Philosophy 302-01, Fall, 2010

Office Hours in RH-428   (445-4489) 

Issues in Ethics: Developing Philosophical  

MWF 9:35-10:20 AM and by appointment

     Responses to Moral Challenges 

 Le Moyne College website:

Prof. Michael Kagan


Objectives  - Three goals of this course are to:

(1) introduce students to philosophical debates on moral problems of present concern;
(2) present criticisms that will aid students in evaluating some of the  relevant arguments;
(3) help students better develop and defend their own positions.

Required Texts

Orson Scott Card's Maps in a Mirror. Tom Doherty Associates, Inc., 1990; Orb Books,  2004. 
Nel Noddings' Caring:  A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, second edition.  University of California Press, 2003.
Mark Timmons' Moral Theory:  An Introduction.  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002.

Either one of the Wellman or Wenar readings on rights recommended for the third topic, below.

Recommended Reading:

Carl Wellman's Morals and Ethics, second edition. Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1988. (This text will be on reserve at the library.)
Other readings will be recommended during the semester.  Some are indicated below.

Method:  As time permits, we will consider six moral problems and related philosophical ethical issues as follows:


Theoretical Issue

Reading from Card's Maps in a Mirror

From Noddings' Caring/Timmons' Moral Theory

Recommended readings

1. Civil Disobedience

Right and Wrong

"Unaccompanied Sonata"

Timmons, Chs. 1-9; Noddings, Chs. 1-7

Wellman, Chs. 1-2; Plato's Crito; Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail"; Henry David Thoreau's "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience"

2Genetic Engineering

The Good

"Gert Fram," "The Best Day," "The Porcelain Salamander"

All of Noddings & Timmons.

Wellman, Chs. 3-4; Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics -  W.D. Ross's translation can be found on line at The Internet Classics Archive,

3Smoker's Rights

What is a right?

"Bicicleta" ; "Prior Restraint"

Noddings, Ch. 5-7; either of the recommended readings

Wellman, Ch. 10;  Leif Wenar's "Rights" in the Online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP),

4Legality of Abortion

The purpose of the law

"Unaccompanied Sonata"; "Prior Restraint"

Timmons, 2, 4, 6, & 7; Noddings, Ch. 4

Wellman, Chs. 7 & 8

5Death Penalty

How can anyone one ever know which act is right?  (Moral Knowledge)

"Unaccompanied Sonata," "Middle Woman," "A Thousand Deaths"

Timmons, Ch. 10;  Noddings, Chs. 4 & 8

Wellman, Chs. 11 & 12; Rosemarie Tong's "Feminist Ethics" (SEP),

6Leadership under uncertainty

Virtue/Human Excellence


"Ender's Game,"  "Middle Woman"

Timmons, especially Chs. 2-3 ,&  8-11; Noddings, including the Preface & Introduction

Wellman, Chs. 6 & 12; Gary Marcus, Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in the Markets and Life; The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable; Epictetus, Handbook (The Enchiridion) and The Discourses, Plato, Apology;  Lau Tzu. Tao Te Ching; Card's novel, Ender's Game






    These issues will be treated in lectures and discussions as the course progresses. During the discussions students will have an opportunity to make sense out of and criticize other positions, and to develop and defend their own reasoned conclusions.
    To confirm students' familiarity with the material and the basics of the various positions, a midterm and final exam will be given. In these exams, the student will be asked to use specific moral theories to defend and criticize a position regarding a moral problem discussed in class.  For example, a students may be asked how a utilitarian would answer the question, "is the genetic engineering of human beings ever right?"; and then asked to explain how someone might criticize that response on the basis of Noddings'  work or W.D. Ross's theory of obligation. On the midterm and final exams, an additional question will be asked concerning issues suggested by class discussions, presentations, reading assignments, and group work.
    The exams are primarily related to the first two objectives of this course concerning criticism of and familiarity with philosophical debates on moral problems of present concern. It is also hoped that preparation for the exams will help students satisfy the third goal of developing and defending their own positions on these and related issues. For those student who wish to do more work in this area. there is an optional paper assignment.

