Philosophy 131 - Present Moral Problems

Instructor: Brian Talbot
Email: philosophy at bigfatgenius dot com

Office Location: Wilson 203
Office Hours: Mondays and Wednesdays starting at 5:40. I'll stay as long as there are people who want to talk to me. If no one comes by, I'll leave at 6. If you can't make that time, email me to make an appointment.

Assistant: Ben Henke (benhenke at wustl dot edu)
Ben's office hours: Mon & Wed, 1:30-2:30pm; click here to schedule a time
Ben's office: Wilson 116

Course Requirements
Homework: 20% of final grade
Quizzes: 15% of final grade
First paper: to be determined
Final paper: to be determined

Grade cut-offs
93% and up: A
90% to 92.9%: A-
87% to 89.9%: B+
83% to 86.9%: B
80 to 82.9% B-
Credit or a pass requires a 70% or above.

Use this spreadsheet to keep track of your grades and see how you are doing in the class. It includes instructions.

Attendance: You get three unexcused absences/latenesses. For every additional unexcused absence, your overall grade in the class decreases by 1/3 step (e.g. from A- to B+).

Lateness: No late homework will be accepted without a well documented good excuse. Similarly, there will be no make up quizzes or excused missed quizzes without a well documented good excuse.
Late papers will be accepted. A paper loses 3 percentage points for being late, and loses an additional 3 percentage points for each additional 24 hours it is late.

A reading or homework that is listed on a given day should be read or turned in on the day it is listed.
I will not accept late homework, emailed homework, or handwritten homework.

Monday, Aug 28

Wednesday, Aug 30
Handout on basic concepts

Monday, Sep 4 is Labor Day

Wednesday, Sep 6
Katy Butler, What broke my father's heart (note: this is about the suffering and death of one's parents)
Homework on Butler
Optional homework on counterexamples
Handout on Butler, consent

Monday, Sep 11
Sandra Woien, Conflicting preferences and advanced directives
John Harris, Consent and end of life decisions (read up to the section "Persistent vegetative state," so pp.10-13)
Homework on Woien and Harris
Handout on dementia, euthanasia, and conflicting preferences

Wednesday, Sep 13
Consider some of answers to question 1 that your classmates gave on Monday. Try to articulate conditionals that capture the ideas behind their answers. Find counterexamples and revise until you have something plausible or realize the idea cannot work. Come to class prepared to discuss your results.

Monday, Sep 18
John Hardwig - Is there a duty to die?
Sarah Miller, The invisibility of gender (pp.264-269)
Homework on Hardwig and Miller

Wednesday, Sep 20

Monday, Sep 25
Lisa Cassidy, That many of us should not parent; the main part of the paper starts at the bottom of page 42 (starting with "What kind of parent will I be?")
Homework on Cassidy
Handout on Cassidy

Wednesday, Sep 27

Friday, Sep 29
Thesis proposal assignment due by 8pm. Email this to your TA. Put the proposal in the body of your email - not as an attachment - with the subject line 131 PROPOSAL PAPER 1

Monday, Oct 2
Matt Liao, Parental love pills
Homework on Liao
Handout on Liao

Wednesday, Oct 4
Handout on making arguments

Monday, Oct 9
Handout on counterexamples

Wednesday, Oct 11
A.Q. Smith, It's basically just immoral to be rich

Friday, Oct 13
Send a draft of your paper to your partner. Email by 8pm, cc your TA; subject line 131 DRAFT PAPER 1

Fall Break, Oct 14-17

Wednesday, Oct 18
Original deadline: Send your partner comments on their draft. Email by 8pm, cc your TA; subject line 131 COMMENTS PAPER 1; alternate deadline: If you and your partner agree, you can send them comments on Friday, Oct 20 by 8pm
Handout on Smith

Friday, Oct 20
Alternate deadline for paper comments (see above)
Original deadline: 8pm Paper 1 due. Email it to your TA as an attachment, subject line 131 PAPER 1 FINAL; alternate deadline: Paper 1 due by Monday, Oct 23, by 8pm

Monday, Oct 23
Alternate paper deadline (see above)
Judith Jarvis Thomson, Turning the trolley; you only need to read sections (i) through (iv).
Homework on Thomson
Handout on Thomson

Wednesday, Oct 25
Handout on Thomson (pt 2)
Handout on valuing life

Monday, Oct 30
Jessica Isserow, On having bad persons as friends
Homework on Isserow
Handout on Isserow

Wednesday, Nov 1
Handout on friendship and leniency

Monday, Nov 6
Walter Sinnott Armstrong, It's not my fault
Chad Vance, Climate change, individual emissions, and foreseeing harm (read part of section 2 (starting on p3, and to the bottom of 5) and all of section 3)
In the Vance paper, Vance says things like "x iff y." This means "If x, then y; if x is not true, then y is not true."
Handout on collective action problems and prima facie duties

Wednesday, Nov 8

Monday, Nov 13
Amia Srinivasan, The aptness of anger
Homework on Srinivasan
Handout on Srinivasan

