Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fall 2010 Syllabus

“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



Introduction to Philosophical Ethics, PHI 302


PDF of Syllabus is here.

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.

11- 11:50 AM course: 47947 - HPHI 302G - 06 (Turnitin Course Code 3418227; password is ethics)

12- 12:50 PM course: 47942 - HPHI 302G - 01 (Turnitin Course Code 3418262; password is ethics)

1-1:50 PM course: 47943 - HPHI 302G - 02 (Turnitin Course Code 3418227; password is ethics)

Course webpage: http://philosophy302.blogspot.com

Email announcement group: http://groups.google.com/group/philosophy302/

Insite/Turnitin anti-plagiarism page: http://insite.turnitin.com/

Instructor: Nathan Nobis, Ph.D.,

Email & Webpage: nathan.nobis@gmail.com ; www.NathanNobis.com

Telephone: 404-215-2607

Office: Sale Hall 113, Philosophy & Religion Department

Office Hours: 1:00-2:00 PM MWF and by appointment.

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 (i.e., unambiguous) and precise moral conclusions (i.e., exact perspectives taken on moral issues) 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, vegetarianism and the treatment of animals, euthanasia and assisted suicide, drug use, 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:

a. 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;

b. write clear, concise and simple grammatical, spelling-error-free sentences and well-organized expository and argumentative essays, as taught in Introductory English courses;

c. 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.

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 (“text”) 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 invalid (or otherwise logically cogent) and (2) sound or unsound (or otherwise strong);

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.


  1. James and Stuart Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy (McGraw Hill Publishing) (Any edition).
  2. James and Stuart Rachels, eds. The Right Thing to Do, (McGraw Hill Publishing) 4th Ed. (Any edition will do, but students are responsible for getting copies of any readings in the current edition not found in prior editions).
  3. A Thompson Turnitin PIN code card, providing an account at http://insite.turnitin.com, available for purchase at the bookstore. This webpage identifies plagiarism and is students are required to submit written work through it.

NOTE: 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 must contact customer service here: http://www.cengage.com/support/ or http://kb.cengage.com/display/InsiteTurnitin/InSite+-+TurnItIn

Or 1-800-354-9706 Option 5, then Option 2, Mon-Thur 8:30am to 9:00pm EST, Friday 8:30am to 6:00pm EST


a. OPS papers: (5 points each; approx. 12 assignments; approx. 60 points total)

The absolute most important thing you can do to succeed in this class is to do the reading, do the reading well and do it on time. You have done the reading well if you are able to accurately explain the overall structure and main arguments of the chapter or essay. To do this well, you need to create write notes on the reading, a detailed Outline, Paraphrase or Summary of the chapter or essay. This must address all the sections of the chapter and explain all the main arguments. In most cases, an adequate job on this assignment will require at least 3-4 pages. These must be turned in via Turnitin and in hardcopy, with a print out of your Turnitin “receipt” attached to the hardcopy.

b. Essays: (10 points each; 6 assignments; 60 points total).

All except the first are argumentative essays, where a moral conclusion is defended with reasons and objections are raise and responded to. These must be turned in via Turnitin and in hardcopy, with a print out of your Turnitin “receipt” attached to the hardcopy of the paper.

c. Midterm and Final Exams: (30 points each; 60 points total)

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.

d. Attendance, punctuality and participation is required.

Attendance will be taken at the beginning of class. Students are allowed three absences for any reason: beyond that, unexcused absences will cost 2% off the final grade. Tardiness will also be penalized.

e. 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 3-4 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 be announced by the email group. These must be turned in via Turnitin and in hardcopy, with a print out of your Turnitin “receipt” attached to the hardcopy of the paper.

Note: Grades in this course are determined solely by the quantity, quality and timeliness of the academic work done: nothing else is relevant. Any student who “needs” a particular grade to keep a scholarship, stay in school, apply for some program or job, etc. is encouraged to earn that grade by doing the work required to earn that grade. No pleading will be considered, no grade changes will be made, and no Incompletes will be given, except for legitimate reasons (e.g., grade miscalculation, official College excuse, etc.).


“The Division of Humanities & Social Sciences at Morehouse College endorses the highest standards and expectations of academic honesty and integrity. Plagiarism or any other form of academic dishonesty will not be tolerated. Sanctions for violation of these standards include possible suspension or dismissal from the College. It is each student’s responsibility to be familiar with the expected codes of conduct as outlined in the College Catalogue and Student Handbook.”

Cheating and plagiarism are forms of lying (to the instructor, the school, future teachers and employers, and yourself, among others), theft (of other people’s ideas and words), unfairness (to other students who do the work as they should) and are grounds for failing the course. If you submit a plagiarized paper (e.g., a paper you took in whole or in part from the internet or some other illegitimate source, such as a peer who has had this course before), the instructor (with the help of the Turnitin software) will notice this and you will then fail this course immediately. Although we will discuss this, it is your responsibility to know what plagiarism is. Any plagiarism or cheating on any assignment – including any extra credit assignments – will immediately result in failing the course: no exceptions, no excuses.

Here are some suggestions to avoid plagiarism: do not check the internet for anything related to your papers: instead use the texts required for the course and think for yourself; do not take phrases from the texts; put all of your writings in your own words; do not cut and paste anything from the internet into your paper; do not visit Wikipedia, an extremely unreliable source for academic philosophy; do not take articles from online encyclopedias; do not visit online dictionaries; use an acceptable citation method (e.g., MLA, APA, etc.), which you learned to do in Introductory English courses or you will lose points. If you would like additional sources to learn more about a topic, see the instructor.

