PHL 1623: Ethics
The ACC catalogue describes this course as "A study of the principles of morality with a critical examination of various ethical theories and their application to contemporary moral issues." Our goal in this course will be to learn and to practice cogent reasoning about moral problems. Consequently, we will discuss the ethical views of certain philosophers in order to learn how they reasoned about the problems with which they were concerned, and we will practice such reasoning by applying their theories to moral problems that concern us today.Our theme for this semester is technology and public life. We will explore the ways in which philosophical theories about morality might shed light on problematic cases in this general topic area.
We will pursue three goals in this course:
There are no course prerequisites for Ethics. A passing score or the equivalent on the reading portion of the TASP is required, and I highly recommend a passing score or the equivalent on the writing portion. The major form of evaluation will be written work, and the main instructional methods will include lecture, student presentations, and discussion.
Our objectives for the semester reflect the goals listed above: demonstration of improved critical thinking skills, familiarity with the basic problems and concepts of ethical theory, and a working knowledge of the theories we will study.
I will have course materials posted on the Ethics main page, and I strongly encourage you to get an email account, if you do not already have one. (If you would like some help getting an email account, let me know. See the email guidelines below for more details.)
Texts and Reading Assignments
The readings of classical authors will be available on-line; check the Ethics main page for details. I will ask you to purchase a packet of readings by modern authors as well; we will discuss this packet in class.
There will be a number of handouts, most of which will be available on-line. If you find that you must miss class, please get the handouts prior to the next class. Look for reading assignments on-line as well. I expect everyone to come to class having read and thought about the assignment. Reading philosophy takes tenacity; expect to spend at least a couple of hours outside of class for every hour we spend in class. Be sure to get in touch with me if you are having problems with the course content.
Work and Grading Policy
The first component of the course will deal with the most influential ethical theories (natural law, utilitarianism, contractarianism, virtue ethics, and Kantianism). The second component of the course will be an exploration of various moral problems that fall under the general theme of "technology and public life." We will discuss the topic area in more detail as the semester proceeds. You will have the opportunity to pursue individual interests within this general heading and share these interests with the class in your presentation.
Your grade for this course will be based on written and collaborative work demonstrating the pursuit of the goals of the course. There are four components:
We will talk about the course components in much more detail in class, but the comments under Coursework Guidelines will give you the main idea. Due dates for written work will be arranged in class; please check here regularly for announcements and deadlines. Please note that I will not accept work after the stated due date, except by prior agreement. All written work done outside of class must be typed (using a standard fontno italics!) and double-spaced. Please see the General Course Policies for further information.
You may submit written work done outside of class by email; please follow the email guidelines below. I strongly encourage you to get an email account and use the web-based materials available for this class.
The Theory Exams
There will be an exam on each of the theories we study. The exam will consist of three essay questions which involve application of the theory to a scenario. The evaluation will be based on your understanding of the theory, application to the cases given, and your defense (reasons, justification, explanation, etc.).
For fans of Bloom's taxonomy, the exams are intended to be at the level of application.
The final exam is final in the sense that it comes at the end of the course: you will be expected to reason cogently about moral issues and put your reasoning on paper, rather than simply to reproduce "information" covered through the semester. Consequently, I will give you several scenarios and ask you to find an appropriate "resolution," using some theoretical framework. These scenarios will be drawn from class discussion and presentations. You will be practicing this sort of reasoning throughout the semester. The final will also be a take-home essay test.
The paper will be a five-page exploration of a moral issue relating to the class discussion. You should choose a topic question that falls under the course theme ("technology and public life"). Your paper should be an exploration of a particular moral problem and an application of a particular ethical theory. For example, you might explore the debate over guidelines for cloning research, and show how the application of a Natural Law theory of morality resolves some of the difficulties. Or, you might consider the creation of public policy regarding the use of fetal tissue in new treatments for degenerative brain disease, as guided by a Utilitarian theory.
Your paper should include the following elements:
Concerning mechanics, I am not stipulating a particular format for this paper; any standard format for term papers is acceptable (MLA, for instance). However, please note that I will not accept an unformatted paper. I do expect you to use "outside" sources and to provide a bibliography.
We will discuss term papers in more detail as the semester unfolds. Please do not hesitate to contact me about your interests (email is good: firstname.lastname@example.org). I am requiring that you hand in a topic question and a rough draft. See the Ethics main page for due dates.
You should make use of the research for your paper in your class presentation. In your presentation you should explain points 1-3 above as they relate to your topic. Ideally, I would like you to hand out copies of a draft of your paper, along with a selection of supporting materials, so that we may have a general discussion of the moral problem. Minimally, you should give the class copies of the outline of your paper plus material that illustrates the moral quandary you have chosen. Please note that you must hand out materials at least one class period prior to your presentation date. Plan ahead!
As noted above, I will draw the final exam questions from presentations and ensuing class discussions.
Your class participation grade will be based on the preparation of your presentation as well as participation in class discussion. Be sure to have your handouts ready for the class at least one class period prior to your presentation date.
Please note that reading assignments are, in fact, coursework as well. In our class discussion, I will assume that you have done your readings (and thought about what you have read). I will announce reading assignments in class, and they will be posted on the reading assignment page.
If you do not have access to email, contact me. There are many free services in cyberland (Hotmail, for instance) that you can access in one of ACC's computer labs. All you need to do is sign up. You can go to almost any open lab and get help from the techs (they are great!). You may submit any written work by email, but please follow these guidelines:
1. Use a standard subject heading on all email
2. Send all work in the body of the email.
3. Save your work!
Check the Ethics main page frequently for due dates and other announcements.
This page was last updated on 03/01/09 by mmd.