Philosophy 215: Contemporary Moral Issues
Syllabus -- Fall Semester 2009                           

Class meets Tuesday & Thursday, 9 am to 10:15 am, BR 162 

Instructor: Theodore Gracyk     Phone: (218) 477-4089    
Office: Bridges 359B   Hours: Tuesdays, Noon to 4 pm, Wednesdays, 9 am to Noon, Thursdays, Noon to 2 pm, and by appointment.

Application of ethical theories to contemporary moral issues, such as world hunger, punishment, sexual equality, sexual behavior, abortion, the environment, corporate responsibility, and war.

My goals for this course:

  1. Students will understand differences between major normative theories.

  2. Students will understand core concepts of ethical analysis.

  3. Students will apply normative theories to cases and demonstrate understanding of how different theories generate competing solutions.

  4. Students will write essays defending personal decisions in complex moral situations.

  5. Students will critically reflect on moral problems and their own moral positions

 Dragon Core Competencies for this course

  • Understand core ethical concepts including right, wrong, duty, virtue, vice, care, harm, and respect and use them to articulate their own ethical views.
  • Explain the grounds of their ethical and civic commitments and respond constructively to those whose beliefs differ.
  • Make responsible personal, professional, and civic decisions and evaluate how these affect other people.
  • Analyze and reflect on the ethical dimensions of legal, social, cultural and/or scientific issues.
  • Identify ways to exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Required Texts:    Bring this book to class every day.

James E. White, Contemporary Moral Problems, 9th edition
ISBN: 9780495553205

Grading Policies

You will be graded on five things:

  • Two exams (Limited use of notes) -- 40% of final grade
  • Group project (minimum of 5 persons per group; maximum of 8) -- 20%
    Project must be completed no later than start of class on December 1.
  • Frequent in-class writing (some will take the form of a "pop" quiz) -- 20%
  • Final exam  (Limited use of notes) -- 20%

Each of these elements of the course will be graded equally. 
Your final course grade will be calculated using the +/- system.

In-class writing is automatically late if not handed to the professor during the class period in which it is written. In-class writing will often draw upon the assigned readings in order to determine if you have done the reading.

Official University Events and medical emergencies for self or immediate family are the sole basis for exceptions to the above policies, and will require evidence (e.g., a note from your athletics coach for a university sports event or a note from your doctor).

Cell Phone & Texting Policy

Please be courteous to others. TURN OFF all cell phones before class begins. If a cell phone disrupts class, I reserve the right to remove the disruptive student from the class session. If a student spends class time by texting, I will interpret this behavior to mean that my presence is a disruption to your social life and I will respond by going back to my office.


Read the assignment in advance of class on the date indicated.

 August 25 -- First Day of Class
August 27 -- Affluence (Singer, page 384)
Tuesday, Sept. 1 -- Euthanasia (Rachels, page 155)
Tuesday, Sept. 8 -- Euthanasia (Foot, page 165)
Thursday, Sept. 10 -- Euthanasia (Harris, page 172)
Tuesday, Sept. 15 -- Punishment (Kant, page 210)
Tuesday, Sept. 22 -- Punishment (Van den Haag, page 212)
Thursday, Sept. 24 -- Punishment (Reiman, page 218)
Tuesday, Sept. 29 -- First Exam
Thursday, Oct. 1 -- War (Lackey, p. 406)
Tuesday, Oct. 6 --

President Bush defends the war:
(3 readings) -- Before (link), an official
summary (link) and after (link)
Thursday, Oct. 8 -- War (O'Brien, page 419)
Tuesday, Oct. 13 -- No Class ("Fall breather")
Thursday, Oct. 15 -- Terrorism (Calhoun, page 431)
Tuesday, Oct. 20 -- Terrorism (Luban, page 447)
Thursday, Oct. 22 -- First group meeting for group project
Tuesday, Oct. 27 -- Second Exam
Thursday, Oct. 29 -- Drugs (Szasz, page 281)
Tuesday, Nov. 3 -- Drugs (U.S. DEA, page 289)
Thursday, Nov. 5 -- Drugs (Shapiro, page 298)
Tuesday, Nov. 10 -- Groups work on group project
Thursday, Nov. 12 --
Sexual behavior (Aquinas, page 28, and handout)
Tuesday, Nov. 17 -- Sexual behavior (Jordan, page 248)
Thursday, Nov. 19 -- Groups work on group project
Tuesday, Nov. 24 -- Gay marriage (Gallagher, page 266)
Nov. 26 -- No Class - Thanksgiving
Tuesday, Dec. 1 -- Gay marriage (Rauch, p. 257)
Dec. 1 -- Group Presentations begin
Dec. 14 -- Final Exam
The remaining topics covered in the class will be chosen by class vote.

