JCU Logo


COURSE NAME: "Special Topics in Philosophy "
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2017

INSTRUCTOR: Stefan Sorgner
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 7:30-8:45 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: Junior Standing; Corequisite: EN 110

Topics may vary. Recently taught topics include: Bioethics, Philosophy of Technology, Zen, Philosophy of Baroque, and Magicians, Heretics, and Scientists in the Age of the Renaissance.
May be taken more than once for credit with different topics.

This course examines some of the most important contemporary issues in the field of ethics of emerging technologies to help you to develop a familiarity with the debates and your ability to discuss, reflect on, and defend your own views.


During the initial two sessions, a basic outline of key terms of the debates and their relevance will be introduced, including the relationship between ethical theories and applied ethical issues and the meaning and history of the field of ‘ethics of emerging technologies’. Then, we will focus on the specific moral challenges raised by particular types of emerging technology. Thus we will deal with the relationship between enhancement and therapy, moral challenges related to IT, robotics, and synthetic genomics, and ethical questions which deal with the relationship between emergent technologies and the environment. By considering the strongest arguments for and against a specific moral attitude, you will be able to form your own views and arguments concerning the questions which we reflect upon. The main focus of the assignments will be to show how well developed and consistent your line of arguments are for the claims that you defend.


More specifically, by the end of the course you will be able to:

• recognize and analyze ethical issues raised by emerging technologies;

• analyze relevant recent cases, along with specific positions and arguments regarding them;

• analyze and employ broader theoretical approaches, debates, and concepts in the field;

• develop informed, reasoned positions regarding these issues, cases, and broader theoretical aspects;

• explain and analyze course material orally and in written forms;

• make appropriate use of original and academic resources and undertake guided research work.

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Ethics and Emerging TechnologiesSandler, Ronald Palgrave, Basinstokes, 2014978-0-230-36703-6   

MidtermThe mid-term written assignment will be a ‘take-home’ assignment of 1500-2000 words (including bibliography), written in response to one of a selection of questions which I will provide. I will distribute the questions during week 6 and the assignment should be submitted by Friday of week 7. An electronic version of the project must be sent to me by email (Title of Course/Term/Year) and a printed version left in my mailbox.20
PresentationsStudents are required to give two short individual presentations of 15-20 minutes each. The presentation will be well-organized, concise, and include (when opportune) audiovisual and electronic materials. An electronic version of the presentations must be sent by email (Title of Course/Term/Year) and a printed version left in my mailbox by the day of presentation. 20
Final examThe final exam will consist in an essay. All students will have to answer the same question.20
Final projectThe final paper of 3,000 words will be on a topic of the student’s choice related to the class program. The topic should be precisely defined and worthy of investigation. An electronic version of the project must be sent to me by email (Title of Course/Term/Year) and a printed version left in my mailbox by the last class. 30
Class participation 10

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the co
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until ____________

As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Class schedule and topics

 Week 1:          Monday: Introduction to Ethics and Emerging Technologies

                        Wednesday: Introduction to Ethics and Emerging Technologies 2

Week 2:           Monday:
Biomedical and Therapeutic Technologies 1

                        Reading: 10. Crossing Species Boundaries, by Jason Robert and Francoise Baylis

                       Wednesday: Biomedical and Therapeutic Technologies 2

                       Reading: 11. The Coming Era of Nanomedicine, by Fritz Allhoff


 Week 3:          Monday: Biomedical and Therapeutic Technologies 3

Reading: 12. Psychopharmacology and Functional Neurosurgery: Manipulating Memory, Thought, and Mood, by Walter Glannon


                       Wednesday: Human Enhancement Technologies 1

Reading: 17. Enhancing Justice?, by Tamara Garcia and Ronald Sandler


Week 4:          Monday: Information Technologies 1

Reading: 18. Bigger Monster, Weaker Chains: The Growth of an

American Surveillance Society, by Jan Stanley and Barry Steinhardt


                      Wednesday: Information Technologies 2

Reading: 19. Nanotechnology and Privacy: The Instructive Case of RFID, by Jeroen Van den Hoven


Week 5:          Monday: Information Technologies 3

Reading: 20. Intellectual Property: Legal and Moral Challenges of Online File Sharing, by Richard A. Spinello


                      Wednesday: Information Technologies 4

 Reading: 21. Virtual Reality and Computer Simulation, by Philip Brey


Week 6:          Monday: Information Technologies 5

Reading: 22. The Digital Divide: Information Technologies and the Obligation to Alleviate Poverty, by Kenneth Himma and Maria Bottis


                      Wednesday: Robotics and Artificial Intelligence 1

Reading: 23. Ethics, War, and Robots, by Patrick Lin, Keith Abney, and George Bekey


Week 7:          Monday: Robotics and Artificial Intelligence 2

Reading: 24. Ethics, Law, and Governance in the Development of Robots, by Wendell Wallach


                      Wednesday: Robotics and Artificial Intelligence 3

Reading: 25. What to Do about Artificial Consciousness, by John Basl


Week 8:          Monday: Robotics and Artificial Intelligence 4

Reading: 26. The Singularity Is Near, by Ray Kurzweil


                      Wednesday: Environment and Technology 1

Reading: 27. Risk, Precaution, and Nanotechnology, by Kevin C. Elliott


Week 9:          Monday: Environment and Technology 2

Reading: 28. Avoiding Catastrophic Climate Change: Why

Technological Innovation Is Necessary but Not Sufficient, by Philip Cafaro


                      Wednesday: Environment and Technology 3           

Reading: 29. Ethical Anxieties about Geoengineering, by Clive Hamilton


Week 10:        Monday: Environment and Technology 4

Reading: 30. Ecosystems Unbound: Ethical Questions for an Interventionist

Ecology, by Ben A. Minteer and James P. Collins


                      Wednesday: Agricultural Technologies 1

Reading: 31. Ethics and Genetically Modifi ed Foods, by Gary Comstock


Week 11:       Monday: Agricultural Technologies 2

Reading: 32. Women and the Gendered Politics of Food, by Vandana Shiva


                     Wednesday: Agricultural Technologies 3

Reading: 33. The Ethics of Agricultural Animal Biotechnology, by Robert Streiffer and John Basl


Week 12:       Monday: Agricultural Technologies 4

Reading: 34. Artificial Meat, by Paul Thompson


                     Wednesday: Synthetic Genomics and Artificial Life 1

Reading: 35. Synthetic Biology, Biosecurity, and Biosafety, by Michele Garfinkle and Lori Knowles


Week 13:        Monday: Synthetic Genomics and Artificial Life 2

Reading: 36. Evolution and the Deep Past: Intrinsic Responses to Synthetic Biology, by Christopher J. Preston


                      Wednesday: Synthetic Genomics and Artificial Life 3

Reading: 37. Social and Ethical Implications of Creating Artificial Cells, by Mark A. Bedau and Mark Triant


Week 14:         Review for final examination