Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday & Monday

For Monday, we will finish talking about EMP Ch. 1. Some notes are below!

For Wed,we will talk about the RTD Ch. 12, "Will Cloning Harm People" by Gregory Pence.

EMP Ch. 1 Notes

Discussion of Rachels Elements of Moral Philosophy Ch. 1

What is it to ‘Think Morally’?

“Morality is …”

Someone is “thinking morally” or engaged in “moral thinking” when:
(1) one is guiding one’s thought by reasons – the best reasons – and
(2) one gives equal weight to each individual who is affected by one’s actions.

Re. (1): reasons include (scientific, empirical) facts and moral principles.

Case 1: Baby Theresa L
· What’s her situation?
· What did her parents want to do? What were their reasons?

The parents' argument:
(3) If we can (a) benefit someone without (b) harming anyone else, it’s right to do so.
(4) By taking Theresa’s organs we can (a) benefit others and (b) not harm anyone else.
(5) So, taking Teresa’s organs is right (i.e., not wrong).

Is this arguments sound or not?

· What did “the critics” say” (p. 2)

(6) “It’s too horrifying to use people as means to other people’s ends.”
(7) “It’s unethical to kill in order to save, unethical to kill person A to save person B.”
(8) “The parents are saying we should kill the baby to use the organs. That’s horrendous!

These remarks are the basis of arguments. Are these arguments sound or not? If any of them are, then argument (3)-(5) is not sound.

Re. Remark (6):
(A) If someone is used as a means to another’s end, then that is wrong.
(B) Taking Teresa’s organs would be to use her as a means.
(C) So, it would be wrong to take her organs.

Is the argument valid? Are the premises true? (Are they somehow ambiguous or imprecise?)

Re. Remark (7):
(D) If person A is killed to save person B, then that’s wrong.
(E) To kill Teresa would be to kill her to save others.
(F) Therefore, it’s wrong to kill Teresa.

Is the argument valid? Are the premises true? (Are they somehow ambiguous or imprecise?)

Re. Remark (8): ?

Case 2: Jodie and Mary

· What’s their situation? What did her parents want to do? What did the hospital want to do? What were their reasons?

“Whose to decide?!” Asking this kind of question is often a way to avoid thinking about which arguments are best. (Also, it’s often unwise to ask rhetorical questions, since there might be good answer to them).

An argument:
(G) If we have a choice between saving one infant and letting both die, we should save one.
(H) We have such a choice.
(I) So we should save one.

Is the argument valid? Are the premises true?

Some critics say:

(J) If someone is an ‘innocent human life’, then they should never be killed.
(K) Mary is an innocent human life.
(L) Therefore, Mary should not be killed.

Is the argument valid? Are the premises true?

3rd Case: Tracy Latimer
· What’s her situation? (We need to think about the details..)
· What did her parents want to do? What were their reasons?

· What did their critics say?

Take note of:
· Feelings
· Require reasons
· Getting one’s (non-moral) facts straight: checking up on the empirical / scientific evidence
· Impartiality: differences in treatment are justified only by relevant differences in the person/being and in light of general moral principles; otherwise these are unjustified prejudices.

Monday, January 26, 2009


For Wed., re-read EMP Ch. 1. The writing assignment on that Chapter is due Wed., not this Monday, as originally scheduled.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Wading Pool example and Phil Collins?!

Yesterday I used an example of saving a child from drowning in a pool to illustrate the concept of a "morally obligatory" action.

This example prompted a student in the 12 PM class to ask about this song by Phil Collins. For your viewing and pop culture enjoyment, I post these items!

I can feel it coming in the air tonight, Oh Lord
I've been waiting for this moment, all my life, Oh Lord
Can you feel it coming in the air tonight, Oh Lord, Oh Lord
Well, if you told me you were drowning I would not lend a hand
I've seen your face before my friendBut I don't know if you know who I am
Well, I was there and I saw what you didI saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off the grin, I know where you've beenIt's all been a pack of lies
And I can feel it coming in the air tonight, Oh Lord
I've been waiting for this moment for all my life, Oh Lord
I can feel it in the air tonight, Oh Lord, Oh Lord
And I've been waiting for this moment all my life, Oh Lord, Oh Lord
Well I remember, I remember don't worry
How could I ever forget, it's the first time, the last time we ever met
But I know the reason why you keep your silence up, no you don't fool me
The hurt doesn't show; but the pain still growsIt's no stranger to you or me
And I can feel it coming in the air tonight, Oh Lord...

