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SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2020

INSTRUCTOR: Annette Merle Bryson
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 9:55-11:15 AM
OFFICE HOURS: By appointment, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8.30-10 a.m. and 4.15-6 p.m.

What is right and wrong, good and bad? How do we know? How can we argue over ethical issues? This course introduces students to ethical thinking by studying both concrete ethical issues and more abstract ethical ideas and theories. Students will examine philosophical debates over issues such as free speech, genetic engineering, and friendship, explore the meaning of ideas like “duty,” “virtue,” and “happiness,” and analyze the arguments of philosophers like Aristotle, Kant, and Singer.

This course provides an opportunity to explore the moral dimensions of some important contemporary issues. These include issues regarding our obligations to people in need, our obligations to and the rights of non-human animals, and our right to exercise control over our own lives and to be treated as equals. We will focus on getting clear about what the moral issues are, and we will grapple with some of the key philosophical positions on these issues. We will also focus on how these positions can be defended and challenged. This course provides the opportunity improve your ability to think through some difficult moral problems, to identify strengths and weaknesses of arguments and to formulate arguments of your own.


By the end of this course, you will have gained:


• a better understanding of some of the moral issues of current relevance and the ways in which we might examine them;

•a better understanding of the range of philosophical answers that have been given to significant moral questions;

•a better understanding of the shortcomings and strengths of these various approaches to answering these  questions;

•a refinement of your own critical reasoning and argumentative skills;

•a refinement of your capacities to recognize and assess philosophical arguments;

•an enhancement of the conceptual tools we need to develop and defend our own philosophical views;

•a refinement of your abilities to defend and express philosophical positions in a clear, well-reasoning way through both writing and conversation;

•the (re)discovery of the joy of philosophical inquiry!


Class participation Classes will involve a mixture of lectures, seminar discussions, and other activities. The emphasis will be on helping you to develop your own and others’ opinions and arguments and your ability to discuss them with others, as well as your understanding of the readings and other materials and the positions and arguments presented in them. Your active involvement in discussions and other class activities, based on adequate preparation outside class, is therefore essential. 20%
Quizzes You will be expected to take a quiz on Moodle at least once a week but sometimes twice a week. 20%
Two written assignmentsThe two written assignments will be ‘take-home’ assignments of 1300-1800 words. You will be given a set of questions from which to choose. You will have one week to write each written assignment. 20% each
Final exam Any material discussed in readings or in class during the semester is eligible to appear on the exam. 20%

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 course.
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.


A maximum of two unexcused absences from class will be accepted. Beyond this, a zero grade will be given for each unexcused absence, bringing your average grade down. It is your responsibility to inform me if you miss or cannot participate fully in a class for a good reason. Good reasons include illness, unavoidable appointments, religious holidays, and transport strikes, but not trips, guests, or malfunctioning alarm clocks. Note that arriving late to class, leaving for lengthy ‘toilet breaks’, and using a laptop or mobile phone in class also count as ‘unexcused absences’.

Note also that you may make up a missed assessment only with the permission of the Dean’s Office. This permission is granted only in cases of serious impediment – such as a documented illness, hospitalization, or attendance at an immediate family member’s funeral – and when you notify the Dean’s Office beforehand.
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:           Tuesday: Welcome to class; Introduction to ethics and to each other

Thursday: Thinking philosophically 

Our obligations to people in need 

Week 2:        Tuesday: Peter Singer, "Famine, Affluence, and Morality"

                        Thursday: Utilitarianism

Week 3:           Tuesday: Driver, Julia, 2005, “Consequentialism and Feminist Ethics,” Hypatia, 20 (4): 183–199.

                        Thursday: Amia Srinivasan, “Stop the Robot Apocalypse”

Week 4:           Tuesday: Onora O'Neill, “Kantian Approaches to Some Famine Problems”

Thursday: Andrew Kuper, “More Than Charity” / Garrett Hardin, "Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor" 

Our obligations to non-human animals

Week 5:       Tuesday: Peter Singer, “Animal Liberation”

                        Thursday: Michael Pollan, “An Animal’s Place”/ Cigman, “Death, Misfortune, and Species Inequality”

Week 6: Tuesday: Cora Diamond, “Eating Meat and Eating People”

                        Thursday: Elizabeth Anderson, Animal Rights and the Value of Nonhuman Life

Week 7:           Tuesday: Virtue ethics

Thursday: Review and preparation of first assignment

Issues regarding abortion        

Week 8:     Tuesday: Don Marquis, “Why Abortion is Immoral”

                        Thursday: Michael Tooley, “Abortion and Infanticide”

Week 9:           Tuesday:  Tooley & Marquis

                        Thursday: Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion”  

Week 10:         Tuesday: Margaret Little, Compelling Intimacy: Abortion, Law, and Morality (excerpts)

                        Thursday: Ronald Dworkin, Life's Dominion

Week 11:         Review and preparation of second assignment    

Issues regarding race and gender

Week 12:         Tuesday:  Kwame Anthony Appiah, “The Uncompleted Argument: Du Bois and the Illusion of Race" 

                        Thursday: Sally Haslanger, “Gender and Race: (What) are they?  (What) do we want them to be?”

Week 13:       Tuesday: Elizabeth Barnes, “The metaphysics of gender”

                        Thursday: [To be announced.]

Weeks 14:  Review and preparation official exam