Wednesday, Nov 15

Friday, Nov 17
Thesis proposal assignment due by 8pm. Email it to your TA, with the proposal in the body of your email - not as an attachment; subject line 131 PROPOSAL PAPER 2
(Note: the link talks about choosing how the papers will be weighed. You already did that, so ignore that)

Monday, Nov 20

Thanksgiving break: Wednesday, Nov 22

Monday, Nov 27
Handout on constructing the final review sheet
One member of each merged group: submit the results of your group's work today, by email to Ben, with all of the group members' names on it

Wednesday, Nov 29
Aaron Smuts, Love and death: The problem of resilience

Sunday, Dec 3
Send a draft of your paper to your partner. Email by 8pm, cc your TA; subject line 131 DRAFT PAPER 2

Monday, Dec 4

Tuesday, Dec 5
Send your partner comments on their draft. Email by 8pm, cc your TA; subject line 131 COMMENTS PAPER 2

Wednesday, Dec 6

Sunday, Dec 10
8pm, submit 2nd paper by email (to your TA), with the subject line 131 PAPER 2 FINAL

Optional readings
Flowchart on working out your ideas

The papers
First paper review handout
Second paper review handout
Sample first paper
First paper assignment
Second paper assignment
Grading standards for the paper

Things that might be on quizzes

Note: all quizzes are cumulative: you can be tested at any point on anything on this list. Below, whenever I say "give examples," I mean "give examples we have not discussed in class."

Conditionals: Be able to identify what conclusions you can draw from conditionals and what conclusions you can't (e.g., if I give an example of a conclusion somewhat drew based on a conditional, be able to say if that conclusion really should have been drawn, and why or why not). Be able to show that a given conditional is false by giving a counterexample. If given an example conditional and a possible counterexample, be able to explain if the possible counterexample really is a good counterexample not. Be able to properly use the terms "antecedent" and "consequent."

Standpoints: Be able to explain the legal and prudential standpoint. Be able to give examples that illustrate the difference between the different standpoints of evaluation (legal, prudential, moral). If given claims about what is wrong or permissible, be able to say which standpoint these are most plausible from and why.

Wrongness: Be able to give plausible examples of morally permissible, morally wrong, and morally obligatory actions. Be able to give examples of acts that are morally wrong but also wrong to prevent, acts that are morally permissible but morally permissible to prevent, and acts that are morally obligatory but morally permissible to prevent . Be able to rewrite sentences using "wrong," "permissible," "duty," or "obligation" into sentences using the other terms, which mean the same things.

Well-being: Be able to give plausible examples of people whose well-being is overall good, and people whose well-being is overall bad, and to explain why. Be able to give plausible examples of things that improve a person's well-being and things that decrease a person's well-being. Be able to give examples of things that overall increase a person's well-being even though they have some aspects that are partly bad for the person (example from class: exercise is painful, and pain is somewhat bad for one's well-being, but overall exercise is good for one's well-being). Be able to give examples of things that are morally wrong even though they (overall) improve a person's well-being, and things that are morally permissible even though they (overall) decrease a person's well-being. If I give you examples, be able to explain how people's well-being is affected in them and why.

Consent: Relevant terms: "superficial consent," "morally relevant consent." Be able to define each term. Be able to give examples of cases where there is no consent, where there is superficial consent but not morally relevant consent, where there is both superficial and morally relevant consent; be able to explain these examples. Be able to give examples of cases where an action would be morally wrong without morally relevant consent, but is morally permissible because there is morally relevant consent. Be able to give examples where an action is morally permissible despite a lack of morally relevant consent. There are several different requirements for something to count as morally relevant consent; be able to give examples (not discussed in class) where one of these is missing but the others are present. If I give you examples, be able to say what kind of consent there is in the example (if any) and why; if there is not morally relevant consent in the example, be able to explain what requirement is missing and why.

Special obligations: Know what the definition of "special obligation" is, and how special obligations are different from general obligations. Be able to give some plausible examples of special obligations (especially ones not involving parents or children). If I give you examples of possible obligations, be able to identify if they are general or special. Be able to translate sentences about special obligations into sentences that mean the same thing but use different terms (like "wrong," "permissible," or "duties").

Conflicts of duties: Relevant terms: "conflict of duties," "prima facie duty," "absolute duty," "overriding" (one can also use the word "obligation" instead of "duty" in these terms). Be able to explain each of these in your own words. Be able to give examples of each (I won't ask you to give examples of absolute duties). If I give you examples, be able to determine if what I'm describing is a conflict of duties or not, which of the duties are prima facie or absolute (according to the description of the example), and which override which. Be able to take sentences using these relevant terms and translate them into sentences that mean the same thing, but talk in terms of wrongness and permissibility.

Prima facie duties II: Know how to show that something is not a prima facie duty (nor an absolute duty). Be able to give an example of something that is not a prima facie moral duty, and be able to show that it is not. If given an example of an action, be able to explain whether and why it is or is not prima facie morally obligatory.

Collective action: Be able to give examples of cases in which person A is part of a group that together causes a negative event, but A did not make a difference to whether or not that event occurs, or to how harmful it is. Be able to give examples in which A plausibly does something morally wrong by being part of that group, and examples in which A plausibly does nothing morally wrong by being part of that group.