Philosophy 320: Ethics (Dr. Ezio Vailati) Fall 2013
Where to reach me: PB 2212; phone: 3376; homepage:  E-mail:  In your e-mail identify yourself as taking this class.
Office hours: T 5:00 -6:00, W 2:00-3:00, and by appointment if necessary.

Course Description
This is an introduction to some of the main themes in ethics, with special attention to consequentialist, deontological, and virtue theories as well as to their application to some concrete issues such as suicide, abortion, the death penalty, and the treatment of animals.  

Course objectives

This course attempts to provide students with a tool-kit allowing them:

1.     To acquire an understanding and appreciation of some basic issues and perspectives in ethics.

2.     To develop the ability to identify, evaluate, and compare moral positions on the basis of arguments.

3.     To develop the capacity to reason to their own views on moral issues and problems.


Class participation is essential in considering the problems raised by the readings.



1.     S. M. Kahn and P. Markie, Ethics 5th edition. (KM). This is a rental text

2.     Some handouts.

3.     Assorted material to be downloaded from below



Course outline and readings:

8/19: The nature of ethics.  Is morality relative?  Ethical Relativism.  Reading: James Rachels, KM 747-754.

8/26: How do we usually reach moral judgment?  Morality, God, and Religion.  Watch Singer-Hare debate.

9/3: First quiz

9/3: Utilitarianism: Reading: J.S. Mill, KM 362-383.  Skim 383-396 (chapter 5 of Utilitarianism).

9/10: Utilitarianism continued.  Reading: Bernard Williams, KM 657-673, especially 662-673; Paley on the particular and general consequences of an action; Peter Singer on famine, KM 873-880.

9/17: Kant: Reading: Kant, KM 313-341.

9/24: Second quiz

9/24: Kant continued.  Reading: handout, Onora O’Neill on Kant and famine.

10/1: Midterm

10/1: Value Pluralism. Reading: W.D. Ross’ Intuitionism, KM 475-484

10/8: Virtue ethics: Aristotle. Reading: Aristotle, KM 124-126; 128-129; 132-147; 153-157; 171-177. 

10/15: Third quiz. 

10/15: Aristotle continued.  Watch the debate between Singer and Slote

10/22: Abortion: Readings: M.A. Warren, KM 828-838; D. Marquis, KM 838-848; Download Roe v. Wade.

10/29: Suicide.   Readings: Download Hume's "On Suicide";  Download Aquinas on suicide (only article 5 is relevant); Watch The Suicide Tourist.

11/5: Fourth quiz

11/5: The death penalty.  Reading: handout; download Marshall’s dissenting opinion in Gregg v. Georgia. 

11/12: Animals. Reading: Download US Animal Welfare Act.  Watch Peter Singer’s lecture.  Come with ideas you intend to use in your paper; we shall discuss them together.

11/19: Paper due: download paper topics. Remaining presentations.

11/26: Holiday week

12/3: Review. 

Course requirements

1.     Four multiple-choice quizzes, some in-class, some take-home, each worth 5% of the course grade.  For dates, see the course outline

2.     Three pop (unannounced) reading quizzes, each worth 5% of the course grade.  They will assess whether you did the reading by asking you to identify its main thesis or certain key claims or arguments.  These quizzes are open-book and open-notes; however, you have a very limited time, and therefore unless you keep up with the reading you will not do well.  Make sure you bring the reading material to class every time.

3.     A midterm worth 15% of the course grade.  The midterm will consist of multiple choice questions, explanation questions, and recognition questions.  For the date, consult the course outline.

4.     You will be paired with one or two other students and assigned an oral presentation lasting about 5 minutes per student and worth 10% of the course grade.  The presentation will last about 10 minutes.  You will choose a case, real or fictional, and discuss it in the light of that day’s reading, or discuss an argument or a view contained in that day’s reading, or an objection to some ethical view, or a possible reply to such an objection.  In addition, you will identify a discussion point that will get your peers thinking about the topic of your presentation; a good presentation is not only clear and to the point but it also elicits class discussion.  Make sure you coordinate what you are going to say with your co-presenters and come to see me before your presentation to discuss what you are going to do.  Failure to do the scheduled presentation at the proper time amounts to losing the presentation points. 

