Tuesday, August 30, 2011

For Wed., please read the chapter on moral theories from Pence group. This was distributed in class and I sent it by email to some students who were missing.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Syllabus, Fall 2011



Note: Students are responsible for understanding all the information and policies presented in this syllabus. Students will be referred to it if they have questions that are answered here. A syllabus is not a contract and can be revised, if needed, to promote learning and other educational goals.

Scheduled Meeting Times
Date Range
Schedule Type
10:00 am - 10:50 am
Sale Hall 106
Aug 24, 2011 - Dec 09, 2011
Nathan M. Nobis (P)

WebCT:                                              https://webct.morehouse.edu/webct/public/home.pl
Course blog (being phased out):         http://morehousebioethics.blogspot.com/

Instructor: Nathan Nobis, Ph.D., www.NathanNobis.com
Telephone: 404-215-2607
Office: Sale Hall 113, Philosophy & Religion Department
Office Hours: 2:00-3 PM MW and by appointment.

Department of Philosophy and Religion: Mission and Objectives:

The two-fold objective of this Department is to prepare students for graduate or professional study in the fields of philosophy and religious studies and to enable them to satisfy the College requirements in the general education program. The courses in philosophy and religion seek to provide the student not only with a firm base in these two academic disciplines, but also with a means for self-examination and self-orientation. The work in philosophy aims to develop a critical and analytical approach to all the major areas of human inquiry. The work in religion aims to describe, analyze and evaluate the role of religion in the life of humans since earliest times and how the religious quest continues as a variegated and often tortuous climb toward human growth and fulfillment.
1.      BRIEF COURSE DESCRIPTION: Provides an introduction to philosophical bioethics, focusing on ethical issues that arise in biomedical and scientific research, medical ethics, health care practice and policy and environmental studies.

EXTENDED COURSE DESCRIPTION: According to bioethicist Paul Thompson, “When Van Rensselaer Potter coined the term ‘bioethics’ in 1970, he intended for it to include subjects ranging from human to environmental health, including not only the familiar medical ethics questions . . but also questions about humanity's place in the biosphere.” This course will discussion bioethical issues, understood in this broad sense. It provides students with the opportunity to improve their skills at reasoning critically about moral issues. Students will learn some basic logical concepts and argument analysis skills and apply them to theoretical and practical questions about morality. We will practice identifying clear (i.e., unambiguous) and precise moral conclusions (i.e., exact perspectives taken on moral issues) and the premises, or reasons, given for and against these conclusions. We will then practice evaluating these reasons to see if they provide rational support for these conclusions or not.
We will think about what helps people think more carefully and critically about moral issues and what factors and influences discourage this.     
We will discuss influential ethical theories and moral principles – answers to the questions ‘What’s the basic difference between a morally permissible and a morally impermissible (or wrong) action?’ and ‘What makes wrong actions wrong and what makes permissible actions permissible?’ – and apply our argument analysis skills to moral issues in bioethics: see below and our books’ tables of contents for a list of topics.

2.      COURSE PREREQUISITES: Students are required to have had at least one course in philosophy, ideally introduction to ethics and/or critical thinking. Students will benefit most from the course when they enter it with the abilities to:
a.       read critically and identify the structure and components of an argumentative essay or passage, i.e., the conclusion(s), the premises(s) or supporting elements, and so forth;
b.      write clear, concise and simple grammatical, spelling-error-free sentences and well-organized expository and argumentative essays, as taught in Introductory English courses;
c.       speak clearly, concisely, and grammatically.
  • Basic mathematical and scientific literacy is desirable.
  • Familiarity with moral issues, common positions taken on them and reasons given in favor of these positions is desirable, since we will build on any previous understanding.
  • Intellectual and moral virtues, such as curiosity, patience, and openness to the possibility of error and the need for change, are desirable as well.

3.      COURSE OBJECTIVES: Upon successfully completing this course, students will be able to use the set of argument analysis skills below to identify and evaluate moral arguments:
a.       identify whether any presentation (“text”) is “morally argumentative” or not, i.e., whether it presents an argument for a moral conclusion on a moral issue or not;
b.      identify conclusions of morally argumentative presentations, evaluate these conclusions for clarity and precision, and (if needed) reconstruct / restate the conclusion in clear and precise terms; 
c.       identify stated premises or reasons in morally argumentative presentations, evaluate these conclusions for clarity and precision, and (if needed) reconstruct / restate these premises in clear and precise terms; 
d.      identify (if needed) unstated premises in argumentative presentations that are logically essential to the structure of an argument and state them as part of the argument in clear and precise terms;
e.       identify and distinguish factual/empirical/scientific and moral/philosophical premises in moral arguments;
f.       evaluate moral arguments as (1) logically valid or invalid (or otherwise logically cogent) and (2) sound or unsound (or otherwise strong);
g.       identify and explain reasons given to think an argument is sound, reasons to think it is unsound (often using counterexamples to general moral premises), and responses to these reasons.

Students will be able to accurately explain historically influential moral theories and common arguments against them, in light of their implications, explanatory power and theoretical virtues and vices.