Urban legend

An urban legend has arisen around "In the Air Tonight". According to the legend, the lyrics are based on a tragic event Collins witnessed, usually a drowning (as in the song's lyrics), in which a man could have helped the victim, but did not do so (an alternate version of the legend has the onlooker a murderer, intentionally drowning the victim, rather than an a pathetic bystander). A common ending is that Collins invites this man to a show and sings the song to him, often with a spotlight pointed at him. Afterward, the man is arrested or, in some versions, is wracked with guilt and has a heart attack or commits suicide. Other versions of the story involve Collins discovering his wife having sex with (or being raped by) another man, often a close friend; the man subsequently drowns while Collins himself watches.
Years later, Collins commented on the legends about the song in a
BBC World Service interview:

I don't know what this song is about. When I was writing this I was going through a divorce. And the only thing I can say about it is that it's obviously in anger. It's the angry side, or the bitter side of a separation. So what makes it even more comical is when I hear these stories which started many years ago, particularly in America, of someone come up to me and say, 'Did you really see someone drowning?' I said, 'No, wrong'. And then every time I go back to America the story gets
Chinese whispers, it gets more and more elaborate. It's so frustrating, 'cos this is one song out of all the songs probably that I've ever written that I really don't know what it's about, you know.

The urban legend is referenced in the song "
Stan" by Eminem. The reference is contained in the following lyrics:
You know the song by Phil Collins, "In the Air of the Night" [sic]
About that guy who coulda saved that other guy from drowning
But didn't, then Phil saw it all, then at a show he found him?
Collins later stated on
VH1 Classic's "Classic Albums" series that he came up with "99 percent" of the lyrics on the spot, based on what he felt the vibe was of the dark chords he had improvised over the ominous drum beat. He was "just messing around for fun", completely unaware that what he was creating would ultimately be the staple song from his next album.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday & Monday

For Monday, read EMP CH. 1. OPS - outline, paraphrase, summarize -- writing assignment on it due Monday. Don't know what that means? Read the syl!

Some of today's discussion is reviewed in these notes here; you can apply what's said there to our current issues:

See esp.:
  • What the Question Is Not: Not “Morally Right,” but Morally Permissible and/or Morally Obligatory
  • Some Basic Concepts about Arguments: Introduction to Logic
  • Moral Principles as Premises: Introduction to Ethics
  • Religion and Ethics: A Brief Comment

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Here are the assignments thus far, as stated in the syl:

First reading assignments; dates TBA:


o Vaughn, Ch.1, “How To Read Philosophy”

o Vaughn, Ch.2, “How To Read An Argument

o Rachels, RTD: Ch. 2, “Some Basic Points About Arguments,” available here if you don’t yet have the books:

o Vaughn, Ch. 5, “Avoiding Fallacious Reasoning”


o Rachels, RTD: Ch.1 “A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy,” available here if you don’t yet have the books: Writing assignment: which theory or theories are best and why? 2 pages

Day 1's Discussion

The discussion from day 1 is taken from pages 4-8 of this paper:

"Rational Engagement, Emotional Response and the Prospects for Progress in Animal Use 'Debates'" for Jeremy Garrett, ed., Animal Research in Theory and Practice (MIT Basic Bioethics Series. 2008).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Syllabus Spring 2009

Please download this document here:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience,

but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
- Martin Luther King Jr. ,‘48

PHI 302: Introduction to Philosophical Ethics, Spring 2009


Students are responsible for understanding all the information and policies presented in this syllabus. Students will be referred to this document when their questions are answered here.

12 - 12:50, MWF, Sale Hall, Room 105: Intro to Philosophical Ethics - 41186 - HPHI 302G - 01

1 - 1:50, MWF, Sale Hall, Room TBA; Intro to Philosophical Ethics - 41187 - HPHI 302G - 02

Instructor: Dr. Nathan Nobis (

Office: Philosophy & Religion Department, Sale Hall 113

Office Hours: 11-12; 1-1:30 MWF and by appointment (but please let him know if you want to meet)

Course blog:


Email announcement group:

Catalogue Description: Provides an introduction to philosophical reflection about the nature and function of morality. Readings will include both historical and contemporary materials.

Extended Description: This course provides students with the opportunity to improve their skills at reasoning critically about moral issues. Students will learn some basic logic and critical thinking skills and apply them to theoretical and practical questions about morality. We will practice identifying precise and unambiguous moral conclusions (i.e., exact perspectives taken on moral issues) and the 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 right and wrong action?’ and ‘What makes right actions right and wrong actions wrong?’ – and apply our critical thinking skills to moral issues such as female genital mutilation, homosexuality, abortion, famine and absolute poverty, racism, sexism, and speciesism, vegetarianism and the treatment of animals, euthanasia and assisted suicide, capital punishment, affirmative action, civil disobedience, and environmentalism, among others.

