Philosophy 108-Moral and Social Problems--Fall 2005

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Philosophy 108-Moral and Social Problems--Fall 2005

Philosophy 108-Moral and Social Problems--Fall 2005

    Section 1: 10-11:15

Dr. Lisa Rivera

Office: W-5-019

    Phone: 617-287-6528 (Cell: 617-306-1465when there is no other way to reach me)

    Email: or Email is the best way to reach me off hours.

    Office hours: Tuesday and Thursday/8:30-10:00am

    Other hours TBA and by appointment. (I will hold extra office hours prior to due dates on papers and exams.)

    These are my official office hours, but I’m happy to speak to you anytime I’m available. I am often in my office before class and in the late afternoons. If you need to see me at other times, leave a note in my box, on my door, call me, or email me and I can arrange to meet you at times that are more convenient for you. I’m also able to speak with you on the phone if we arrange a time in advance.

--This syllabus lists the readingsin orderand the assignments. If an article seems difficult to many

    in the class, we may spend a slightly longer time on it. So the dates assigned to readings may change. --If there are changes, your reading assignments will be updated and these updates will be passed out in handouts. All the assignments on this syllabus will still be required of you.

    --You are responsible for any assignments or information passed out or announced in class. If you miss class, you should ask me what you missed.

    --You must provide me with a working email address. There is an internet site where I will make

    announcements and post duplicate handouts. I will send you a link via email as well as class information and handouts.

    --If you are ever confused about what to read or about the date something is due, ask me in class or email me!

Primary Texts: Thomas A. Mappes and Jane S. Zembaty, Social Ethics: Morality and Social Policy, (New


     Course description: After reading this syllabus, it will be obvious to you that the problems we will discuss in this course are controversial and difficult to solve. Besides thinking about different philosophical positions on these problems, we will also think about why agreement about them is hard to come by, and why finding solutions seems even harder. One way of thinking about some of the problems we will discuss is that they are the result of conflicts between our good as individuals and the good of the community. For example, many believe that they have a right to keep what they earn while also acknowledging that a somewhat higher tax rate will pay for social services that benefit the less affluent. Another way of thinking about many of the questions we‟ll consider in the class is that they involve us in cases where several social or individual aims might be extremely valuable to many of us, but we either cannot achieve them all, or we cannot agree on their respective value. For example, given the scarcity of resources, some argue that welfare programs unfairly penalize citizens if funds are taken involuntarily in the form of taxes (Hospers). Others argue that childcare done by single mothers is work that deserves compensation by the state (Mink), or that there is an obligation on the part of citizens to provide for impoverished or handicapped members of society. In spite of these disagreements, all these people might agree that poverty is a bad thing and that methods to alleviate poverty should be sought.

     I hope this course will show you that we can make progress in understanding and solving moral and social problems by honest and fair discussion, reflection, and argument about our moral beliefs. I hope it will also show how important it is to have good reasons for our beliefs about moral and social problems. The point of the course is not just to air our disagreements about problems that affect our society, but to see whether philosophical reflection and argumentation are useful tools for deciding how to resolve them, or at least make progress in our thinking about them.

     Discussion and lecture: You will get the most out of this class if you are engaged in an active process of reflection and argument. Consequently, you must make a habit of coming to class prepared to discuss the issues of that day‟s reading. However, some of the arguments we will read in the course are complex, and I


    will sometimes lecture in the beginning of the hour in order to make it easier for you to see what claims are being made by the author(s) we read, and what conclusions are being drawn from those claims. Even when I

    spend some time lecturing, your thoughtful and informed contribution to class is crucial, and this requires that you have done the reading before class.

    Humanities: The humanities investigate human concerns, ideas and experience. Students taking courses in the Humanities will develop a better appreciation of the way in which the moral, intellectual and spiritual aspects of the human condition have been and may be articulated. They will gain understanding of the humanistic methods of inquiry, which include the analysis and interpretation of ideas.

