appliedethics's Journal

Current Moral and Social Issues
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Class: Current Moral and Social Issues (730:105:B6)
Instructor: Kate Devitt (skdevitt@gmail.com)
Dates: 31-May-05 to 7-Jul-05
Place: Hickman Hall rm. 205
Time: 6.15pm to 9.45pm Tuesdays and Thursdays
Office Hours: 12.30pm to 1.30pm Thursdays Rm.44 Philosophy Department, Davidson Hall, 26 Nichol Ave. New Brunswick.

This course will teach critical thinking in relation to contemporary ethical issues such as abortion, animal rights, environmentalism & bioethics. Because critical thinking is the chief aim of the course, you will do well to read about logical fallacies and also the history and discussion of informal logic.


The primary textbook for this course is Applied Ethics by Peter Singer. It is available in the Rutgers bookroom. I will post other readings to the class discussion board, this page or make them available at the Alexander reserve desk. Readings may change as the semester progresses.


Your grade is based on two papers (60%), five quizzes (25%) and comments on the course discussion board (15%)

There are two papers for the course. Each paper must be between 1,000 and 1,500 words in length. Each paper is worth 30% of your final grade. You must submit your papers electronically to the plagerism detection site Turn It In. I will not accept printed copies in class. Make sure you register on the Turn It In site well in advance of the submission date. I will post topics for the papers on the class discussion board. Paper I is due at 11.59pm 14-Jun-05. Paper II is due at 11.59pm 7-Jul-05. Late papers will lose 5% per 24 hours after the due date for a maximum of seven days. Over seven days late and you will receive an F for your paper. You will receive an email with comments on these papers within two weeks of the submission date.

Turn It In
Class ID: 1301666
Password: aristotle


Write a critical paper (1,000-1,500 words) on a current ethical issue in the media that relates to euthanasia, abortion or capital punishment (e.g. Terry Schiavo, the pregnant 13-year old Florida girl known only as ‘LG’ who wanted an abortion, or the return of capital punishment to Iraq). Explain the different perspectives on the issue using moral theories we have discussed in class (e.g. Utilitarianism, Kantianism or Aristotelian virtue ethics). Argue your own view of what should have happened and give two or three reasons for your position. Then write at least one counterargument to your view. Finally evaluate and summarize your conclusions.

You MUST cite ALL of your references (e.g. websites, articles, books). Your paper is due by 11.59pm 14-Jun-05


1) Chose a non-profit organization (e.g. Oxfam, PETA, Sierra Club, NJPIRG, National Right to Life, Food not Bombs, Adbusters )

2) Explain what the organization's ethical philosophy is and how they set about implementing it. (> 300 words)

3) Make an argument for why you agree or disagree with their mission or some facet of their actions (> 500 words)

4) Take some action such as letter writing, donation, helping out in person (e.g. cleaning up rubbish or giving food to the needy), or public awareness such as putting up posters or pamphlets that will communicate your argument and possibly make a difference.

5) Write about your actions and document them (e.g. take photographs, make a copy of your letter/s or photocopy receipts) (> 200 words)

6) Submit the written essay to Turn It In. Bring any materials that cannot be submitted electronically to class or put in my mailbox in the philosophy department by 7-July.

You MUST cite ALL of your references (e.g. websites, articles, books). Your paper is due by 11.59pm 7-Jul-05

There are six quizzes of multiple choice questions based on the readings and information made available only in class. Each quiz is worth 5% and the best five of six quizzes will be counted in your final grade. This means you can miss one quiz without penalty. There will be no make-up quizzes.

Online participation is a crucial part of this course. 15% of your grade is based on comments you make on the class discussion board. 10% comes from original comments and 5% comes from your reponse to other students questions. You can create your username here. By midday before each class you must leave either a comment or question on the class discussion board on the readings for that class. You may ask the question as a new post or as a comment to a post. These will not be not be individually graded. Each comment MUST be between 100 and 200 words. You MUST leave at least nine original comments before midday on the day of class to get 10% participation. Less than nine comments will mean 0% for your participation score. Because there are eleven classes you can miss two midday deadlines without penalty. The final 5% participation credit is for responding to comments and questions made by your peers on the online discussion board. If you reply critically to five questions, then you will get 5%. If you leave less than five replies you will get 1% for each reply that you do make. You may respond to fellow students for credit up until midnight 7-Jul-05.

I will use the following scale for your final grade.

