Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Reminder: please reread EMP CH 1 for Wed & Friday of this week.

New assignment: detailed summary of EMP Ch 2 for next Monday.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hi all,
Friday we developed some lists of morally wrong and MP/MO/otherwise good actions. We will use these lists as "data" and ask what it is about these, say, wrong actions that *makes* them wrong, and what it is about the non-wrong actions that *makes* them not wrong. We will develop some explanations or hypotheses (some moral theories). We will them compare our theories to some of the most historically influential theories found in the "Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy" article.

The reading and writing assignments for Monday are found on the blog.

Here are those lists/charts:

Actions that you  think almost everybody would think are obviously wrong. VIVID, Extreme and gruesome!

Actions that you  think almost everybody would think is MP, MO or GOOD – not wrong!

Actions that you  think almost everybody would think are obviously wrong
-       Specific examples
Actions that you  think almost everybody would think is MP, MO or GOOD – not wrong
-       Embezzlement
-       Torturing people for fun
-       Needless cannibalism ?
-       Rape
-       Body dismemberment
-       Not cleaning up after dog
-       Massacring THIS CLASS
-       Incest? = abusive relationships
-       Pedophilia
-       Kidnapping
-       Punting “little people” who don’t want it
-       Wealthy person stealing from a church or charity
-       Killing people for for status.. for their shoes..
-       Chattel Slavery
-       Preventing women from voting
-       Holocaust
-       Genocide …
-       Apartheid
-       Arson
-       Cheating on spouse who expects to not be cheated on
-       Nuclear attack
-       Needless cannibalism ?
Going to church
Donating organs
Saving someone’s life..
Giving blood.
Going to class
Community service.. helping others
Giving to charity.
Protecting pregnant women.
Being responsible for your own children.
Being clean.

Actions (or character traits) that you think almost everybody would think are obviously wrong
-       Vivid, extreme, gruesome examples. Specific examples

-       Chopping off limbs for a hobby
-       Child abuse .. beating your child
-       Child molestation..
-       Littering
-       Stealing organs
-       Rape ..
-       Not saving someone’s life if you could easily do so.
-       Drunk driving..
-       Identify theft
-       Killing someone for a dirty look .. or stepping on shoes.. or for shoes.
-       Making 5 year olds smoke cigarettes
-       Racism
-       Slavery
-       Hitler
-       Holocaust
-       Genocide – massacring people for no good reason
-       Drag racing?
-       Beating up people and bullying people just because weaker..

Actions (or character traits) that you  think almost everybody would think is MP, MO or GOOD – not wrong


-Donating to charity
Organ donor
-Saving a drowning person in a pool
-NOT cheating on your spouse who reasonably expects to not be cheated on…
- being healthy
- helping others..
- helping lost child find their parents at Wal Mart
- preventing a kidnapping.

Being truthful


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Due Monday; EMP Ch 1 next week

Due to the late adds, there are some extensions in due dates on the two first writing assignments, both of which are now due Monday (but they can be turned in early, of course!).

Always put your class time and email on your papers/written work.
Always staple them.
1. Although you must read the entire chapter, in this writing assignment please summarize and explain the moral theories discusses in the second half of the article, "A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy," beginning on page 5 with The Social Contract. Explain which theory or theories you think are best and why. At least 2-3 pages.  
2. Please write an extremely detailed summary of the all the sections of The Elements of Moral Philosophy chapter 1. At the end write down any questions you have about anything in the chapter. Likely 3-5 pages.   
Links for these chapters are available below on the blog and on the syllabus.

For Friday, please make two lists, as long as you can make them:

  • Actions that you think most people would think are obviously wrong.
  • Actions that you think most people would think are obviously morally permissible / obligatory / or otherwise good. 

Here are links for the readings thusfar: I repost them to delete the previous posts:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Spring 2012 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
Spring 2012

AVAILABLE IN PDF here: http://goo.gl/AbVOr

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.

12- 12:50 PM  course, Sale Hall 105: 47655 - HPHI 302G - 01: www.Turnitin.com class ID= 4715264
1-1:50 PM  course, Sale Hall 105: 47656 - HPHI 302G - 02 : www.Turnitin.com classs ID= 4715266

Instructor: Nathan Nobis, Ph.D., www.NathanNobis.com
Preferred Email: nathan.nobis@gmail.com (preferred email); nnobis@morehouse.edu
Telephone: 404-215-2607
Office: Sale Hall 113, Philosophy & Religion Department
Office Hours: 11-12 MWF and 2-4 M, occasionally 2-4 W and F and by appointment: please email!

Department of Philosophy and Religion: Mission and Objectives:

The two-fold objective of this Department is to prepare students for graduate or professional study in the fields of philosophy and religious studies and to enable them to satisfy the College requirements in the general education program. The courses in philosophy and religion seek to provide the student not only with a firm base in these two academic disciplines, but also with a means for self-examination and self-orientation. The work in philosophy aims to develop a critical and analytical approach to all the major areas of human inquiry. The work in religion aims to describe, analyze and evaluate the role of religion in the life of humans since earliest times and how the religious quest continues as a variegated and often tortuous climb toward human growth and fulfillment.
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.

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: http://www.morehouse.edu/news/InsideMorehouse_w/dec10jan11/hbcu-energy.html
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) (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.

  • 12 weekly short writing assignments, often on the readings, usually due Monday at the time of class in hardcopy – no work will be accepted late -- and submitted to the Turnitin.com system, with a print out of your submission receipt attached the assignment (see above for the Course ID: 5 points each, 60 points total.
  • 3 Quizzes: In class. 20 points each, 60 points total.
  • 3 Argumentative essays (approx 5 pages): 20 points each, 60 points total.
  • Attendance and participation is required. Each unexcused absence after 4 will result in a 2 point reduction from students overall grade. Unexcused tardiness will result in 1 point reduction.

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.


Class attendance is required for all Morehouse College courses.  Each student is allowed four absences in this course. In addition, two late-arrivals will count as one absence. Students who are late are responsible for informing the instructor at the end of the class period that they are present, otherwise they may be recorded as absent.  Excuses for absences should be submitted no later than two weeks from occurrence. 
            Students who accumulate more than four officially unexcused absences may have their course grade lowered by two points for each absence.  Daily attendance will be recorded.  Each student should keep a record of his or her absences.  Students who miss exams or quizzes due to unexcused absences will not be allowed to make them up.  Students who fail to submit the essays on the due date, without official excuse, may be penalized.  Students who take a trip that is officially sponsored (and therefore excused) by the College must inform the instructor prior to the trip to discuss how their class work can be made up. Students should make a point of informing the instructor of any required special accommodation.

First assignments:

For next Wednesday (1/18), after MLK day:
o        Rachels, The Right Thing to Do (RTD: Ch. 2, “Some Basic Points About Arguments,” available here for students who 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: Morally Permissible, Obligatory, Impermissible/Wrong
For the next Monday (1/23):
o        Rachels, The Right Thing to Do: Ch.1 “A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy,” available here for students don’t yet have the books: http://aphilosopher.googlepages.com/rachels-intro-to-ethics.pdf 

For Wednesday (1/25) Ch. 1, "What is Morality?" (Elements of Moral Philosophy, EMP):
Writing assignment 1: very detailed summary of this chapter, covering every section. Due 1/25.

Order of Readings (however, 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 (RTD, #2). Available here if you don’t yet have the books: http://aphilosopher.googlepages.com/rachels-on-arguments.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.]
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 (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)

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)

  • 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.

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)
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

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)
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)