PHIL 2525 Contemporary Moral Issues




You are expected to print out the readings and annotate them for class discussion and as review for eventual test time.   But because some of these readings may be amended or added to as current events intrude on our subject, it would be wise not to get too far ahead with your printing.  Please check back each week.



Text:    The Elements of Moral Philosophy    James Rachels   (sixth edition)


1.           Introductions:  You, Me and the Course Requirements 

              Lec 1 PowerPoint

              Case study:      The Walrus and the Carpenter    Lewis Carroll
Jericho Scott:

                   Too good to pitch...9-year old is barred

                   9-year-old boy told he's too good to pitch

                   Also read the "Art or Child Abuse" links in the class blog

2.           Reasoning and Moral Reasoning   

              Lec 2 PowerPoint  

             “The case for Moral Objectivity”  A Dangerous Idea (blog)

             “Some Arguments Against Objective Moral Values”  A Dangerous Idea  (blog)

              Case study:  Ring of Gyges  

              Discussion:  Good Sport...Bad Sport

                                    Legalize drugs in sports, Ethicist says                                    


3.           What are we talking about?

              "What is Morality?" (Elements Ch. 1)

              Lec 3 PowerPoint      

              Case study:    Robert and Tracy Latimer
              Robert Latimer   Wikipedia

              The Law and Robert Latimer   CBC News

              Latimer      Council of Canadians with Disabilities

              (For more background, you might take a look at the CCD's  Latimer Archives ) 

              Robert    Robert Latimer's Home Page

              Discussion:       The right to die:  Suicide and Euthanasia

                                        Australian 'right to die' case

                                        Vancouver library bans suicide 'how-to' workshop 

                                        Euthanasia means no repeat customers


4.           Is everything relative?            (Is morality invented or discovered?)

              "The Challenge of Cultural Relativism" (Elements Ch. 2)

                   Lec 4 PowerPoint     

              “Morality as Custom”   Herodotus

              The Nature of Morality    by William Shaw

              “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights”  The United Nations Charter 

              Case study:      Honour killings             

              Honour Killings in Canada:  even worse than we believe

              Safe Houses in India to Protect Newlyweds

              Discussion:       Culture as moral and/or legal defence: 

              Yale surrenders


5.           Is everything subjective?

              "Subjectivism in Ethics" (Elements Ch. 3)

              Lec 5 PowerPoint   

              Case study:       Leopold and Loeb 

              A little more reading about the 1924 Leopold and Loeb case

              Discussion:        "The Ashley Treatment" and Katie Thorpe 

              Conflicting viewsHysterectomy an abuse of human rights 

                                            This is not eugenics-- it is one mum's tough decision  


              STUDY WEEK 


 6.          Does morality come from God?         

              "Does Morality Depend on Religion?" (Elements Ch. 4)

              Lec 6 PowerPoint  

              A. J. Jacobs' year of living biblically   Ted Talks video 

              The Year of Living Biblically   A. J. Jacobs   (read some of the side pages...) 

              Where does morality come from if not from God?

              Case Study:    Roy Moore's Monument                                                        

              Discussion:   The Ten Commandments   (there's no requirement to read every word of this Wikipedia article, but if you're not familiar

              with the  Ten Commandments, you should poke around here for some background...)

              Here is the King James version, Exodus 20, plain and simple...and Exodus 21

              Another view:        Happy 10 Commandments Day   The Jewish Atheist Blog       



7.           Movie and discussion     Crimes and Misdemeanors 


8.           Are Religion and Morality on the same side?

              Lec 8 PowerPoint  

              The Sermon on the Mount  (Matthew chapters 5 to 7)

              God vs. Science   Time Magazine

              Suggested:  Is God Poison?   MacLeans Magazine

              Case Study: Dorothy Day    

              Catholics, Condoms, and Africa

             Interview with Stephen Lewis   Carnegie Council


9.           Is ‘me first’ all right?

              "Ethical Egoism" (Elements Ch. 5)

               Lec 9 PowerPoint  
              Case Study:   Ayn Rand    a brief biography

               Suggested:   Ayn Rand on YouTube  (The Phil Donahue Show)

               Suggested:    Ayn Rand:  The Playboy Interview   1964

               Discussion:   Lifeboat Ethics:  the case against helping the poor     Garrett Hardin    Psychology Today 1974

               An answer to lifeboat ethics   David Burgess  Theology Today  1978  


10.         What do we owe each other?

              "The Idea of a Social Contract" (Elements Ch. 6)

                  Lec 10 PowerPoint   

             Letter from a Birmingham Jail     Martin Luther King Jr.  

