University of Kansas, Spring 2003
Philosophy 161: Introduction to Ethics, Honors

Introduction to Ethics, Honors

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 important moral issues such as animals rights, abortion, euthanasia, and famine relief by considering the work of the controversial contemporary philosopher Peter Singer. 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 and against the moral judgments we are tempted to make.

Class schedule: M, W, F, 9:30–10:20, in 102 Nunemaker Center


Here are the factors that will determine your overall grade, and their weights:

The two tests and the final exam will mainly test your knowledge of what you’ve read, while the two papers will manifest your ability 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.

If you have a disability for which you may be requesting special services or accommodations for this course, be sure to contact Disability Resources (22 Strong Hall / 864-2620 (V/TTY)), if you have not already done so, and have that office send me a letter documenting the accommodations to which you are entitled. Please also see me privately, at your earliest convenience, so that I can be aware of your situation and can begin to prepare the appropriate accommodations in advance of receiving the letter from Disability Resources.

In addition, I should note here that I take academic misconduct, especially cheating on tests and plagiarizing papers, extremely seriously, and am generally disposed to impose the harshest permissible penalties when it occurs. To enable you to meet my expectations in this regard and to do so without fear of inadvertently falling short of them, I will provide clear and specific guidance as to what does and does not constitute academic misconduct in advance of tests and when papers are assigned. Meanwhile, you may consult article 2, section 6 of the University Senate Rules and Regulations for university policy in regard to this matter.

Finally, you should feel free to come by my office (3070 Wescoe Hall) at any time. I have office hours on Fridays from 1:30 to 2:20, but you are also welcome to stop by at other times, either with an appointment or without. I spend most of the work week in and around my office, so your chances of finding me should be reasonably high; and although in rare cases I may have to ask you to come back at another time, in general I will be happy to speak to you at your convenience.

Books to buy:
Course materials on the web:

Course documents, including this syllabus, will be available on the web site for the course, the URL of which is

(If you don’t want to type in this whole thing, you can stop after “be75”—at which point you’ll be at my personal web site—and then follow the links to the web site for this particular course.)

Class notes, paper assignments, information about tests, and other useful materials will be posted at this site. The syllabus is also one of the pages at the above site, and since it will probably be revised and elaborated as the course progresses, I encourage you to check it online from time to time, instead of relying on a hard copy.

One thing that will not be posted on the web site is your record of grades for this course, since I don’t know how to make a web page that will allow each student to view only his or her own grades. So, to allow you to have online access to your grades, I’ll be entering your grades into the “online gradebook” at the Blackboard site for this course (log-in required; once you get there, click on ‘Tools’, then ‘Check Grade’). Note that although Blackboard provides a shell for all sorts of course-related documents, I am using it only to provide you with access to your grades; all course-related documents, such as this syllabus, notes, and assignments, will be at the site mentioned above.

E-mail distribution list:

I’ve had the KU computer folks set up an e-mail distribution list for the course, and its address is

I’ve asked that it be set up so that not only I, but also you, can use it, so that you can communicate with everyone in the class (including me) whenever you are so inclined.

Using J-Stor:

Some of the hyperlinks in the schedule below are to articles that are available electronically from the J-Stor online journal archive. J-Stor’s home page——can be accessed by anyone, but the contents of its archives cannot be legitimately accessed without a subscription. KU has a subscription, and you can use this subscription to access the J-Stor archive in either of two ways:

  1. While using a computer with a KU IP address (which I imagine would be any of the on-campus computers—e.g., in the computer labs, in the libraries, etc.), just click on the link for the article you’re interested in. It should appear with no problem.
  2. While using a non-KU computer, follow these steps:
    1. Go to
    2. Unless you are already logged into the KU libraries’ server, you will be confronted with a log-in screen. Log in with your KU username and password.
    3. When the J-Stor screen appears, use “Search” or “Browse” to find the article, based on the bibliographic information supplied below.

Once you have the article on the screen, you will probably want to print it. Look for the gray “PRINT” link at the top of the page you’re viewing, and click on it. You’ll then be given further instructions and links. In order to print J-Stor articles, the computer you’re using needs to have installed on it either (1) the Adobe Acrobat Reader (installed on most or all campus computers, and downloadable free from Adobe; see the link on my home page) or (2) J-Stor’s own printing application (details available with J-Stor’s instructions for printing; click on “Set your printing preferences” after clicking on the “PRINT” link).


January 17:

Part 1: Meta-ethics

Week 1 (January 20–24):

Week 2 (January 27–31):

Week 3 (February 3–7):

Week 4 (February 10–14):

Part 2: Normative Ethics

Week 5 (February 17–21):

Week 6 (February 24–28):

Week 7 (March 3–7):

Week 8 (March 10–14):

Week of March 17–21:

Week 9 (March 24–28):

Part 3: Applied Ethics

Week 10 (March 31–April 4):

Week 11 (April 7–11):

Week 12 (April 14–18):

Week 13 (April 21–25):

Week 14 (April 28–May 2):

Week 15 (May 5–9):

Wednesday, May 14: final exam (7:30–10 a.m.)