Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fall 2014 Syllabus

Introduction to Philosophical Ethics, PHI 302
Fall 2014


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.

12:00 pm - 12:50 pm
Sale Hall 107
Aug 20, 2014 - Dec 12, 2014

Nathan M. Nobis (P) class ID # for 12 PM class   8427762 , password= ethics

1:00 pm - 1:50 pm
Sale Hall 107
Aug 20, 2014 - Dec 12, 2014
Nathan M. Nobis class ID number for 1 PM class = 8427773  , password = ethics

Email group:  [ please sign up ]
Calendar: [please sync calendar]

Instructor:      Nathan Nobis, Ph.D.,
Telephone:                 404-215-2607 office; 404-825-1740 cell
Office:                         Sale Hall 113, Philosophy & Religion Department
Office Hours:             MWF 11-12; M 2-3; 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  and precise moral conclusions 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, drug use and the criminalization of drug use, vegetarianism and the treatment of animals, euthanasia and assisted suicide, 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:
·         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;
·         write clear, concise and simple grammatical, spelling-error-free sentences and well-organized expository and argumentative essays, as taught in Introductory English courses;
·         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 logically invalid  and (2) sound or unsound  (i.e., logically valid with true premises, or not).
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. Students will be better able to evaluate their own moral views and create their own moral 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:
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, 2012) (7th edition is ideal, but any will do).
  2. James and Stuart Rachels, eds. The Right Thing to Do (McGraw Hill Publishing, 2012) 6th edition is ideal, but any edition will do: however, students are responsible for getting copies of any readings in the current edition not found in prior editions).
  3. Bryan Garner, HBR (Harvard Business Review) Guide to Better Business Writing (2013):

Computer Policy:
Unless authorized for a specific purpose, there will be no computer or phone use in class, not even for taking notes. This is because scientific research has shown that computer use in class is contrary to legitimate educational goals. See
Thus, any “electronic readings” must be brought in hardcopy also.

All writing is done for an audience: for this class you should always assume that your readers are not familiar with the course material so you must explain everything very clearly for them, so that they understand and learn from you! You must intentionally focus on effective communication of complex ideas and arguments.


Discussing readings and assignments is highly encouraged, but each student must always do his or her own written work, unless specifically told otherwise. 

  1. 10 weekly short writing assignments, often on the readings, usually due Monday at the time of class, submitted to the system (see above for the Course ID and password): 5 points each, 50 points total.
    • There will likely be options for many of the writing assignments; generally they are opportunities for the student to explain the issues and arguments and so teach the material to someone else. Two typical options are these:
      • A very detailed outlines or summaries of some assigned readings. You will want them to be so detailed that you can use them for a detailed open outline quiz.
      • Alternatively, an essay where you explain the main topic of the reading, the main conclusion(s) advanced in the reading, the main reason(s) given in favor of that conclusion; that argument stated in logically valid form and your evaluation of the argument as sound or unsound. This essay should also be so detailed that it could be used for an open-note quiz.
  2. Group project: an online educational tool: a webpage or blog, made in groups of 2 or 3 (and no more), that introduces a moral issue, explains how to identify and evaluate moral argument, presents and critically evaluates at least 5 arguments concerning that issue and thus teachers the reader or viewer how to think about that moral issue. 20 points.
  3. Argumentative paper (approximately 5 pages) or lecture or speech (around 15 minutes) done on webcam (or an alternative) and posted online (privately or publicly). 20 points. Including rough drafts, peer and instructor review and revisions. See:
  4. One “service project,” that will involve engaging some aspect of the community (such as other AUC students) regarding some moral issue. There will be a variety of options here including volunteering (at some organization that addresses a moral issue), interview projects, hosting a forum, showing a film and holding a discussion, and more. 20 points. See
  5. A “comparative ethics” project: find, on your own, a writing that presents a non-United States (or non-north-American) and non-European perspective on a contemporary moral issue that we discuss: so, e.g., an African or Asian or South American or other perspective on a moral issue. Write up a report on the arguments presented and evaluate the arguments. Details forthcoming. 10 points.
  6. 3 Tests: In class. 20 points each, 60 points total.