Students will be able to accurately explain (in essays and oral presentations) the most common arguments given on a number of controversial moral issues, from a variety of perspectives, and criticisms of these arguments.

  • 12 weekly short writing assignments, often on the readings, always due Monday before class through WebCT: 5 points each, 60 points total. ( 30% of total grade)
    • Writing assignment for this Monday (8/29): what makes a class go best for enabling you to learn the best you can, in terms of the material, structure, organization, classroom atmosphere, instructor’s behavior and attitude, your own behavior and attitude, and so on?
  • 4 Argumentative Essays, approximately 5 pages, includes pre-writing and writing workshop activities: 20 points each, 80 points total. (40% of total grade)
  • Argumentative Research Paper and Presentation, where – as one possible writing project – you find a new argumentative writing on a topic we have discuss, identify its argument and critique its argument; includes pre-writing and writing workshop activities. 40 points (20% of total grade)
  • Attendance and participation, including a spoken presentation and preparation of the “Minutes” – which is a review of last last’s material and discussion – and volunteering to lead class discussion at least once. 20 points. (10% of total grade)

No work will be accepted late except with a written, college-approved excuse.
Final grades will be determined by the quantity and quality of work done only: students who need a certain grade should work to ensure that they earn that grade.

Plagiarism and cheating is not allowed and will be severely penalized by either a zero on an assignment (and no chance for making up that assignment) or failing the course. Do not consult any outside sources for any assignments or examine the work of any other students – current or past students – unless directed to do so by the instructor.


Class attendance is required for all Morehouse College courses.  Each student is allowed four absences in this course. In addition, two late-arrivals will count as one absence. Students who are late are responsible for informing the instructor at the end of the class period that they are present, otherwise they may be recorded as absent.  Excuses for absences should be submitted no later than two weeks from occurrence. 
            Students who accumulate more than four officially unexcused absences may have their course grade lowered.  Daily attendance will be recorded.  Each student should keep a record of his or her absences.  Students who miss exams or quizzes due to unexcused absences will not be allowed to make them up.  Students who fail to submit the essays on the due date, without official excuse, may be penalized.  Students who take a trip that is officially sponsored (and therefore excused) by the College must inform the instructor prior to the trip to discuss how their class work can be made up. Students should make a point of informing the instructor of any required special accommodation.

Fall 2011 Academic Calendar
First Day of Class
End Drop/Add

Withdrawal Period Begins
Labor Day
October 10-14, 2011
Mid-term Week

November 7-11, 2011
Academic Advising Week

Web Registration Begins

Last Day to Withdraw

November 24-25, 2011
Thanksgiving Day

Last Day of Classes
December 1-2, 2011
Reading Period
December 1-2, 2011
Senior Final Exams
December 5-9, 2011
Final Exams

Senior Grades due by Noon

Semester Ends
All Final Grades due by Noon

A GREEN SYLLABUS: This course contains content that allows it to contribute to Morehouse’s Institute for Sustainable Energy program, its planned academic Minor in Energy and the Morehouse-Wide Initiative for Sustainable Energy (M-WISE) program: This content is indicated in green below.

7.  Required textbooks: always bring all the books to each class:

  1. Medical Ethics: Accounts of Ground-Breaking Cases, 6th (or any) Edition, by Gregory Pence, McGraw Hill, 2010, 416 pages, ISBN 0073407496 / 9780073407494; http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0073407496/information_center_view0/ Available used online.
  2. Exploring Ethics: An Introductory Anthology, any (1st or 2nd) edition, Edited by Steven M. Cahn (Oxford University Press). http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/he/subject/Philosophy/Ethics/IntroductiontoEthics/?view=usa&ci=9780199757510 Available used online.
  3. This course contains content that allows it to contribute to Morehouse’s Institute for Sustainable Energy program, its planned academic Minor in Energy and the Morehouse-Wide Initiative for Sustainable Energy (M-WISE) program. http://www.morehouse.edu/news/InsideMorehouse_w/dec10jan11/hbcu-energy.html Thus, we will read a selection of online articles dealing with environmental ethics, including philosophical issues concerning “sustainability”:
    1. “Environmental Ethics,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-environmental/
    2. Katie McShane, “Environmental Ethics: An Overview,” from Philosophy Compass: http://goo.gl/tZHil
    3. Piers Stephens (Philosophy, UGA: http://www.uga.edu/phil/people/stephens.htm), "Sustainability" - Encyclopedia entry in J. Baird Callicott & Robert Frodeman's "Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy" or http://goo.gl/imIoZ
    4. Selections on “Future Generations and Sustainability Questions,” from The Environmental Ethics & Policy Book, Donald VanDeVeer and Christine Pierce, 2nd Edition, Wadsworth 1998: http://www.amazon.com/Environmental-Ethics-Policy-Book-Philosophy/dp/0534561888
                                                              i.      Preview - http://goo.gl/VPpLL
                                                            ii.      “Environmental Problems and Future Generations,” Bryan Norton (GA Tech): http://goo.gl/EgY4L
                                                          iii.      “The Nuclear Train to the Future,” Richard Sylvan and Val Plumwood: http://goo.gl/dWm80
                                                          iv.      “Sustainability: An Economist’s Perspective,” Robert Solow: http://goo.gl/yxjpi
                                                            v.      “Sustainability,” Robert Goodin http://goo.gl/9Dm7i
                                                          vi.      “‘Sustainable Development’: Is it a Useful Concept?” Wilfred Beckerman http://goo.gl/24mDV
                                                        vii.      “On Wilfred Beckerman’s Critique of Sustainable Development,” Herman Daly http://goo.gl/Az7PR

