Tuesday, August 25, 2009


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, Fall 2009

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


  1. Purchase books (bookstore or online) and Turnitin PIN code (at bookstore)
  2. Set up Turnitin account at http://turnitin.thomson.com/ The course code is 2815288 and the password is ethics . All written work must be submitted through this system, which confirms its originality.
  3. Sign up for email list at Google groups through the blog: http://groups.google.com/group/philosophy302/ Link available through the course blog: http://philosophy302.blogspot.com.
  4. The syllabus is also available at http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/302Fall2009.pdf
  5. Begin reading and writing assignments at the end of the back page on this short syllabus (over).

11-11:50, MWF, Sale Hall, Room ____, Intro to Philosophical Ethics - 42736 - HPHI 302G - 06

12 - 12:50, MWF, Sale Hall, Room ____: Intro to Philosophical Ethics - 42731 - HPHI 302G - 01

1 - 1:50, MWF, Sale Hall, Room ____; Intro to Philosophical Ethics - 42732 - HPHI 302G - 02

Instructor: Dr. Nathan Nobis (nathan.nobis@gmail.com) Office: Philosophy & Religion Department, Sale Hall 113

Office Hours: 2-3 MWF and by appointment (but please let him know if you want to meet)

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.

Course materials:

  1. Plagiarism has been a problem in this course. To ensure original work, you must therefore purchase a pass-code for the Thompson Turnitin web-based anti-plagiarism system at the bookstore and all written work must be submitted through this system: http://turnitin.thomson.com/ The course code is 2815288 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.

Technical support:

There is a problem with some of the PIN cards. Students should change the characters printed as an “S” to a “$” and if they are still having issues they can contact our support team via phone, live chat, or email by using the following information: http://www.cengage.com/support/ Mon-Thur 8:30am to 9:00pm EST, Friday 8:30am to 6:00pm EST, 1-800-354-9706 Option 5, then Option 2. Students can purchase pin codes online, however they will still need to be shipped. They will need to place the order online at www.ichapters.com and allow appropriate shipping time for the pin card to arrive to them via mail. If students want to purchase the pin code online they can go to: http://e-catalog.thomsonlearning.com/150l/ Enter the ISBN: 1-4130-3018-1 in the Search. Turnitin? User Guide 1-Semester Printed Access Card, 1st Edition Wadsworth, NB © 2006 ISBN/ISSN 1-4130-3018-1 ISBN-13 978-1-4130-3018-1 List Price: $12.95, Your Price: $11.66

  1. James and Stuart Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 6th Ed. [Elements] Previous editions (available used online) will do but you are responsible for the content found in the current edition.
  2. James and Stuart Rachels, eds. The Right Thing to Do, 5th Ed. [RTD] Previous editions (available used online) will do but you are responsible for the content found in the current edition.
  3. Lewis Vaughn, Writing Philosophy: A Students Guide to Writing Philosophy Essays [WP].

Written Requirements / Assignments:

All written work must be submitted online through the Turnitin system: this is largely a “paperless” class.

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 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. 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. These events will only be announced by the email group.
    • An extra credit book report assignment is here: http://philosophy302.blogspot.com/2007/03/extra-credit-book-report-option.html

Rules: Always come to class: after three absences your overall grade will be reduced by 1/3 of a letter grade for each additional not officially excused absence. Students with perfect attendance will have their grade raised by 1/3 of a letter grade. Be on time: if you are late, you might not be admitted to class. Be prepared. Do the reading, carefully: you must read and re-read, take notes, outline, highlight and underline: you should be prepared to answer basic questions about the readings (e.g., what’s the author’s main conclusion(s) and where does he state them in the reading, what are his premises?). Take the time to do a very good job on everything we do. Bring your materials, always: if not, you may be asked to leave. Do not text message, surf the net or abuse technology: if you do, you maybe be asked to leave class. Contribute positively to class discussion. Ask questions. Do not plagiarize or cheat in any way: if you do, you will fail the course immediately: do your own work and do not ever look at any other students’ work “as an example” of what to do. Have fun, learn a lot, and grow to become a more ethically and intellectually engaged person!

Assignments: Readings should be done in advance for the day assigned. Exact readings and assignments will be announced in class, sent through the email group and posted on the course blog at http://philosophy302.blogspot.com. If you come to class, you should know exactly what the current assignments are.

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: http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/rachels-on-arguments.pdf

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: http://aphilosopher.googlepages.com/rachels-intro-to-ethics.pdf Writing assignment: which of the three final ethical theories – social contract theory, utilitarianism and/or Kantianism – are best and why? (Maybe they are all best in combination somehow?) You must describe and explain the theories. Submitted online.

o Elements, Ch. 1, "What is Morality?" OPS Writing Assignment: state, explain and evaluate arguments (as sound or unsound) in favor of killing Teresa, separating the twins and killing Tracey. Submitted online.

o "The New Eugenics," Matt Ridley (RTD, #36) [This goes with the bioethics theme of ch. 1.]

o Paper 1 assignment will soon be posted on the blog!

Further reading and writing assignments 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.

Outline of a Syllabus / Order of Readings (Vaughn assignments omitted here)

  1. "Some Basic Points about Arguments," James Rachels (RTD, #2)

Handout: http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/arguments.pdf


  1. James Rachels, "A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy" (RTD, #1).

  1. Ch. 1, "What is Morality?" (Elements)
  2. "The New Eugenics," Matt Ridley (RTD, #36) [This goes with the bioethics theme of ch. 1.]