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 http://philosophy302.blogspot.com. 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: http://groups.google.com/group/philosophy302/
  • Start the readings below:

No class Friday, August 27: Instructor out of town at an academic conference.

First reading assignments; dates TBA:

o Rachels, The Right Thing to Do (RTD: Ch. 2, “Some Basic Points About Arguments,” available here if you don’t yet have the books: http://aphilosopher.googlepages.com/rachels-on-arguments.pdf

Handouts on Overview of Logic & Arguments



· Overview of Basic Moral Evaluations: Permissible, Obligatory, Impermissible/Wrong

o See pp. 3, 5-8; also discusses logic and moral theories:


o Rachels, The Right Thing to Do: 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

o Ch. 1, "What is Morality?" (Elements of Moral Philosophy, EMP) OPS Writing Assignment on Chapter 1, the whole chapter.

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

Order of Readings:

1. "Some Basic Points about Arguments," James Rachels (RTD, #2). Available here if you don’t yet have the books: http://aphilosopher.googlepages.com/rachels-on-arguments.pdf

Logic Handout 1: http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/arguments.pdf

Logic Handout 2: http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/validargumentforms.pdf

2. James Rachels, "A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy" (RTD, #1). Available here if you don’t yet have the books: http://aphilosopher.googlepages.com/rachels-intro-to-ethics.pdf

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

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

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

6. “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

7. "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.]

8. "Our Sexual Ethics," Bertrand Russell (RTD, #29)

9. "Alcohol and Rape," Nicholas Dixon (RTD, #30)

10. Ch. 3, "Subjectivism in Ethics" (Elements)

11. "The Subjectivity of Values," J. L. Mackie (RTD, #6) [This defends a version of Ethical Subjectivism.]

12. Richard Feldman on “Simple Moral Arguments”: http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/feldman-simple-moral-arguments.pdf

13. "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

14. Ch. 4, "Does Morality Depend on Religion?" (Elements)

15. Fred Feldman on abortion: http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/fred_feldman_on_abortion.pdf

16. "On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion / Postscript on Infanticide," Mary Anne Warren (RTD, #13)

17. "Why Abortion Is Immoral," Don Marquis (RTD, #11) [One aspect of the abortion debate is discussed on pp. 57-61 of Elements.]

18. "A Defense of Abortion," Judith Jarvis Thomson (RTD, #12)

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

19. Ch. 5, "Ethical Egoism" (Elements)

20. "9/11 and Starvation," Mylan Engel, Jr. (RTD, #17) [Poverty is discussed on pp. 62-63 of Elements.]

21. "The Singer Solution to World Poverty," Peter Singer (RTD, #18)

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

22. "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.]

23. Ch. 6, "The Idea of a Social Contract" (Elements)

24. "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail," Martin Luther King, Jr. (RTD, #31) [King's letter is quoted on pp. 90-91 of Elements.]

25. "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?]

26. Ch. 7, "The Utilitarian Approach" (Elements)

27. "Utilitarianism," John Stuart Mill (RTD, #3)

28. “One Nurse’s Story,” http://sites.google.com/site/nobisphilosophy/one_nurses_story.pdf

29. "The Morality of Euthanasia," James Rachels (RTD, #34) [Euthanasia is discussed on pp. 98-101 of Elements.]

30. "Assisted Suicide: Pro-Choice or Anti-Life?" Richard Doerflinger (RTD, #35) [Assisted suicide is different from euthanasia, but the topics are similar.]

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

32. "All Animals Are Equal," Peter Singer (RTD, #14) [The treatment of animals is discussed on pp. 104-108 of Elements.]

33. "Torturing Puppies and Eating Meat: It's All in Good Taste," Alastair Norcross (RTD, #15)

34. "Do Animals Have Rights?" Tibor R. Machan (RTD, #16)

35. “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

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

37. "Utilitarianism and Integrity," Bernard Williams (RTD, #4) [This selection presents Williams' most famous objection to Utilitarianism.]

38. "The Experience Machine," Robert Nozick (RTD, #5) [This selection presents Nozick's most famous objection to Hedonist Utilitarianism.]

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

40. "The Categorical Imperative," Immanuel Kant (RTD, #7) [The Categorical Imperative is discussed on pp. 127-129 of Elements.]

41. "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.]

42. "Fifty Years after Hiroshima," John Rawls (RTD, #20) [The bombing of Hiroshima is discussed on pp. 124-126 of Elements.]

43. "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.]

44. "The War on Terrorism and the End of Human Rights," David Luban (RTD, #22) [This continues the themes of war and terrorism.]

45. "Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb," David Luban (RTD, #23) [One may ask: is the prohibition on torture an absolute moral rule?]

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

47. "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.]

48. "Why the United States Will Join the Rest of the World in Abandoning Capital Punishment," Stephen B. Bright (RTD, #25)

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

50. "Caring Relations and Principles of Justice," Virginia Held (RTD, #10) [See pp. 152-157 of Elements.]

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

52. "The Virtues," Aristotle (RTD, #8)

53. "Master Morality and Slave Morality," Friedrich Nietzsche (RTD, #9) [Nietzsche glorifies the virtues of "master morality" and ridicules the vices of "slave morality."]

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