    1.  Participation.  Valuable contributions to discussions may figure to the student's benefit in determining grades.  Grades are based on a 10 point scale as follows:
90-100 - 'A' range (97-100 = A+; 94-96=A; 90-93=A-).
80-89  - 'B' range (87-89 = B+; 84-86=B; 80-83=B-).
70-79  - 'C' range (77-79 = C+; 74-76=C; 70-73=C-).
60-69  - 'D' range (67-69 = D+; 64-66=D; 60-63=D-).
Below 60 - 'F'.
    2.  Exams. Students are expected to be familiar with the material in the lectures, discussions, and the required texts. This familiarity will be evaluated in the midterm and cumulative final (
Wednesday, December 15, 2010, 3:00 - 5:30 PM). These each constitute 1/2 of the grade. However, if the final is better, it will be given more weight.
    3.  Optional Assignment : Each student will be given a chance to develop and defend his or her own position in a paper on one of the moral problems or theoretical issues discussed in this course. Students are encouraged to consider problems not explicitly treated in the course, e.g.:

1. Is war always wrong?
2. Is the use of psychological testimony in the courts on a par with allegations of witchcraft?
3. Should cigarette smoking be illegal?
4. Is cigarette smoking ever justified?
5. Is the use of alcohol (or marijuana or cocaine or . . . ) good or bad?
6. Should men (or women) have a genuinely equal right to work outside the home?
7. Should men (or women) have a genuinely equal right to work inside the home?
8. Is adultery always wrong?
9. The laws on rape should be . . . . . .
10. Ethical Relativism (pro or con).
11. Why be moral?
12. Ethical Egoism (pro or con).
13. Justification in Ethics.
14. Religion and ethics.
15. Is it wrong to eat meat?
16. Animal rights.
17. Should aborted fetuses be used for research or treatment?
18. The obligations of the living to the dying.
19. The obligations of the dying to the living.
20. Should it be legally permissible to produce clones of lost children as replacements?
21.  Would cloning oneself for child-raising purposes produce more good than bad in the long run?
22.  Is it ever morally right to require lie-detector tests for employment?
23.  Other topics .


    Students are encouraged to treat topics of their own choosing. If, however, you decide to do so, please confirm your topic with me in advance. Whatever your topic, please feel free to consult me regarding bibliography, style, or as a devil's advocate.
    Criteria for evaluation of the optional paper: The paper is to be a defense of one claim or proposal related to the issue in question. Students should explicitly state the claim they are defending, make a brief case for its importance, develop their arguments carefully, consider objections, show awareness of alternatives and criticisms of their own position. Students are to assume they are not preaching to the converted: The paper should be structured in form and content as if it were being addressed to an audience consisting of the undecided and the reasonable opposition. The paper should be approximately 5-7 pages in length. The paper is to be turned in TWICE, on the dates indicated below. The 1st draft will be graded and given comments that I hope will aid you in the revision. If you are satisfied with the first grade or decide to accept it for some other reason, you have the option of returning the paper "as-is" with its comments on Wed., Dec.1.   If you do so, your grade on the paper will be the grade you received on the first draft. If you opt to revise, you will receive the grade of the revision, if higher (and the grade on the draft, if not). The paper grade will replace the lower of the midterm or final grade. Students who receive a C or better on the paper can choose to accept that grade instead of taking the final exam. 


In coordination with the
Academic Support Center (ASC), reasonable accommodations are provided for qualified students with disabilities. Please register with the ASC Office for disability verification and determination of reasonable accommodations. After receiving your accommodation form from the ASC, you will need to make an appointment with each of us to review the form and discuss your needs. Please make every attempt to meet with us within the first week of class so your accommodations can be provided in a timely manner. You can either stop by the ASC, Library, 1st floor, or email, or call (445-4118-voice or 445-4104-TDD) to make an appointment.


No class or office hours on the following dates:   Mon., Sept. 6,  Labor Day;  Wed. Sep. 8, Mass of the Holy Spirit (classes canceled 10:30 AM - 12:30 PM; Classes resume at 1:30), Thurs., Sep. 9 (Rosh HaShanah); Oct. 11-12, Fall Break; Nov. 24-27, Thanksgiving Break.  
   Last day of class:  Dec. 10 (Fri.)  Course Evaluations (if not already completed). 

In-class Midterm exam: Wed., Nov. 17.  This exam concerns material covered as of Fri., Nov 12.
Fri., October 15 - optional paper proposals are due. 
Mon., Nov. 15 - first draft of optional paper due. 
Wed., Dec 1 - 2d draft of optional paper due
Final exam: Wednesday, December 15, 2010, 3:00 - 5:30 PM.   This exam concerns material covered as of Fri., Dec. 10.



If campus/dorms are closed due to flu or other circumstances, my intent is that the course continue.    Assignments continue to be due by email. Presentations will be replaced by papers, virtual presentations, or extended descriptions of  presentations.  In addition to notes and group work already available there on-line,  I will post updates, lecture notes, etc.,  to my Le Moyne College website at


As at other times, if your situation results in your needing an extension, please let me know.  Also, if internet service is down or there are other infrastructure problems, please complete the assignments and turn them in when services are restored.


Questions, comments, additions, and corrections are welcome.
Please send them to

back to Kagan's homepage at

other materials for PHL 302, Issues in Ethics (links, handouts, etc.)