Contemporary Moral Problems

University of Tennessee Knoxville

“In this course we explore a number of pressing ethical issues such as our duties to animals, the permissibility of capital punishment, sexual ethics, the permissibility of war, appropriate responses to world poverty, just employment practices, whether businesses have obligations beyond maximizing profit within the constraints of the law, and moral constraints on our interactions with the environment. We explore these issues philosophically, trying to get a clear picture of the moral problem, the relevant facts and values, and the range of reasonable responses available to intelligent persons of good will. This course will be of interest to all students.”

REQUIRED TEXTBOOK: Timmons, Mark. Disputed Moral Issues: A Reader (Second Edition). New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
New and used copies of the required textbook are available at the bookstore. You are welcome to purchase copies of the text from other sources. However, you must still use the required textbook and the required edition of that textbook.

SUPPLEMENTARY TEXTS: Supplementary texts will be made available by the instructor. These texts will either be held in reserve at the library, reproduced online, or distributed in class. While you are not required to purchase supplementary texts, they are considered required reading.

ASSIGNMENTS AND EVALUATION: This course is listed as a Writing Intensive (WC) course. You are therefore required to write at least 5,000 words for the course. This requirement will be satisfied by several different kinds of writing assignment.

The first kind of writing assignment will be posts to the class blog, where you are encouraged to debate the issues we discuss in class. You must submit at least 4 posts of 250 words and 4 responses of 100-200 words during the course of the semester. Completion of these posts and responses will be worth 20% of your final grade.

The second kind of writing assignment will be 2 500-word position papers, where you are required to define the issue being discussed in class, state your position on that issue, and justify that position. One position paper will be due before fall break. The other will be due at the end of the semester. Completion of these position papers will be worth 20% of your final grade.

Third, and finally, you will submit two drafts of the final essay, which will be 1500-2000 words. One complete draft of your final essay must be submitted for peer review during an in-class writing workshop. The revised second draft will be submitted as your final exam. These essays will be written on assigned themes and will constitute 30% of your final grade.

In addition to grades derived from writing assignments, 30% of your grade will be derived from attendance and participation. Attendance and participation are not only expected, but required for this course. You cannot expect to master the material for this course without coming to class. Attendance, provided one is listening attentively and clearly engaged in lecture or discussion, will be considered a form of participation, but vocal participation in class discussion is strongly encouraged. Occasional quizzes over the reading may be administered by the instructor, which will be incorporated into your final grade.


TECHNOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM: Because laptops, ipads, ipods, cell phones, and other electronic communications devices inhibit discussion and limit participation, they are not to be used in class. Exceptions to this policy may be considered on an individual basis, but abuse of these exceptions (checking e-mail, social networking, texting, etc.) during class time will result in the loss of all attendance and participation points for the course.

PAPER SUBMISSIONS: Papers must be submitted according to standard formatting (one-inch margins, double-spaced, twelve-point Times New Roman font). Papers displaying enlarged fonts, line spacing, and page margins annoy me and they will be graded punitively. Citations must refer to the texts and editions required by the syllabus. References should be noted parenthetically in the text. The use of outside sources is strongly discouraged. Extensions will only be granted in exceptional circumstances. Late papers will be marked down 10% for every day after the due date.

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: The definitions of cheating and plagiarism contained in Academic Standards of Conduct for the University of Tennessee ( will apply to all written work submitted in this course. All incidents of plagiarism will be reported to the honor council.


Tu, 8/16: Introduction and Topics

Th, 8/18: Arguing about Moral Problems 1: Bad Moral Reasons

Tu, 8/23: Arguing about Moral Problems 2: Good Moral Reasons

Th, 8/25: An Exercise in Moral Reasoning

Arthur Kaplan, “Was it Right to Kill bin Laden?” (

Tu, 8/30: Reflection and Discussion

Th, 9/1: War
War (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Just War Theory (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Tu, 9/6: War
Does Morality Apply to War?, pp.512-515; Terrorism and Just War (Blackboard)

Th, 9/8: Terrorism
Terrorism and Morality, pp. 516-523; After 9/11, pp. 524-530

Tu, 9/13: Terrorism
Terrorism and International Justice, pp. 530; Terrorism and Torture (Blackboard)

Th, 9/15: Torture
Torture, pp. 540-548; How to Interrogate Terrorists (Blackboard)

Tu, 9/20: Torture
Should the Ticking bomb Terrorist be Tortured?, pp. 549-559; Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb (Blackboard)

Th, 9/22: The Death Penalty
An Eye for an Eye?, pp. 481-486; A Defense of the Death Penalty, pp. 487-491; Civilization, Safety, and Deterrence, pp. 492-494

Tu, 9/27: The Death Penalty
Capital Attrition, pp. 495-503

Th, 9/29: Fall Break, No Class

Tu, 10/4: Abortion
The Unspeakable Crime of Abortion, pp. 381-383; On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion, pp. 384-190; A Defense of Abortion, pp. 391-399

Th, 10/6: Abortion
Why Abortion is Immoral, pp. 400-404; A Moderate View, pp. 405-410; Tu, 10/11: Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide; The Wrongfulness of Euthanasia, pp. 299-302; Active and Passive Euthanasia, pp. 303-306
The Intentional Termination of Life, pp. 307-312

Th, 10/13: Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide
Voluntary Active Euthanasia, pp. 313-316; Assisted Suicide, pp. 317-322; Assisted Suicide is Not Voluntary Active Euthanasia, pp. 323-327

Tu, 10/18: Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide
The Duty to Die (Blackboard); Dying at the Right Time (Blackboard)

Th, 10/20: Class Canceled

Tu, 10/25: Cloning
Liberty, Identity, and Human Cloning, pp. 430-436; Preventing Brave New World, pp. 437-445

Th, 10/27: Cloning
Will Cloning Harm People?, pp. 446-454; The Case Against Perfection, pp. 455-462; Good, Better, or Best?, pp. 463-469

Tu, 11/1: Stem Cell Research
Terra Incognita (Film)

Th, 11/3: Stem Cell Research

Tu, 11/8: World Hunger and Global Poverty
Lifeboat Ethics, pp. 565-570; The Life You Can Save, pp. 571-584

Th, 11/10: World Hunger and Global Poverty
World Hunger and Moral Obligation, pp. 585-593; Property and Hunger, pp. 594-599; A Kantian Approach to World Hunger

Tu, 11/15: Homosexuality/Gay Marriage
Vatican Declaration on Some Questions of Sexual Ethics, pp. 78-83; Why Shouldn’t Tommy and Jim Have Sex?, pp. 84-89; A Liberal View of Sexual Morality, pp. 90-100

Th, 11/17: Homosexuality/Gay Marriage
Normal Marriage, pp. 107-114; Enough Marriage to Share, pp. 115-119
Final Paper, First Draft Due

Tu, 11/22: In-Class Writing Workshop

Th, 11/24: Thanksgiving Break, No Class

Tu, 11/29: Last Day of Class

Tu, 12/6: Final Papers Due


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