“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience,
but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
- Martin Luther King Jr., ‘48


Fall 2013

AVAILABLE IN Word here on the blog.

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.

10:00 am - 10:50 am  MWF   Sale Hall 109  Aug 21, 2013 - Dec 13, 2013 class ID# 6804392, password= ethics

Email group: [please sign up: exact link forthcoming]
Calendar:  [please sync calendar: exact link forthcoing]

Instructor:      Nathan Nobis, Ph.D.,
Email:                (preferred email);
Telephone:                  404-215-2607 office; 404-825-1740 cell
Office:                         Sale Hall 113, Philosophy & Religion Department
Office Hours: MWF 9:30 -10 AM; Monday 2- 4 PM, Friday 1:50 to 2:10 and by appointment on Tuesdays and Thursdays: please email!

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: An introduction to philosophical bioethics, that is, the identification and rational evaluation of moral arguments that arise in the context of the life and physical sciences, health care, environmental concern and related areas.

EXTENDED COURSE DESCRIPTION: This course 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 such as abortion and infanticide, the treatment of disabled newborns, abortion, embryo experimentation, global and domestic health disparities, racism and health care, the right to health care, organ transplants, the use and treatment of animals in research, euthanasia and assisted suicide, public health ethics, enhancements, and many other issues, some determined by student interest.

2.      COURSE PREREQUISITES: There are no formal prerequisites for this course. However, students will benefit most from the course when they enter it with the abilities to:
·         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;
·         write clear, concise and simple grammatical, spelling-error-free sentences and well-organized expository and argumentative essays, as taught in Introductory English courses;
·         speak clearly, concisely, and grammatically.
Basic mathematical and scientific literacy is desirable, especially insofar as they relate to the particular moral issues.
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 logically invalid  and (2) sound or unsound  (i.e., logically valid with true premises, or not).
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.

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:

4.      REQUIRED MATERIALS, which must always be brought to class: students without course materials may be asked to leave and counted absent for that day.
  1. Gregory Pence, Medical Ethics: Accounts of Ground-Breaking Cases, 6th Edition (McGraw Hill, 2011):
  2. James and Stuart Rachels, eds. The Right Thing to Do (McGraw Hill Publishing, 2012) 6th edition is ideal, but any edition will do: however, students are responsible for getting copies of any readings in the current edition not found in prior editions).
  3. Anthony Weston, A Rulebook for Arguments, Hackett
  4. Bryan Garner, HBR (Harvard Business Review) Guide to Better Business Writing (2013):
  5. Nathan Nobis, Making Moral Progress: An Ethical Arguments Workbook ( Selections from this e-book in progress will be freely posted online.

All writing is done for an audience: for this class you should always assume that your readers are not familiar with the course material so you must explain everything very clearly for them, so that they understand and learn from you!


Discussing readings and assignments is highly encouraged, but each student must always do his or her own written work, unless specifically told otherwise. 

  • 10 weekly short writing assignments, often on the readings, usually due Monday at the time of class in hardcopy – no work will be accepted late -- and submitted to the system, with a print out of your submission receipt attached the assignment (see above for the Course ID and password): 5 points each, 50 points total.
    • There will likely be options for many of the writing assignments; generally they are opportunities for the student to explain the issues and arguments and so teach the material to someone else. Two typical options are these:
      • A very detailed outlines or summaries of some assigned readings. You will want them to be so detailed that you can use them for a detailed open outline quiz.
      • Alternatively, an essay where you explain the main topic of the reading, the main conclusion(s) advanced in the reading, the main reason(s) given in favor of that conclusion; that argument stated in logically valid form and your evaluation of the argument as sound or unsound. This essay should also be so detailed that it could be used for an open-note quiz.
  • 4 longer communication projects:
    • One online educational tool: a webpage or blog, possibly made in groups of 2 or 3 (and no more), that introduces a moral issue, explains how to identify and evaluate moral argument, presents and critically evaluates at least 5 arguments concerning that issue and thus teachers the reader or viewer how to think about that moral issue. 20 points.
    • One presentation, lecture or speech done on webcam (or an alternative) and posted online (privately or publicly). 20 points.
    • Two argumentative essays (one 3-4 pages; another approximately 3000 words, with an independent research component that will put you in a position to potentially present your paper at a conference or other academic forum): including rough drafts, peer and instructor review and revisions: 20 points for the first, 40 points for the second; 60 points total. See
  • 2 Exams or Tests: In class. 20 points each, 40 points total.

  • Attendance and participation, including taking class notes is required. Attendance will be taken at the beginning of class. Each unexcused absence after 4 will result in a 2% reduction from the student’s overall grade. Unexcused tardiness will result in 1% reduction.
  • EXTRA CREDIT ASSIGNMENTS. There likely will be many extra credit opportunities, including this assignment related to finding your “calling” through your career(s):

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. Do not work with other students unless instructed to do so.

Assignments will be posted in class, on the, blog, and email list.