             Suggested:   The Prisoner's Dilemma  (a fiendish cyberspace game)



11.         MIDTERM  


12.         Movie and discussion     Frozen River


              CHRISTMAS BREAK


13.         Do the needs of the many always outweigh the needs of the few?  

              "The Utilitarian Approach" (Elements Ch. 7)

                   Lec 13 PowerPoint            

              Suggested:  Utilitarian Theories 

              Suggested:   Utilitarianism    John Stuart. Mill    

              Case Study:  Peter Singer    Wikipedia

              A Philosophical Self-Portrait   Peter Singer

              Suggested:   Peter Singer  (his own home page)            

             Discussion:   The Singer Solution to World Poverty    New York Times   1999

                                             A Utilitarian Call to Action  (get out and do something if you want to call yourself a Utilitarian)


14.        Problems for Utilitarianism?

              "The Debate over Utilitarianism" (Elements Ch. 8)

               Lec 14 PowerPoint 

               Case Study:  Peter Singer    Wikipedia

               A Philosophical Self-Portrait   Peter Singer

               "A man with plastic shoes and ironclad principles"   An interview

              Why we all should give away 25% of our pay

               Suggested:   Peter Singer  (his own home page)            

               Discussion:  The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas   Ursula K. LeGuin      (if you prefer Omelas in pdf)


15.         Is morality discovered or invented?

              "Are There Absolute Moral Rules?" (Elements Ch. 9)

              Lec 15 PowerPoint              
              Kant’s Categorical Imperative (short and sweet)

              A Categorical Imperative for Science Journalists  

               Case Study:   Hiroshima and Nagasaki  (and other terror bombings)

               Morality, Reduced to Arithmetic    NYTimes

               Suggested:  Hiroshima and Nagasaki   Wikipedia

               Discussion:    All's Fair in Love and War?



16.        Movie and discussion   Groundhog Day


17.         What makes us worthy?                       

              "Kant and Respect for Persons" (Elements Ch. 10)
               Lec 17 PowerPoint       
               Case Study:     The Tuskegee Syphilis Study 

               Discussion:      Nozick's Experience Machine   Wikipedia
               Suggested:      The Matrix: Cypher and the Experience Machine

                                        Cypher and Agent Smith (Youtube clip from the movie)


18.         Which is best:   Justice or care?        

              "Feminism and the Ethics of Care" (Elements Ch. 11)

                    Lec 18 PowerPoint  

               Ethics of Care   Wikipedia 

               In a Different Voice:  Selected Passages   (Carol Gilligan)

                    Suggested:    Feminist Ethics   Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy



              STUDY WEEK    


19.          Can you practice your way to morality?        

              "The Ethics of Virtue" (Elements Ch. 12)

                   Lec 19 PowerPoint 

              Aristotle: Ethics and the Virtues     Philosophy Pages

              Aristotle’s Virtues

              Nichomachean Ethics:  Themes, ideas and arguments   SparkNotes



20.        Movie and discussion    Sling Blade Handout


21.        What is the relationship between legality and morality?
              Lec 21 PowerPoint
               Case Study:   The ethics of erasing a bad memory   Time Magazine

               Activity:  The Abortion Debate:  Judith Thomson's Unconscious violinist

                Discussion:   United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

                 Discussion:     The Sherrice Iverson Story

                                       Strohmeyer confided to friend ...

                                        Mother rages against indifference

                                        Protesters want student expelled

                                        The Power of shame


22.       Can we learn the art of living?

                  Lec 22 PowerPoint       

             "What Would a Satisfactory Moral Theory Be Like?" (Elements Ch. 13)

               Case Study:   The ethics of erasing a bad memory   Time Magazine  (because we didn't get to it last week)

               More regret virtue than vice    and here

               One nurse's story

               Discussion:   Recent multi-disciplinary developments in Moral Theory

                                     Reinventing Morality


23.        Transhumanism

              Lec 23 PowerPoint     
                   The following links are required....

               In Defense of Posthuman Dignity

               Better Living through Transhumanism

               Science is blurring the line between humans and animals

               Animal-Human hybrids:  is there a limit to how far bioscientists are willing to go?


24.         Catch-up and Review

                   Lec 24 PowerPoint    Please watch the videos at the end that we didn't have time for...


              Is it wrong to select a deaf embryo?

              This couple want a deaf child:   should we try to stop them?






Last Updated: April 9, 2012