     Skills: General Education skills and capabilities emphasized in this course include identification and exploration of the values underlying philosophical expression; verbal reasoning; critical reading and analysis, effective communication through writing and speaking and the ability to work cooperatively with others.

     Writing Proficiency Exam: At lease one written assignment in this course will be suitable for

    submission in the Writing Proficiency Portfolio: an expository essay of five pages or more requiring comparative discussion of two or more texts and sources.

     Class Policies: If you have a disability, and believe you will need accommodations in order to complete course requirements, please contact the Ross Center for Disability Services (M-I-401) at 287-7430.

     Attendance: Attendance at all classes is required. I will either take attendance, or pass around a sign up sheet. (As the course progresses, I will come to know you, so don‟t assume that my failure to take attendance in every class ensures I won‟t notice your absence.) You are allowed four unexcused absences per semester. For each absence after that, you will be docked 1/3 of your final grade (i.e., a B+ will become a B). If you are absent for more than 4 weeks (over 25% of the semester!) drop the course. The philosophy department supports this attendance policy.

     Submitting Work: Your work is due at the beginning of the class on the days indicated. Late work

    will be penalized 1/3 of a grade for each day it is late. If you have a problem turning your work in, you must inform me immediately. Exceptions to the grading policy can be made in exceptional circumstances.

     Class conduct: As in all classes, you have both rights and obligations. These are set forth in an additional handout (partly shaped by class discussion) that you will receive early in the semester.

     Grading: Your written work will be evaluated by the following criteria:

    (1) Accuracy: A good paper must always present the views being discussed accurately. You should be careful not to misinterpret what you have read, or ascribe to the author views she does not hold. You must also defend any interpretation you make of a writer‟s work. When you are trying to prove that the writer holds the view you ascribe to her, you may use quotes or paraphrase. However, you should avoid paraphrasing or

    quoting when trying to explain or defend an author’s view. Use quotes and paraphrasing only to „pin down‟ an

    author on a question of interpretation.

    (2) Thoroughness: A good paper is thorough in its discussion of the issues. It does not leave important issues undiscussed, when they are clearly relevant to the topic you have selected. For example, you must address, and offer reasons against, the position you are rejecting in your paper.

    (3) Clarity of writing: Besides being grammatically correct, your writing must be easily understood by any reader. You cannot expect me (or any reader) to understand what you mean in your writing unless you present your argument in clear and precise writing.

    (4) Persuasiveness: The papers you are going to write in this course are going to be arguments. Thus, you must assert a thesis (conclusion) in every paper, and offer the most persuasive evidence that you can to support your conclusion. Being a persuasive writer also requires that you treat the opposing position fairly and accurately, and present reasons that show why you reject this position.

    (5) Originality/Insightfulness: Part of the challenge in this course is to develop your own well thought out, well-defended, and persuasive positions on the arguments we will read. There are many ways to be original in philosophical argumentation, and I cannot list all of them here. Original papers might: find some consequence of an author‟s conclusion that she has overlooked, and show why this consequence makes her position either

    mistaken, or especially powerful; advance new and innovative reasons for a position, and defend these with evidence that has not been offered in what we have read; or take claims made in class discussion that are relevant to what we read and give a detailed and persuasive defense and analysis of those claims.

    (6) A note about citations and plagiarism: Plagiarism involves presenting someone else‟s work as your own.

    You need to be careful to avoid even the appearance of plagiarism. This means that if you ever use a phrase, a sentence, or an idea from a text, you must provide a citation to avoid plagiarism. If it is something we read


for the class, you need only give the source and page number. E.g.: (Rawls, “The Justification of Civil

    Disobedience,” p. 100). If you picked up an idea from something else you read, you need to provide full bibliographic information of that text. If you don’t provide appropriate citations, this will affect your

    grade. If you have gone so far as to misrepresent another person‟s work as your own by copying from another‟s paper, using a paper writing service, copying something off the web, or out of a book or in any other

    way I will assume you intend to commit plagiarism and will give you an „F.‟

     Throughout the course, we will discuss ways to make your writing more effective, clear and persuasive. My comments on your papers will also be directed toward that end.