  1. Ch. 2, "The Challenge of Cultural Relativism" (Elements)
  2. “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

  1. "Monogamy: A Critique," John McMurtry (RTD, #28) [This goes with the brief discussion of polyamory on pp. 29-30 of Elements; the readings below also concern sexual ethics.]
  2. "Our Sexual Ethics," Bertrand Russell (RTD, #29)
  3. "Alcohol and Rape," Nicholas Dixon (RTD, #30)

  1. Ch. 3, "Subjectivism in Ethics" (Elements)
  2. "The Subjectivity of Values," J. L. Mackie (RTD, #6) [This defends a version of Ethical Subjectivism.]
  3. Richard Feldman on “Simple Moral Arguments”: http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/feldman-simple-moral-arguments.pdf
  4. "Is Homosexuality Unnatural?" Burton M. Leiser (RTD, #27) [This is an expanded version of the argument given on pp. 44-45 of Elements.]

Argument worksheet: http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/homosexuality-arguments.pdf

  1. Ch. 4, "Does Morality Depend on Religion?" (Elements)
  2. Fred Feldman on abortion: http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/fred_feldman_on_abortion.pdf
  3. "On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion / Postscript on Infanticide," Mary Anne Warren (RTD, #13)
  4. "Why Abortion Is Immoral," Don Marquis (RTD, #11) [One aspect of the abortion debate is discussed on pp. 57-61 of Elements.]
  5. "A Defense of Abortion," Judith Jarvis Thomson (RTD, #12)

Argument worksheet: http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/abortion-worksheet.pdf

  1. Ch. 5, "Ethical Egoism" (Elements)
  2. "9/11 and Starvation," Mylan Engel, Jr. (RTD, #17) [Poverty is discussed on pp. 62-63 of Elements.]
  3. "The Singer Solution to World Poverty," Peter Singer (RTD, #18)

Argument worksheet: http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/poverty-arguments.pdf

  1. "Is Racial Discrimination Arbitrary?" Peter Singer (RTD, #32) [This essay asks whether "The Principle of Equal Treatment" (as we call it on p. 77 of Elements) applies to three difficult test cases.]

  1. Ch. 6, "The Idea of a Social Contract" (Elements)
  2. "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail," Martin Luther King, Jr. (RTD, #31) [King's letter is quoted on pp. 90-91 of Elements.]
  3. "In Defense of Quotas," James Rachels (RTD, #33) [This reading goes with King's "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail." In King's day, America was so racist that preferential quotas were justified. Are they justified today?]

  1. Ch. 7, "The Utilitarian Approach" (Elements)
  2. "Utilitarianism," John Stuart Mill (RTD, #3)
  3. “One Nurse’s Story,” http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/one_nurses_story.pdf
  4. "The Morality of Euthanasia," James Rachels (RTD, #34) [Euthanasia is discussed on pp. 98-101 of Elements.]
  5. "Assisted Suicide: Pro-Choice or Anti-Life?" Richard Doerflinger (RTD, #35) [Assisted suicide is different from euthanasia, but the topics are similar.]

  1. "America's Unjust Drug War," Michael Huemer (RTD, #26) [Marijuana is discussed on pp. 101-104 of Elements.]

  1. "All Animals Are Equal," Peter Singer (RTD, #14) [The treatment of animals is discussed on pp. 104-108 of Elements.]
  2. "Torturing Puppies and Eating Meat: It's All in Good Taste," Alastair Norcross (RTD, #15)
  3. "Do Animals Have Rights?" Tibor R. Machan (RTD, #16)
  4. “Reasonable Humans and Animals,” John Simmons: http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/veg.pdf

Argument worksheet: http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/veg-responses.pdf

  1. Ch. 8, "The Debate over Utilitarianism" (Elements)
  2. "Utilitarianism and Integrity," Bernard Williams (RTD, #4) [This selection presents Williams' most famous objection to Utilitarianism.]
  3. "The Experience Machine," Robert Nozick (RTD, #5) [This selection presents Nozick's most famous objection to Hedonist Utilitarianism.]

  1. Ch. 9, "Are There Absolute Moral Rules?" (Elements)
  2. "The Categorical Imperative," Immanuel Kant (RTD, #7) [The Categorical Imperative is discussed on pp. 127-129 of Elements.]
  3. "The Ethics of War and Peace," Douglas P. Lackey (RTD, #19) [The Allies' conduct of the Second World War is discussed on pp. 124-126 of Elements.]
  4. "Fifty Years after Hiroshima," John Rawls (RTD, #20) [The bombing of Hiroshima is discussed on pp. 124-126 of Elements.]
  5. "What Is Wrong with Terrorism?" Thomas Nagel (RTD, #21) [The readings on war and terrorism go together. Also, Nagel implies that the prohibition on aiming at the death of a harmless person is an absolute moral rule.]
  6. "The War on Terrorism and the End of Human Rights," David Luban (RTD, #22) [This continues the themes of war and terrorism.]
  7. "Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb," David Luban (RTD, #23) [One may ask: is the prohibition on torture an absolute moral rule?]

  1. Ch. 10, "Kant and Respect for Persons" (Elements)
  2. "A Defense of the Death Penalty," Louis P. Pojman (RTD, #24) [Punishment is discussed on pp. 139-145 of Elements. We discuss the death penalty specifically on p. 143.]
  3. "Why the United States Will Join the Rest of the World in Abandoning Capital Punishment," Stephen B. Bright (RTD, #25)

  1. Ch. 11, "Feminism and the Ethics of Care" (Elements)
  2. "Caring Relations and Principles of Justice," Virginia Held (RTD, #10) [See pp. 152-157 of Elements.]

  1. Ch. 12, "The Ethics of Virtue" (Elements)
  2. "The Virtues," Aristotle (RTD, #8)
  3. "Master Morality and Slave Morality," Friedrich Nietzsche (RTD, #9) [Nietzsche glorifies the virtues of "master morality" and ridicules the vices of "slave morality."]

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