  1. Attendance and participation, including taking class notes is required. Attendance will be taken at the beginning of class. Each unexcused absence after 4 will result in a 2% reduction from the student’s overall grade. Unexcused tardiness will result in 1% reduction.
  2. EXTRA CREDIT ASSIGNMENTS. There likely will be many extra credit opportunities, including this assignment related to finding your “calling” through your career(s):

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. Do not work with other students unless instructed to do so.

Assignments will be posted in class, on the calendar , blog, and email list.

First reading and writing assignments:

For next Monday and Wednesday (August 25 & 27) we will discuss logic:
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:
Also read, Weston, Preface, Introduction, chapter on Deductive Arguments

Handouts on Overview of Logic & Arguments
· Overview of Basic Moral Evaluations: Morally Permissible, Obligatory, Impermissible/Wrong
o   Available in Making Moral Progress here, in the section “Right and Wrong? Wrong”:

For next Friday (August 29):
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: 

DUE (Monday September 1): WITHOUT READING ANYTHING ABOUT THESE TOPICS – E.G., DO NOT SEARCH THE INTERNET – please write a short (2-3 page) essay that addresses one of these questions:
·         Is it wrong to use illegal drugs, such as marijuana?
·         Suppose a married woman did not any more children but became pregnant. She could raise another child but does not want to. Would it be wrong for her to have an abortion? Assume the father would support her decision, whatever it is.
·         Are racism and/or sexism wrong? Why?
·         Is the death penalty wrong?
·         Is affirmative action wrong?
·         Or another moral issue, with approval of the instructor, but not homosexuality or the treatment of animals.

Please discuss at least three arguments relevant to the issue.

Please write this essay on the basis of what you already know: again, please do not do any research for this paper (if you do, Turnitin might reveal that and you will be penalized!). This is an assignment to measure where you are at now. If you take it seriously and put in a good effort, your grade will reflect that. J

For Wednesday, September 3, Ch. 1, "What is Morality?" (Elements of Moral Philosophy, EMP):
Writing assignment 1: very detailed summary OR OUTLINE of this chapter, covering every section.  Due that Wednesday via Turnitin.

After this, we will briefly review the later chapters on utilitarian and Kantian moral theory in greater detail, discuss John Rawls’s moral theory, an African ethical theory [ some writings from [and then return to earlier chapters of the Elements of Moral Philosophy and related readings in The Right Thing to Do.

Order of Readings, subject to change with student input. 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:

Weston, Preface, Introduction, chapter on Deductive Arguments

2.      James Rachels, "A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy" (RTD, #1). Available here if you don’t yet have the books:  

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

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,
    • Also, male circumcision.
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”:
13.  Video on Simple Moral Arguments:
14.  "Is Homosexuality Unnatural?" Burton M. Leiser (in older versions of RTD) [This is an expanded version of the argument given on pp. 44-45 of Elements.]
Video: John Corvino: “What’s Morally Wrong with Homosexuality?”

Blog/webpage small group assignment

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.  Nobis, Nathan and Jarr-Koroma, Abubakarr Sidique (2010) "Abortion and Moral Arguments From Analogy," The American Journal of Bioethics, 10: 12, 59 — 61

19.  Ch. 5, "Ethical Egoism" (Elements)
20.  Materials on “Effective Altruism”:
21.  "9/11 and Starvation," Mylan Engel, Jr. (online) [Poverty is discussed on pp. 62-63 of Elements.]
22.  "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:
  • 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.
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.  "The Wrongfulness of Euthanasia,” J. Gay-Williams

31.  "America's Unjust Drug War," Michael Huemer (RTD, #26) [Marijuana is discussed on pp. 101-104 of Elements.]
32.  Videos / readings by Michelle Alexander on THE NEW JIM CROW:

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:

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.  “Hellhole,” Atul Gawande (RTD)
42.  "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.]
43.  "Fifty Years after Hiroshima," John Rawls (RTD, #20) [The bombing of Hiroshima is discussed on pp. 124-126 of Elements.]
44.  "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.]
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) 

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