A 90-100
B+ 85-89
B 80-84
C+ 75-79
C 70-74
D 60-69
F below 60


I am extremely severe on anyone caught plagiarising in this course. Plagiarism means many things, but primarily means that you must not use other people's words or ideas without correctly referencing them. This means you must cite all your references according to academic standards. Here is a quote from the Rutgers Guidelines for Academic Integrity. You must have read this before submitting any assessment for this course.

Plagiarism is the representation of the words or ideas of another as one's own in any academic exercise. To avoid plagiarism, every direct quotation must be identified by quotation marks or by appropriate indentation and must be properly cited in the text or in a footnote. Acknowledgment is required when material from another source stored in print, electronic or other medium is paraphrased or summarized in whole or in part in one's own words. To acknowledge a paraphrase properly, one might state: "to paraphrase Plato's comment..." and conclude with a footnote identifying the exact reference. A footnote acknowledging only a directly quoted statement does not suffice to notify the reader of any preceding or succeeding paraphrased material. Information which is common knowledge such as names of leaders of prominent nations, basic scientific
laws, etc, need not be footnoted; however, all facts or information obtained in reading or research that are not common knowledge among students in the course must be acknowledged.

I encourage anyone who has any questions about how to write an academic paper to come and see me about it. These skills are crucial parts of an undergraduate education, so I am here to help.


* Readings from Applied Ethics

[1] 31-May: Introduction to Applied Ethics

Can Ethics be Taught?

[2] 2-Jun: How and why should we be moral?

Assessment - Quiz 1
Readings - Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics Book II, Kant Foundations of The Metaphysics of Morals Ch.2, Mill Utilitarianism

[3] 7-Jun: Suicide & Euthanasia

Readings - Death* by Thomas Nagel, Of suicide* by David Hume, Active & Passive Euthanasia* James Rachels,

Additional Readings Euthanasia in the Netherlands

[4] 9-Jun: Abortion & Capital Punishment

Assessment - Quiz 2
Readings - A defense of abortion* Judith Jarvis Thomson, In Defense of Abortion and Infanticide* by Michael Tooley, John Stuart Mill Speech in favour of capital punishment*
Additional Readings - Pro-life arguments, The Supreme Court: Gregg v. Georgia (1976), Ernest Van Den Haag, On Deterrence and the Death Penalty

[5] 14-Jun: Overpopulation

Assessment - Paper I due
Readings - Louis Pascal Judgement Day* , Derek Parfit Overpopulation and the Quality of Life*
Additional Readings - Causes of Poverty, Overpopulation

[6] 16-Jun: Distribution of Wealth & globalisation

Assessment - Quiz 3
Readings - Peter Singer 'Rich and Poor' Ch.8 of Practical Ethics, Peter Unger Living high and Letting die

Additional Readings - Globalisation, Possum Living - How to Live well without a job and with (almost) no money.

[7] 21-Jun: Animal Rights

Readings Peter Singer All Animals are Equal
Additional ResourcesVegetarian/vegan eating options. Do animals suffer?

[8] 23-Jun: Affirmative Action

Assessment - Quiz 4

Readings: Rom L. Beauchamp, The Justification of Reverse Discrimination, Richard Wasserstrom, A Defense of Programs of Preferential Treatment, Lisa Newton, Reverse Discrimination as Unjustified.

Additional Readings
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, Mary Wollstonecraft A Vindication of the Rights of Women

[9] 28-Jun: Environmental Ethics

Readings - Alfred Crosby Germs, Seeds, and Animals. Studies in Ecological History, Lynn White The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis

Additional ReadingsAmerican Environmentalism Timeline

[10] 30-Jun: Environmental Ethics

Assessment - Quiz 5
Readings - Aldo Leopold The Land Ethic, New Jersey environmental news. Pick a story from gsenet and comment on an issue that you are interested in.

[11] 5-Jul: Bioethics

Readings - LeRoy Walters Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research: An Intercultural Perspective Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal. Mr 04; 14(1): pp. 3-5 [introduction] and pp. 20-28 [Judaism through Roman Catholicism].

Additional ReadingsNational Institute of Health information, Bioethics blog

[12] 7-Jul: Ethics of War

Assessment - Quiz 6, paper II due.

Readings - Michael Walzer Just & Unjust Wars Just War Theory


Here are some links to ethics webpages that you might find useful or interesting.

Ethics Blog

BBC Ethics Page


Please turn off your cell phones during class.