Contemporary Moral Issues

November 2, 2004

Phil 203A: Contemporary Moral Issues,
Course with Service Learning

Dr. Monica Cowart
monica.cowart {at} merrimack(.)edu
Fall 2002

“The real point of ethics is to offer tools for thinking about difficult matters, recognizing from the start as the very rationale for ethics, in fact that the world is seldom so simple or clear cut. Struggle and uncertainty are part of ethics, as they are part of life.” – Anthony Weston

Course Objectives:

(1) To introduce students to some influential theories and classics in the field,
(2) To teach students how to critically evaluate philosophical arguments, and
(3) To help students explore the connections between the philosophical theories they read and the organizations they assist

Course Requirements:

(1) Readings completed prior to class
(2) Participation/ Classroom Activities 25%
(3) Midterm Exam (10/15) 25%
(4) Service Learning Project Group Essay 25%
(5) Service Learning Project Group Oral Presentation 25%
(6) Minimum of 30 service learning hours

Required Text:

John Arthur, ed., Morality and Moral Controversies: Readings in Moral, Social, and Political Philosophy, Prentice Hall, 2002

Course Packet

Course Schedule:

I. Metaethics

Week 1
Introduction; Structure of Course
“Getting Started” and “Thinking for Yourself’ from Weston’s A Practical Companion to Ethics (Course Packet);
Explanation of Service Learning Organizations
Guest Speaker Director of Service Learning Center

Week 2
William Shaw’s “Relativism in Ethics”
Mary Midgley’s “Trying Out One’s New Sword”
Pick service learning sites; Evaluate Cultural Relativism

II. Ethical Theories

Week 3
John Stuart Mill’s “Utilitarianism”
Implications of Mill’s view

Week 4
Immanual Kant’s “The Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals”
Implications of Kant’s view

Week 5
Aristotle’s “Nichomachean Ethics”
Implications of Aristotle’s view

Week 6
John Rawl’s “A Theory of Justice
Implication’s of Rawl’s view

Ethical Theories Midterm Exam

III. Sexuality and Violence

Week 7
Lois Pineau’s “Date Rape: A Feminist Analysis”
Camille Paglia’s “An Interview About Date Rape”
Robert Baker’s ” ‘Pricks’ and ‘Chicks’ : A Plea for ‘Persons’ ” (Course Packet)

IV. Economic Inequality and Justice

Week 8
Peter Singer’s “Rich and Poor”
Excerpt from Peter Unger’s Living High and Letting Die
Robert Nozick’s “The Entitlement Theory”

Week 9
James Rachel’s “What People Deserve”
Garrett Hardin’s “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor” (Course Packet)
Writing Workshop on Constructing Philosophical Arguments
Group Progress Reports

V. Understanding Forms of Oppression

Week 10
Peggy McIntosh’s “Invisible Knapsack” (Course Packet)
Marilyn Frye’s “Oppression” from The Politics of Reality (Course Packet)

Week 11
Charles Murray’s “Affirmative Racism”
James Rachels’ “Reverse Discrimination”
Richard Wasserstrorn’s “On Racism and Sexism: Realities and Ideals”
Ellison v. Brady

VI. Free Speech

Week 12
John Stuart Mill’s “Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion”
Lawrence and Gunther’s “Prohibiting Racist Speech on Campus: A Debate”

Week 13
Alan Dershowitz’s “Political Correctness, Speech Codes, and Diversity”
Sekulow and Berman’s “Internet Censorship: A Debate”

VII. Animals and the Environment

Week 14
Peter Singer’s “All Animals Are Equal”
Bonnie Steinbock’s “Speciesism and the Idea of Equality”
William Baxter’s “People or Penguins”
J. Baird Callicott’s “The Land Ethic”

VIII. Final Projects

Week 15
T 12/3 Final Presentations Groups 1 3
Th 12/5 Final Presentations Groups 4 6

Final Project Essays Are Due during our scheduled Final Exam Period!

Service Learning Project: Paper Structure

Target Length: 20 pages

Introduction: Discuss the Corresponding Contemporary Moral Issues

Thesis: It should tell me the structure of your paper AND preview your arguments.

I. Description of Organization

Your description should demonstrate an insider’s point of view. In other words, do not just provide statistics, facts, etc. that could be acquired from a website. Your description should in some way convey that you understand your organization and its current needs. You also need to explain how the needs were assessed. For instance, if you interviewed the leader of your organization and s/he told you that their top two needs are x and y, then how were you able to confirm those needs based on your service learning experience. Given your perspective, were their other needs that you felt were more important than the ones mentioned? Overall, you must convey the strengths and weaknesses of your organization, the group that they are trying to help, and why outsiders should care.

II. Theoretical Assessment of Organization

Would you classify your organization in terms of a Kantian, Utilitarian, or Aristotelian framework?
Use arguments and passages from the relevant text to justify your classification.

III. Formulation of Action Plan

Explain your action plan in detail so that it is clear how it is designed to help solve one of your organization’s pressing needs.
What obstacles/problems do you expect to encounter?

IV. Possible Objections: Theoretical, Applied, Practical

A. Theoretical Objection Use Kant, Aristotle, or Mill
1. Anticipate a possible theoretical objection to your plan
2. Refute the objection

B. Applied Objection Use a Contemporary Moral Theorist
1. Anticipate a possible applied objection to your plan
2. Refute the objection

C. Practical Objection How would a non philosopher object to your plan?
1. Anticipate a possible applied objection to your plan
2. Refute the objection

V. Final Evaluation of Project

A. What issues did you encounter while implementing your plan? How did you resolve these problems?

B. What lessons did you encounter? What would you do differently if you were in the same situation again?

School: Merrimack College
Professor: Monica Cowart
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