Present Moral Problems

Phil 131 F, Section 3
Spring, 1999

Professor:        William Bechtel 
Office:              208 Busch Hall 
Telephone:       935-6873 
Office Hours:    Thursday, 1:00-3:00
                        and by appointment
Teaching Assistant:   Robert Thompson 
Office:                      12 Busch Hall
Telephone:                leave message at 935-6670
Office Hours:            Mon: 2:30-3:30; Tues: 1:00-2:30 
                                and by appointment

1. Description and Objectives

Given the reflective nature of human beings, our species has long struggled with a variety of moral problems such as those concerning distribution of resources and proper treatment of other human beings.  In our highly technological society, new moral problems have arisen involving how biomedical science intervenes in human life and how we alter our world.  This course will examine a number of the moral issues that figure prominently in contemporary society in light of the contributions of a variety of theorists, both Western and non-Western.

The goals for the course include deepening your understanding of moral issues and moral principles and your appreciation and skill in moral argumentation. You will be required to engage the moral arguments yourself and address them both in class discussion and in written work. The class will not advocate any particular stance on any of the moral issues discussed; rather, the focus will be on the arguments advanced for or against particular positions.

It is important that this class provide an opportunity to explore different positions and the arguments for and against them. We must distinguish between challenging the arguments individuals put forward and attacking the person making the arguments. Personal attacks are not permitted. The classroom is to be a safe place for hearing and putting forward positions.

2. Text

May, L, Collins-Chobanian, S., and Wong, K. (1998). Applied ethics: A multicultural approach.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

3. Requirements

Attendance and participation in class is required. Active participation in class may result in your final grade being higher than your base grade, while repeated absences or lack of participation may result in your final grade being lower than your base grade.  Graded assignments for the course will include two in-class, closed-book exams and three short (3-5 pages) argumentative papers, each counting for 20% of your base grade. Papers are due at the beginning of class on the day assigned; paper turned in after that time will be penalized a full letter grade for each 48 hours (or part thereof) that they are late. (The only exception to the late-paper penalty is if you notify me before the assigned due data and then provide a written excuse from a physician, campus heath service, or other relevant campus authority (such as your college office) indicating that, during the two full days prior to the due date, you had a serious medical condition or experienced a tragedy that made it impossible for you to write your essay. A similar excuse indicating a serious medical condition or tragedy at the time of the exam is required to be eligible for a make-up exam.)

Plagiarism. Turning in work under your name that is not your own is an extremely serious academic offense, and will be dealt with appropriately and severely (failing this class and possibly University disciplinary action). If you use the words or ideas of others (including text posted on a website), you must give them proper credit, in the form of a citation that clearly identifies the source. Direct quotations should be placed in quotation marks.  If you have questions about whether an action you intend to take would constitute plagiarism, check with me beforehand.

4. Schedule of Classes
Note: this schedule is tentative; any adjustments to it will be announced in class.

January 11:  Introductory Class: Analyzing and Arguing About Moral Issues
January 13:  Carlo Felice, "On the obligation to keep informed about distant atrocities," p. 236
January 18:  No class, Martin Luther King Holiday

Hunger and Morality
January 20:     Garrett Hardin, "Carrying capacity as an ethical concept," p. 186; Amartya Sen, "Population: Delusion and
                      Reality," p. 195
January 25:     Peter Singer, "Famine, affluence, and morality," p. 216; John Arthur, "Rights and the duty to bring aid," p. 216

Ethical Theories and Conceptions of Human Rights
January 27:     John Stuart Mill, "Utilitarianism," p. 34; Onora O'Neill, "A simplified account of Kant's Ethics," p. 44
February 1:     "United Nations universal declaration of human rights," p. 30; Ronald Dworkin, "Taking rights seriously," p. 51
February 3:     Carlotte Bunch, "Women's rights as human rights: Toward a re-vision of human rights," p. 61; Abdullahi Ahmed
                       An-Na'im, "Islam, Islamic law, and the dilemma of cultural legitimacy for universal human rights," p. 72
February 8:     Claude Ake, "The African context of human rights," p. 83; Review for first exam

February 10: FIRST EXAM

Environmental Ethics
February 15:     Aldo Leopold, "The land ethic," p. 120
February 17:     William Baxter, "A ‘good' environment: Just one of a set of human objectives," p. 133; J. Baird Callicott,
                         "Traditional American Indian and Western European attitudes toward nature: An overview," p. 139
February 22:     Vandana Shiva, "Development, ecology and women," p. 170; Deane Curtin, "Making peace with the Earth:
                         Indigenous agriculture and the Green Revolution," p. 248
February 24:     Chung-ying Cheng, "On the environmental ethics of the Tao and the Ch'i, p. 151
                         FIRST PAPER DUE

March 8:      John T. Noonan, Jr., "An almost absolute value in history," p. 535
March 10:    Mary Anne Warren, "On the moral and legal status of abortion," p. 541
March 15:    Don Marquis, "Why abortion is immoral," p. 549
March 17:    Ren-Zong Qiu, Chun-Zhi Wang, and Yuan Gu, "Can late abortion be ethically justified?" p. 567
March 22:    William LaFleur, "Contestation and consensus: The morality of abortion in Japan," p. 573

Right to Die and Right to Live
March 24:     James Rachels, "active and passive euthanasia," p. 589
                  SECOND PAPER DUE
March 29:    Bonnie Steinbock, "The intentional termination of life," p. 594
March 31:    Margaret Battin, "Euthanasia: The way we do it, the way they do it," p. 602; Carl B. Becker, "Buddhist views of
                    suicide and euthanasia," p. 615
April 5:         John Harris, "The survival lottery," p. 627
April 7:         John F. Kilner, "Who shall be saved? An African answer," p. 634

April 12:*     Vine Deloria, Jr., "The Red and the Black," p.  439; Bernard Boxill, "The color-blind principle," p. 400
April 14:       Shelby Steele, "Affirmative action: The price of preference," p. 408
April 19:       Kwame Anthony Appiah, "Racisms," p. 415
April 21:       Larry May, "Shared Responsibility for Racism," p. 446
                  THIRD PAPER DUE

April 29, 10:30-12:30:  FINAL EXAM