Washington and Lee University, Fall 2001

Philosophy 101: Problems of Philosophy

101A: MWF, A hour (Newcomb 10B)

101C: MWF, C hour (Payne 3)

Ben Eggleston—EgglestonB@wlu.edu

office hours: M&F, 2–4, and T&Th, 9–11 (Newcomb 25)


Problems of Philosophy: An Introduction to Ethics


I.          Description


This course provides an introduction to those problems of philosophy that are problems of moral philosophy, or ethics. We will begin by examining certain problems that arise when we try to make moral judgments: problems such as cultural relativism (“What’s right for us is not necessarily right for them”), subjectivism, (“What’s right for me is not necessarily right for you”), and the role of religion in morality (e.g., “What’s right is just what God says is right”). Second, we will consider several historically important and still-prominent theoretical approaches to ethics that purport (most of them, anyway) to provide systematic procedures for answering questions about right and wrong. In the third and final part of the course we will consider more concretely a wide variety of controversial moral issues such as abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, famine, and animal rights. Throughout, we will seek not so much to form judgments about specific moral issues—most of us do that on our own anyway, albeit with varying degrees of certitude—but to improve our thinking about the considerations that may count as reasons for, as well as possible objections to, moral judgments.


II.        Requirements


Your active involvement in this course is crucial to the achievement of the objective just specified. So, 15 percent of your final grade will be based on your attendance, your intelligent and helpful participation in class discussions (which will based on the assigned reading), and your completion of a short in-class presentation. Another 60 percent of your grade will be based on three papers whose due dates and lengths are given below, in the schedule. The final 25 percent of your grade will be based on a mid-term exam and a cumulative final exam. The two exams will mainly test your knowledge of what you’ve read, while the three papers will manifest of your knowledge of how to articulate, and to present arguments for, your own views. Further information about these assignments will be provided as needed, as well as upon request.


III.       Books


All of the required reading is contained in the following books:


James Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 3rd ed. (McGraw-Hill, 1999).

James Rachels (ed.), The Right Thing to Do: Basic Readings in Moral Philosophy, 2nd ed. (McGraw-Hill, 1999).


IV.       Schedule


Following is a list of topics and reading assignments, along with in-class events such as activities and tests. (Note: EMP and RTD refer to The Elements of Moral Philosophy and The Right Thing to Do: Basic Readings in Moral Philosophy, respectively.)




topics and reading assignments (to be done prior to class, of course)

activities, tests, due dates for papers, etc.






F, 9/7


introductory discussion






M, 9/10

Part 1: Moral Judgments

What Is Morality?

·       EMP, preface (pp. xi–xii)

·       EMP, sec. 1.1–1.3 (pp. 1–12)



W, 9/12

·       EMP, sec. 1.4–1.6 (pp. 13–19)




F, 9/14

Cultural Relativism

·       EMP, sec. 2.1–2.6 (pp. 20–30)



M, 9/17

·       EMP, sec. 2.7–2.8 (pp. 31–36)




W, 9/19


·       EMP, sec. 3.1–3.4 (pp. 37–45)



F, 9/21

·       EMP, sec. 3.5–3.7 (pp. 45–52)





M, 9/24

Morality and Religion

·       EMP, sec. 4.1–4.2 (pp. 53–59)



W, 9/26

·       EMP, sec. 4.3–4.4 (pp. 59–69)




F, 9/28

Psychological Egoism

·       EMP, sec. 5.1–5.5 (pp. 70–81)



M, 10/1

[ none ]

in-class readings of first paper (bring two copies)




W, 10/3

Part 2: Moral Theories

Ethical Egoism

·       EMP, sec. 6.1–6.3 (pp. 82–95)




F, 10/5


·       EMP, sec. 7.1–7.3 (pp. 96–106)


paper no. 1 due (5 pages)


M, 10/8

·       EMP, sec. 8.1–8.4 (pp. 107–121)




W, 10/10


·       EMP, sec. 9.1–9.4 (pp. 122–131)



F, 10/12

[ none ]

no class (reading day)


M, 10/15

·       EMP, sec. 10.1–10.3 (pp. 132–142)



W, 10/17

[ none]

catch up and review


F, 10/19

[ none]

mid-term test



M, 10/22


·       EMP, sec. 11.1–11.2 (pp. 143–152)


prisoner’s dilemma


W, 10/24

·       EMP, sec. 11.3–11.5 (pp. 152–161)




F, 10/26

Feminism and the Ethics of Care

·       EMP, sec. 12.1–12.3 (pp. 162–174)




M, 10/29

Virtue Ethics

·       EMP, sec. 13.1–13.4 (pp. 175–193)


paper no. 2 due (6 pages)




W, 10/31

Part 3: Moral Issues


·       Mary Anne Warren, “The Moral and Legal Status of Abortion” (RTD, pp. 99–108)



F, 11/2

·       Don Marquis, “Why Abortion is Immoral” (RTD, pp. 109–115)





M, 11/5


·       Peter Singer and Helga Kuhse, “Letting Handicapped Babies Die” (RTD, pp. 116–128)



W, 11/7

·       Gregory E. Pence, “Who’s Afraid of Human Cloning?” (RTD, pp. 129–140)




F, 11/9


·       Richard D. Mohr, “Gay Basics: Some Questions, Facts, and Values” (RTD, pp. 141–156)



M, 11/12

·       Burton M. Leiser, “Is Homosexuality Unnatural?” (RTD, pp. 157–166)




W, 11/14


·       Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” (RTD, pp. 167–176)



F, 11/16

·       Jan Narveson, “Feeding the Hungry” (RTD, pp. 177–189)



M, 11/19

[ none ]

no class (Thanksgiving)


W, 11/21

[ none ]

no class (Thanksgiving)


F, 11/23

[ none ]

no class (Thanksgiving)




M, 11/26


·       James Rachels, “The Morality of Euthanasia” (RTD, pp. 190–194)

·       Richard Doerflinger, “Assisted Suicide: Pro-Choice or Anti-Life?” (RTD, pp. 195–204)




W, 11/28

Animal Rights

·       Immanuel Kant, “Why We Have No Obligations to Animals” (RTD, pp. 205–206)

·       Peter Singer, “All Animals are Equal” (RTD, pp. 207–218)




F, 11/30

Environmental Ethics

·       Thomas E. Hill, Jr., “Preserving the Environment” (RTD, pp. 219–234)





M, 12/3


·       Marilyn Fyre, “Sexism” (RTD, pp. 254–262)

paper no. 3 due (7 pages)


W, 12/5

·        Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Racisms” (RTD, pp. 263–280)



F, 12/7

·       George Sher, “Reverse Discrimination in Employment” (RTD, pp. 305–315)





[ take exam by 12/14 ]


revised: 10/15/01