Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Introduction to Philosophical Ethics, PHI 302, Spring 2011

“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

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, Sale Hall 105: Intro to Philosophical Ethics - 42703 - HPHI 302G - 03

12- 12:50 PM course, Sale Hall 105: Intro to Philosophical Ethics - 41166 - HPHI 302G - 01

1-1:50 PM course, Sale Hall 105: Intro to Philosophical Ethics - 41167 - HPHI 302G - 02

Course webpage:

Email announcement group:

Instructor: Nathan Nobis, Ph.D.,

Email & Webpage: ;

Telephone: 404-215-2607

Office: Sale Hall 113, Philosophy & Religion Department

Office Hours: 2:00-3 PM MW 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.

4. REQUIRED MATERIALS, which should always be brought to class.

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. Additional materials will be posted online and/or handed out in class.

5. ASSIGNMENTS & GRADING: Details on these assignments will be provided soon.

• Weekly writing assignments on the readings, always due Monday. (30% of total grade)

• 5 Quizzes. Instead of having a traditional midterm and final exam, we will have some shorter quizzes that cover less material and provide more immediate feedback on your progress. (40% of total grade)

• 5 Argumentative Essays / “Philosophical Lab Reports” / Longer writing assignments (approx 5 pages) (30% of total grade)

Plagiarism is not allowed and will be severely penalized.

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:

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:

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.]