Four Required course materials:

1. Plagiarism has been a problem in this course. You must purchase a pass-code for the Thompson Turnitin web-based anti-plagiarism system at the bookstore: The course code is 2571740 and the password is ethics, which you will need to register your account. If the bookstore runs out of these you need to ask them to order more so that you can submit your papers: your papers will be graded only if they are submitted through this system and submitted in class in hardcopy.

Technical support:

Unfortunately some of the pin codes for the Turnitin are invalid. If you find that your pin code is not registering properly (the password is ethics and the course codes are above), they should contact Thompson / Cencage learning. You should go to the following web site and choose to Chat and/or send an e-mail to and

Buying a code online: Students can purchase codes online but the pin code will be shipped through the mail. Currently they do not offer Turnitin pin codes as an instant access pin code. If students want to purchase the pin code online they can go to: Enter the ISBN: 1-4130-3018-1 in the Search:

Turnitin? User Guide 1-Semester Printed Access Card, 1st Edition

© 2006
ISBN/ISSN 1-4130-3018-1
ISBN-13 978-1-4130-3018-1
List Price: $12.95, Your Price: $11.66

2. James and Stuart Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 5th Ed. [EMP]

3. James and Stuart Rachels, eds. The Right Thing to Do, 4th Ed. [RTD]

4. Lewis Vaughn, Writing Philosophy: A Students Guide to Writing Philosophy Essays [WP].

Written Requirements / Assignments:

1. “OPS” (Outline, Paraphrase, &/or Summarize) writing assignments:

· The absolute most important thing you can do to succeed in this class is to do the reading and do the reading well. To encourage you do to do, you will be required to write 1-3 page outlines, paraphrases &/or summaries of many of the readings or selections of them. Vaughn’s Writing Philosophy, Ch. 1 provides instruction on how to do this. What most important for these assignments is that you (a) identify the author’s main conclusions, and (b) explain the reasons he or she gives in favor of these conclusions and (c) explain whether these reasons are a valid and sound argument for that conclusion or not. Merely copying the writing’s Introduction by Rachels will result in a zero for the assignment. (3 points each; 12 assignments; 36 points total)

  1. Five 4-6 page Essays (all except the first are argumentative essays, where a moral conclusion is defended, objections are responded to, etc.): (10 points each; 50 points total)
  1. Two Exams, Midterm and Final:
    • All of lecture, discussion and reading content is fair game. Study guides will be available online with possible questions for each exam to help focus your studying. Exams will mostly be short answer and short essay questions. (40 points each; 80 points total).
  1. Extra Credit Opportunities:
    • There will likely be events addressing ethical and/or philosophical issues that I’ll encourage you to attend and write up a 3 page detailed summary and reaction to for variable bonus points. These are due, in class, within one week of the event, and won’t be accepted past then. These events will only be announced by the email group.
    • An extra credit book report assignment is here:


Nearly always come to class. Be on time. Do the reading, carefully. Be prepared. Take the time to do a very good job on everything we do. Bring your materials, always. Contribute to class discussion. Ask questions. Do not plagiarize or cheat in any way: if you do, you will fail the course immediately. Have fun, learn a lot, and grow to become a more ethically engaged person!

First assignments:

Readings should be done in advance for the day assigned. Exact readings and assignments will be announced in class and posted on the course blog/webpage at If you come to class, you should know exactly what the current assignments are. Once enrollment settles, I will provide a calendar of assignments as well.

  • Get the books and needed materials.
  • With the Turnitin card you purchased at the bookstore, set up your account online. If you do not do this on time, you might get a zero on your first paper.
  • Sign up for the email announcement group here:

First reading assignments; dates TBA:

o Vaughn, Ch.1, “How To Read Philosophy”

o Vaughn, Ch.2, “How To Read An Argument

o Rachels, RTD: Ch. 2, “Some Basic Points About Arguments,” available here if you don’t yet have the books:

o Vaughn, Ch. 5, “Avoiding Fallacious Reasoning”

o Rachels, RTD: Ch.1 “A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy,” available here if you don’t yet have the books: Writing assignment: which theory or theories are best and why? 2 pages

o Ch. 1, "What is Morality?" (EMP) OPS Writing Assignment on the arguments in favor of killing Teresa, separating the twins and killing Tracey (!!)

o "Will Cloning Harm People?" Gregory E. Pence (RTD) OPS Writing Assignment

Further reading and writing assignments, and their dates, will be announced in class, on blog, and email group!

Note: A syllabus is not a contract, but rather a guide to course procedures. The instructor reserves the right to alter the course requirements and/or assignments based on new materials, class discussions, or other legitimate pedagogical objectives.