Introduction to Ethics

P & R 115  HOME PHONE: 458-6395
FALL 2002 OFFICE HRS: MW, 7:00-7:30 or by appointment after class.
Home Page: MAIL BOX: Bear Hall 269


Recently various voices have raised questions about the future of Western, liberal, democratic society. They are concerned about the kinds of virtues, both personal and civic, which are required to preserve or maintain a liberal, civic culture. How are these virtues related to a particular community's values? What kinds of moral principles should guide conduct so that persons might be able to maintain a sense of moral integrity? These are fundamental questions which, even in the best of times are problematic, given the complexities of moral decision making. But, in an increasingly multicultural, pluralistic world, and one where it is difficult to find authorities and role models of character and virtue, how are these questions to be answered? Is there a "moral crisis" in Western culture, as some have suggested? If they are correct, what resources are there for making moral decisions or for imaging the virtuous life?

In addition to questions related to our individual and social moral resources, others have suggested that Western persons are having to confront and make decisions which have tremendous economic, political, and biological impact. Even if we had clear norms upon which most of us could agree, would these traditional ways of conceiving the moral life offer an adequate means for making decisions like we are confronted with today, as for example with the issue of genetic cloning?

COURSE DESCRIPTION: In this course we will examine these questions, as well as various  theories about the nature and foundations of moral judgments and applications to contemporary moral issues.  Upon completion, students should be able to apply various ethical theories to individual moral issues such as crime, punishment, and justice.

OBJECTIVES: Upon completing this course, you should be able to:

  1. identify the major ethical theories and the theories of the Western and, when possible, non-Western traditions,
  2. discuss some of the complex issues that confront us as individuals and as citizens,
  3. apply the various ethical theories and principles to these contemporary issues and problems,
  4. ponder the role of moral decision making in his/her personal life,
  5. recognize the value of critical thinking and the precise use of language in order to develop habits of thinking, speaking, and writing with logical rigor and clarity.

Rachels, James. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. 4rd ed.. New York: McGraw Hill,


Baldwin, James. Giovanniís Room.  New York: Bantam, 1956.

McCourt, Frank. Angelaís Ashes: A Memoir. New York: Scribner, 1996.


Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 5th ed. New York:

    The Modern Language Association of America, 1999.

TOPICS: Chapters in the primary texts will be assigned in an order and at a pace according to the demands of the class and will be assigned at the discretion of the instructor. I have prepared what I believe to be a manageable list of readings and a course calendar.

REQUIREMENTS: Reading, analyzing, interpreting, writing, and arguing about texts are the basic activities of most college courses and of most managerial, professional, and technical careers. Since you all aspire to succeed in one or more of these environments, you will be asked to write papers to accomplish certain tasks (see " Task Driven Writing Assignments"), since writing in everyday life is always done to fulfill some task. These assignments are described below. Handouts with detailed instructions will be given to you as we move closer to the due dates.

Mid-term due on 10/9, 4 page Analytic Paper. Pick one of the ethical positions presented in the Rachels text and present an analysis of the relevant chapters. Bring rough draft to class on 10/7  for peer review.  (1/3 of course grade.)

Final paper due on 12/9, 4 page Argumentative Paper: You will be prepare an argumentative position paper for a debate on an ethical problem.  (1/3 of course grade.)

In addition to the above papers, there will be 4 reflection papers of 2 pages in length.  (1/3 of course grade.)

All papers must conform to the MLA Handbook rules for writing papers. Your paper grades will be determined in accordance with the guidelines in " Grading Standards." In the unlikely event of having to hand in a late paper, please consult with me before the due date. Each day late will result in a deduction of ten (10) points from your earned grade.

Class format is lecture-discussion. All assigned readings must be completed prior to class. Students are expected to critically participate in class discussion. To encourage your attendance and participation, I will award 4 points to your final grade average, deducting 1 point per hour of absence.

The Syllabus: There are various ways to look at the first day handout that influences how you view a course. Often, students think of the syllabus as a blueprint, analogous to an architect's drawing of a house. Such a conception leads to the conclusion that a course simply follows steps until one arrives at the end where one can measure the outcomes in relationship to the plans. I would urge you to think of the handout as a map. Like a blueprint, the map provides us with information necessary to arrive at our destination. But, the analogy of the map alerts us to the fact that a journey, like a course and all good education, is to be enjoyed and meaningful from the moment one begins the adventure, not simply when one arrives.

I take academic dishonesty seriously, as I am sure you do. I shall abide by the "Academic Honor
Code" as described in the University Bulletin, as so will you.

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