Final Exam (in class essay -- bring a BLUE BOOK) 

The final exam will be an in-class written exam. You must bring a "blue book" (an exam booklet available in the MSUM bookstore). You will have access to one sheet of prepared notes.

Makeup work 

If you miss an exam, or simply don't choose to do one of them, you can replace one exam with an essay. (This does not include the final exam.) However, most students receive higher grades for exams than for essays in this course. Skipping an exam can be a risky strategy.

OR, by turning in an essay, the grade for the essay will replace your lowest exam grade. (This policy excludes the final examination.) 

The assignment for the essay is to compare and contrast two different moral approaches to one of the moral topics that we have covered so far. A good essay will be about four pages in length. It must be typed or word-processed. 

Restrictions will be placed on topics; the allowable topics will be announced after the first exam.

Your essay must clearly address these four points:

  • State the issue. What situation is being debated and why is there a moral controversy concerning it?
  • State your own thesis. What is your own moral recommendation for this type of situation? 
  • Defend your thesis. Why is that the correct moral evaluation? What moral theory do you endorse, and how does it lead to the result that you recommend?
    I want to be very clear. Telling me that you oppose abortion, or support it, does not tell me what I'm asking for. WHY do you do so? Because you endorse natural law? Because you're a rule utilitarian?
  • Deal with objections raised by another moral approach. What objections are made to your view? Summarize them and respond to them.

Your essay must have a cover page with a title and with your name. Do not put your name anywhere else on your essay.

Notice of disability services 

The Minnesota State University of Moorhead is committed to a policy of equal opportunity in education and employment and welcomes students with disabilities. We are prepared to to offer you a range of services to accommodate your needs.

However, students must accept responsibility for initiating the request for services. 

Students with disabilities who believe they may need an accommodation in this class are encouraged to contact Greg Toutges, Coordinator of Disability Services at 477-2131 (Voice) or 1-800-627-3529 (MRS/TTY), CMU 114 as soon as possible to ensure that accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion

Do not discuss your needs with me, your instructor. Talk to Greg Toutges and he will contact me.


Plagiarism is passing off somebody else's writing or ideas as your own. There is nothing wrong in consulting any number of sources to help you understand what we are studying (whether an article in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy or a web site or Cliffs Notes) but it is stealing to take material without first paraphrasing it completely into your own words, or without placing it in quotation marks. (Rule of thumb: if you take more than two consecutive words from a source, put them in quotation marks, and if the idea behind a sentence comes from an outside source, acknowledge that source!) Any time you consult and draw on ideas from any source, you should cite your source. Taking ideas from another person and pretending that they are your own, original thoughts, is also plagiarism. The fact that your source was an assigned text for the course does not mitigate or lessen the seriousness of plagiarism.

Students sometimes claim unintentional or accidental plagiarism. It is difficult for an instructor to judge whether the plagiarism was intentional or unintentional. Basically, the latter occurs when a student reads a secondary source or takes notes, writes a paper without looking at the source or the notes, and accidentally uses phrasing and ideas from that source. Or a student may attempt to paraphrase an author's ideas, but fails to put it completely into his or her own words. (If you paraphrase and don't cite your source, that's evidence of intentional plagiarism.)

If evidence demonstrates that you have plagiarized any part of any written assignment for the course, the offense will be reported to the Judicial Affairs Office and you will receive a failing grade for the course.

In short, if you use an outside source, simply provide footnotes or citations in parentheses where appropriate. 

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                Last updated Sept 29, 2009