A detailed schedule of reading and writing assignments will be developed in the next few days, based on student input and preferences:

Tables of Contents:

1. Medical Ethics: Accounts of Ground-Breaking Cases, 6th Edition, by Gregory Pence, McGraw Hill, 2010, 416 pages, ISBN 0073407496 / 9780073407494

Part One: Ground-Breaking Cases about Death and Dying 
    Chapter 1: Requests to Die: Elizabeth Bouvia and Larry McAfee 
    Chapter 2: Comas: Karen Quinlan, Nancy Cruzan, and Terri Schiavo
    Chapter 3: Physician-Assisted Dying: New Frontiers
Part Two: Ground-Breaking Cases about the Beginnings of Human Life
    Chapter 4: Abortion: The Trial of Kenneth Edelin 
    Chapter 5: Assisted Reproduction, Multiple Births, and Elderly Parents—Time to Regulate? 
    Chapter 6: Embryos, Stem Cells, and Cloning 
    Chapter 7: The Ethics of Treating Impaired Babies 
    Chapter 8: Can Medical Research on Animals Be Justified?: The Gennarelli and Taub Cases 
Part Three: Interlude for Ethical Theory
    Chapter 9: Research on Human Subjects 
Part Four: Ground-Breaking Cases about Research
    Chapter 10: Surgeons’ Desire for Fame: The Ethics of the First Heart, Hand, and Face Transplants 
    Chapter 11: Allocation of Artificial and Transplantable Organs: The God Committee and Live Donors 
    Chapter 12: Using One Baby for Another: Babies Fae, Gabriel, and Theresa, and Conjoined Twins 
    Chapter 13: Involuntary Psychiatric Commitment: The Case of Joyce Brown 
    Chapter 14: Testing in Advance for Genetic Disease 
Part Five: Ground-Breaking Cases about Individual Rights versus the Public Good
    Chapter 15: Preventing the Global Spread of AIDS 
    Chapter 16: Medicine and Inequality 
    Chapter 17: David Reimer: The “John/Joan Case” 
    Chapter 18: Ethical Theories and Bioethics

Exploring Ethics: An Introductory Anthology, any (1st or 2nd) edition, Edited by Steven M. Cahn

ISBN13: 9780199757510ISBN10: 0199757518, Paperback, 432 pages
1. Morality and Moral Philosophy, William K. Frankena
2. Crito, Plato
3. How Not to Answer Moral Questions, Tom Regan
4. God and Morality, Steven M. Cahn
5. The Challenge of Cultural Relativism, James Rachels
6. Right and Wrong, Thomas Nagel
7. Egoism and Moral Scepticism, James Rachels
8. Happiness and Morality, Steven M. Cahn and Jeffrie G. Murphy
9. The Nature of Ethical Disagreement, Charles L. Stevenson
10. The Categorical Imperative, Immanuel Kant
11. A Simplified Account of Kant's Ethics, Onora O'Neill
12. Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill
13. Strengths and Weaknesses of Utilitarianism, Louis P. Pojman
14. The Nature of Virtue, Aristotle
15. Virtue Ethics, Bernard Mayo
* 16. The Ethics of Care, Virginia Held
17. The Social Contract, Thomas Hobbes
18. A Theory of Justice, John Rawls
19. A Defense of Abortion, Judith Jarvis Thomson
20. On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion, Mary Anne Warren
21. Why Abortion Is Immoral, Don Marquis
* 22. Virtue Theory and Abortion, Rosalind Hursthouse
23. Active and Passive Euthanasia, James Rachels
24. Active and Passive Euthanasia: A Reply to Rachels, Thomas D. Sullivan
25. Famine, Affluence, and Morality, Peter Singer
26. World Hunger and Moral Obligation: The Case Against Singer, John Arthur
27. Terrorism, Michael Walzer
28. Is Terrorism Distinctively Wrong?, Lionel K. McPherson
* 29. Torture, Henry Shue
* 30. Ticking Bombs, Torture, and the Analogy with Self-Defense, Daniel J. Hill
31. Two Concepts of Affirmative Action, Steven M. Cahn
32. What Good Am I?, Laurence Thomas
33. The Case for Animal Rights, Tom Regan
34. The Case for the Use of Animals in Biomedical Research, Carl Cohen
35. We Are What We Eat, Tom Regan
* 36. Philosophical Problems for Environmentalism, Elliott Sober
* 37. Death, Thomas Nagel
* 38. The Meaning of Life, Richard Taylor
39. Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr.
* 40. Phaedo, Plato