Philosophy  302-04, Fall, 2008

Office Hours in RH-428   (445-4489) 

Issues in Ethics: Developing Philosophical  

M 1:30-2:20 p.m.   TU & TH 2:25 -3:15 p.m.

     Responses to Moral Challenges 

  and by appointment.

Prof. Michael Kagan


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.


Carl Wellman's Morals and Ethics, second edition. Englewood  Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1988. (This text will be on reserve at the library.)
Orson Scott Card's Maps in a Mirror. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, Inc., 1990; and  Orb Books,  2004.  (This text will be available at the campus book store)


We will consider six moral problems and related philosophical ethical issues as follows:

Moral Problem                           Philosophical Ethical Issue

1. Civil Disobedience               The Nature of Right and Wrong
2. Genetic Engineering              The Good
3. Cheating in Academia            Moral Value
Abortion                                The End of the Law
5. Preferential Admissions        "A Right"
Capital Punishment                Moral Knowledge

    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 defend his or her own position concerning a moral problem discussed in class and a related philosophical issue covered before the exam (not necessarily the issue paired with that problem in class; e.g., on the final exam, the student might be asked to consider whether or not genetic engineering should be legal given the student's own views on the end of the law). 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.

  Attendance and Participation. Attendance is expected. Participation in discussions will figure to the student's benefit in determining grades. ATTENDANCE AND PARTICIPATION TOGETHER COUNT FOR 1/3 OF THE FINAL GRADE.  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 (Thursday, December 11, 2008, 3:00 - 5:00 P.M.).
These each constitute 1/3 of the grade. However, if the final is better, it will be given more weight.
    3.  Extra credit: 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?
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 extra credit 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 Nov. 24. 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). NOTE:  IF YOU DECIDE TO DO AN OPTIONAL PRESENTATION OF YOUR FINAL PAPER ON AUGUST 3, YOUR PAPER GRADE WILL BE AT LEAST 2 POINTS HIGHER THAN THE 1ST DRAFT GRADE.  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 classes or office hours on the following dates:   Mon., Sept. 1, Labor Day;  Tuesday, Sep. 30 (Rosh Ha Shanah); Thurs., Oct. 9, Yom Kippur; Oct. 13-14, Fall Break; Nov. 26-30, Thanksgiving Break. 
   Last day of class:  Dec. 1 (Monday).  Project proposals due Monday, Oct.  20.  

In-class midterm exam:
October 6
Nov 10 - first draft of optional paper due. 
Nov  24 - 2d draft of optional paper

Optional student presentations, Monday, December 1. 
Final exam: Thursday, December 11, 2008, 3:00 - 5:00 p.m.

#1 (August 25)  Introduction to the subject.  The usefulness of worrying ahead.  Theory and practice.
No classes or office hours, Mon., Sept. 1, Labor Day

#2 (September 8)  Civil Disobedience.  Read Wellman, Chapter 1.  Read Card's "Unaccompanied Sonata."
The Nature of Right and Wrong.  Read Wellman, Chapter 2.
#3 (9/15) Genetic Engineering.  Read Wellman, Chapter 3.  Read Card's "Gert Fram."
 The Good.  Read Wellman, Chapter 4.  Read Card's "The Best Day."
#4(9/22) Are cheaters qua cheaters morally evil?  Read Wellman, Chapter 5.
Moral Value.  Read Wellman, Chapter 6.  Read Card's "The Porcelain Salamander" and "Middle Woman."
#5 (9/29) Abortion.  Read Wellman, Chapter 7.
The End of the Law.  Read Wellman, Chapter 8.  Read Card's "Prior restraint."
#6 (October 6) Review session for October 6 midterm exam. 
Oct. 13-14, Fall Break
#7 (10/20) Preferential Admissions.  Read Wellman, Chapter 9. Read Card, "Bicicleta."  What is "A Right"?  Read Wellman, Chapter 10.
#8 (10/27) Is Capital Punishment ever right?  Read Wellman, Chapter 11. Read Card's "A Thousand Deaths" and "Sandmagic."
#9 (November 3) How can anyone one ever know which act is right?  Read Wellman, Chapter 12.   Review "Unaccompanied Sonata" and "Middle Woman."   The challenges of ethical skepticism, relativism, emotivism, sophism. Responses to the challenges. 
#10 11/10. 
1st  DRAFT OF OPTIONAL PAPER DUE .  The authoritarian paradox, revelation, intuitionism, naturalism, good reasons approach.  Read Wellman, Conclusion. 
#11 11/17  Ethical systems and the challenge of science.
Taleb, utilitarianism, prediction, and Stoicism.  Determinism and free-will, possible implications of varieties of neuro-philosophy and psychology..   
#12 11/24.  2nd
DRAFT OF OPTIONAL PAPER DUE Read Rosemarie Tong's article on Feminist Ethics from the on-line Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at  Ethical systems and codification. Critical theories and feminist critiques.  Theory and practice again. Instructor presents on ethics and philosophy of education. The hidden curriculum and paradoxes of reward.
#13 (Dec 1.)   
Course Evaluations (if not already completed).  Review session for final exam.  OPTIONAL STUDENT PRESENTATIONS OF FINAL PROJECTS.
Final exam: Thursday, December 11, 2008, 3:00 - 5:00 p.m.

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