     My hope is that the practice you will get writing in this course will make it easy for you to pass the writing proficiency examination. (You might even choose to present a paper from this course in lieu of taking the exam. You need 4 papers from 4 different courses to pursue this option.) My belief is that the time and effort you put into writing the required papers will be reflected in your grade for the course. If you find you have difficulty writing the papers, please see me in my office hours and contact the CAS center at 287-6560 or 6550. I will be happy to discuss and give you written and oral feedback on drafts of your papers, provided you give me enough time to do that.

     Participation: Your participation grade is based on whether you contribute to class discussion, and whether your contribution demonstrates that you have read, and thought about, the readings for that day. (It also helps me and other students to get to know you.) You can contribute to class in many ways: By asking questions about the lecture or reading, by clarifying something another student has said, by raising thoughtful objections to the reading, or by conveying how your current moral beliefs are challenged or confirmed by what we‟ve read. It can be a wonderful contribution simply to point out that something in lecture or the reading was unintelligible to you! Please see me if you think it will be difficult for you to speak in class, or if you find it difficult later in the semester.

     Debate: In this course, we will also have team debates. You need to choose early what position you will be interested in debating. You will be given time in class to prepare a case with other students who share your position. Your debate grade will depend on: (1) Your level of preparedness in presenting your position. As in papers, you must provide a thorough and accurate account of the arguments for your position, and give reasons for your view that others will take seriously. (2) Your fairness to opposing views, and the respect you show others who hold those views. (3) The persuasiveness of your counterarguments to views you reject. If

    you miss the day of class your group is presenting, or do not contribute to your group’s preparation, you will receive no credit for the assignment.

Breakdown of grades: Participation/Group Work=10%

     Microessays/quizzes/in-class writing =20% Due when announced

     (As the handout explains, these prepare you for your final argumentative paper)

     Debates=10% Due 12/1

     Midterm=15% On 10/18

    Argumentative Paper (6 pages minimum, 2 drafts)=25% First draft due 11/17;

    Final draft due 12/6

     Final Essay Exam=20% Due 12/19

I. Drug Control and Addiction

Th 9/8 Read Chapter 6 “Introduction”

Tu 9/13 Mill, “On Liberty”/ Quiz on Syllabus (low pressure)

Th 9/15 Mill, continued, begin Szasz “The Ethics of Addiction,”


Th 9/22 Gunier lecture, discussed/Szasz, continued.

Tu 9/27 Ethan A. Nadelman, “The Case for Legalization”


    Th 9/29 James Q.Wilson, “Against the Legalization of Drugs,”/ Response paper on Gunier talk due

Tu 10/4 Wilson, cont., Shapiro, “Addiction and Drug Policy”

    II. Social And Economic Justice

Th 10/6 John Hospers, “What Libertarianism Is,”

     Introduction to Chapter 7

Tu 10/11 Hospers, cont.

Th 1013 Kai Nielsen, “A Moral Case for Socialism”

Tu 10/18 Nielsen, cont.

Th 10/20 Iris M. Young, “Five Faces of Oppression,”

Tu 10/25 Gwendolyn Mink, “The End of Welfare”


Chapter 8, Introduction AND The Presidential Commission on World Hunger, “Why Should the United States

    Be Concerned?,”

Singer, “Famine, Affluence and Morality,”

Hardin, “Living on A Lifeboat,” 404.

Nielsen, “Some Facts About Famine”

Amartya Sen, Property and Hunger,”

IV. The Death Penalty

Potter, Stewart, Powell, Stevens, “Opinion in Gregg v. Georgia”

Marshall, Dissenting Opinion in Gregg v. Georgia

Primoratz, “A Life For A Life”

Nathanson, “An Eye For An Eye?”

Eckholm, “Studies Find Death Penalty Tied To Race of the Victims”

V. Animals

Singer, “All Animals Are Equal”

Regan, “The Case For Animal Rights”

Cohen, “The Case For The Use of Animals in Biomedical Research”

Warren, “Human and Animal Rights Compared”


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