First reading and writing assignments:

For Monday and Wednesday (8/26 & 8/28):
o   Rachels, The Right Thing to Do (RTD: Ch. 2, “Some Basic Points About Arguments,” available here for students who don’t yet have the books:

Handouts on Overview of Logic & Arguments
· Overview of Basic Moral Evaluations: Morally Permissible, Obligatory, Impermissible/Wrong
o   Available in Making Moral Progress here, in the section “Right and Wrong? Wrong”:

For next Friday (8/30):
o   Rachels, The Right Thing to Do: Ch.1 “A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy,” available here for students don’t yet have the books: 

DUE (Wednesday, 9/4): WITHOUT READING ANYTHING ABOUT THESE TOPICS – E.G., DO NOT SEARCH THE INTERNET – please write a short (2-3 page) essay that (1) identifies a bioethical issue and (2) presents at least three arguments in favor of a stated conclusion about this issue.

Please write this essay on the basis of what you already know: again, please do not do any research for this paper (if you do, Turnitin might reveal that and you will be penalized!). This is an assignment to measure where you are at now. If you take it seriously and put in a good effort, your grade will reflect that. J

For Monday (9/9) Ch. 18 from Pence:
Writing assignment 1: very detailed outline or summary of this chapter, covering every section. 

After this, we will briefly review the chapters from Rachels on utilitarian and Kantian moral theory in greater detail, discuss John Rawls’s moral theory, and an African ethical theory [some writings from . We will then return to the practical issues from Pence and Rachels.


We will not discuss all these readings below, and there are many more that we will discuss. Exact dates and assignments will soon be announced in class and online, after we discuss which topics the class finds most interesting.

1.      "Some Basic Points about Arguments," James Rachels (RTD, #2). Available here if you don’t yet have the books:

2.      James Rachels, "A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy" (RTD, #1). Available here if you don’t yet have the books:  


Section I: Classic Cases about Death and Dying

Chapter 1: Requests to Die: Elizabeth Bouvia and Larry McAfee

Chapter 2: Comas: Karen Quinlan, Nancy Cruzan & Terri Schiavo

Chapter 3: Physician-Assisted Dying: New Frontiers


Section II: Classic 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


Section III Classic Cases about Research

Chapter 9: Research on Human Subjects

Chapter 10: Surgeons' Desire for Fame: The Ethics of the First Heart, Hand & Face Transplants

Chapter 11: Human Subjects: The Tuskegee Syphilis Study

Chapter 12: Using One Baby for Another: Babies Fae, Gabriel, & Theresa, and Conjoined Twins

Chapter 13: Involuntary Psychiatric Commitment: The Case of Joyce Brown

Chapter 14: Testing In Advance For Genetic Disease


Section V: Classic 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



1. A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy, James Rachels

2. Some Basic Points about Arguments, James Rachels


3. Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill

4. Utilitarianism and Integrity, Bernard Williams

5. The Experience Machine, Robert Nozick


6. The Subjectivity of Values, J. L. Mackie

7. The Categorical Imperative, Immanuel Kant

8. The Virtues, Aristotle

9. Master Morality and Slave Morality, Friedrich Nietzsche

10. Caring Relations and Principles of Justice, Virginia Held


11. Why Abortion Is Immoral, Don Marquis

12. A Defense of Abortion, Judith Jarvis Thomson

13. On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion and Postscript on Infanticide, Mary Ann Warren


14. All Animals Are Equal, Peter Singer

15. Torturing Puppies and Eating Meat: It's All in Good Taste, Alastair Norcross

16. Do Animals Have Rights?, Tibor R. Machan


17. The Singer Solution to World Poverty, Peter Singer


18. A Defense of the Death Penalty, Louis P. Pojman

19. Why the United States Will Join the Rest of the World in Abandoning Capital Punishment, Stephen B. Bright


20. Hellhole, Atul Gawande

21. The Ethics of War and Peace, Douglas P. Lackey

22. Fifty Years after Hiroshima, John Rawls

23. What Is Wrong with Terrorism?, Thomas Nagel

24. Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb, David Luban


25. America’s Unjust Drug War, Michael Huemer

26. Our Sexual Ethics, Bertrand Russell

27. Monogamy: A Critique, John McMurtry

28. A Few Words about Gay Marriage, Andrew Sullivan

29. Same-Sex Marriage and the Argument from Public Disagreement, David Boonin

30. Alcohol and Rape, Nicholas Dixon


31. Letter from the Birmingham City Jail, Martin Luther King Jr.

32. Is Racial Discrimination Arbitrary?, Peter Singer

33. In Defense of Quotas, James Rachels


34. The Morality of Euthanasia, James Rachels

35. The Wrongfulness of Euthanasia, J. Gay-Williams

36. The New Eugenics, Matt Ridley

37. Human Cloning and the Challenge of Regulation, John A. Robertson

38. Selling Organs for Transplantation, Lewis Burrows

39. A Free Market Would Reduce Donations and Would Commodify the Human Body, James F. Childress 

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