       Also, male circumcision.

9.      Ch. 3, "Subjectivism in Ethics" (Elements)
10.  Richard Feldman on “Simple Moral Arguments”: http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/feldman-simple-moral-arguments.pdf
11.  Video on Simple Moral Arguments: http://www.makingmoralprogress.com/
12.  Video: John Corvino: “What’s Morally Wrong with Homosexuality?” http://johncorvino.com/wp/photos/  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SutThIFi24w

14.  Ch. 4, "Does Morality Depend on Religion?" (Elements)
16.  "On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion / Postscript on Infanticide," Mary Anne Warren  
17.  "Why Abortion Is Immoral," Don Marquis  
18.  "A Defense of Abortion," Judith Jarvis Thomson  
19.  Nobis, Nathan and Jarr-Koroma, Abubakarr Sidique (2010) "Abortion and Moral Arguments From Analogy," The American Journal of Bioethics, 10: 12, 59 — 61

21.  Ch. 5, "Ethical Egoism" (Elements)
22.  Materials on “Effective Altruism”: http://www.nathannobis.com/2013/11/effective-altruism.html
23.  "9/11 and Starvation," Mylan Engel, Jr. (online)  
24.  "The Singer Solution to World Poverty," Peter Singer  

Nathan Nobis, entry on “Peter Singer,” in Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, J. Baird Callicott and Robert Frodeman, eds., Macmillan Reference, 2008: http://aphilosopher.googlepages.com/singer-encyclopedia.pdf

Peter Singer, “One Atmosphere,” from his One World: The Ethics of Globalization (Yale University Press, 2002)

Carr, Edward R. “Sustainable Development” For the Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, Vol 2, J. Baird Callicott and Robert Frodeman, eds.  Macmillan Reference USA: 295-298, 2008. http://goo.gl/IWXE0

There are many more resources on sustainability and sustainable development, justice and energy consumption, justice and pollution and related topics.


26.  Ch. 6, "The Idea of a Social Contract" (Elements)
27.  "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail," Martin Luther King, Jr

28.  Ch. 7, "The Utilitarian Approach" (Elements)
30.  "Active and Passive Euthanasia," James Rachels  

31.  "America's Unjust Drug War," Michael Huemer (RTD, #26)  
32.  Videos / readings by Michelle Alexander on THE NEW JIM CROW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gln1JwDUI64

33.  "All Animals Are Equal," Peter Singer  
34.  "Torturing Puppies and Eating Meat: It's All in Good Taste," Alastair Norcross (RTD, #15)
35.  “Reasonable Humans and Animals,” John Simmons: http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/veg.pdf

There are many more resources on animal agriculture and sustainability, energy consumption, global warming, pollution and related topics.

36.  Ch. 8, "The Debate over Utilitarianism" (Elements)


39.  Ch. 9, "Are There Absolute Moral Rules?" (Elements)


46.  Ch. 10, "Kant and Respect for Persons" (Elements)

49.  Ch. 11, "Feminism and the Ethics of Care" (Elements)

51.  Ch. 12, "The Ethics of Virtue" (Elements)

54.  Ch. 13, "What Would a Satisfactory Moral Theory Be Like?" (Elements)