5.     One hard copy paper, typed, double spaced, and at least 4 pages long, worth 15% of the course grade.  A paper containing grammatical errors or misspellings will lose points at my discretion, depending on the gravity or frequency of the errors, and may have to be resubmitted.  A late paper will lose 10% of its points (a letter grade, roughly) for every 24 hours period starting at the end of class.  For due date and topics consult the course outline. 

6.     A one hour long comprehensive final exam, consisting of multiple choice questions, explanation questions, recognition questions, and a short essay.  The essay will be chosen by me (not by you) out of this set of essay topics (Download topics for final).  The final will be worth 15% of the course grade.

7.     Participation, not mere attendance, is maximally worth 10% of the course grade.  You start with 5%; good participation will push your percentage up; lack of participation will push it down.

8.     Attendance for the whole duration of each class is mandatory.  Each class or part of class missed without proper excuse will cost you 3% of the course grade.

There are 100 possible points in this course.  The breakdown in terms of grade is roughly as follows: Above 90: A; 89-79: B; 78-67: C; 66-55: D; 54 or less: F.

A indicates excellence; B indicates a competent command of skills and material; C indicates some competency in some areas and poor command in others or rather low competence overall; D indicates a poor competence overall; F indicates an unacceptably low level of competence.


Calculating grades

I do not keep a running count of individual grades because I use points that I eventually turn into grades according to the above scale.  I have a good idea of who’s doing very well and who’s doing very badly, but I cannot say whether your average is a full C, a high C, a low C, or a B.  So, here’s how to calculate your grade at any time during the course:  let S be the sum of all the possible points up to then; let M be the sum up all the actual points you have; calculate P = (100 * M)/S.  Now use P with the above scale to determine your present grade.  For example, suppose that just after the midterm you have 20 points.  Since S =25 (assuming no pop quizzes were administered), we have that P = (100 * 20)/25, which is 80, a very low B. 

Please, don’t ask me how you are doing as you can find out precisely by the above calculation, and the only way for me to find out is by doing exactly the same calculation.  Take charge!



Academic policies

1.     Cheating of any kind will be swiftly and severely punished according to the draconian guidelines of SIUE.

2.     Students are responsible for knowing what has been said in class.  Quizzes may be based on classroom discussions not derived from any written material. 

3.     Texting, chatting, web surfing, or uncivil behavior will not be tolerated.  (Animated discussion does not amount to uncivil behavior; personal invectives do).  At my discretion, you may be required to leave the class and will lose 5% of the course grade for every occurrence.  Egregious cases will be reported to the Dean.

First and foremost, be aware that you cannot write a successful paper in one evening or one night.  You are encouraged to e-mail me rough drafts of your paper as an attachment.  In your e-mail identify yourself as taking this class.  Keep in mind that I can return the rough draft with significant comments only if it is given to me in a timely fashion and is written reasonably clearly. 
A rough draft consisting only of disjointed paragraphs cannot be properly evaluated. 

My reading a student's rough draft of a paper does not entail that the paper will get a B or an A.  
The paper should be written in clear, correct English without misspellings; if you are unable to do so, visit the Writing Center. 

Some students confuse, and therefore misspell, the following words:
it's/its; there/their; cite/site; principal/principle; than/then; to/too/two; who's/whose; weather/whether; conscience/conscious; since/sense; coarse/course.
Note that spell-checkers often don't catch such errors.

Here is some advice on how to write a philosophy paper; note the importance of having a thesis statement.
Grading criteria are as follows: a paper providing mere information adequately and accurately in clear prose will be in the C range; a paper which in addition to meeting this requirement shows some originality supported by reasonably clear and cogent arguments will be in the B range; a paper which shows significant originality, clarity, and cogency will be in the A range.  Papers that provide substantially inaccurate information, do not address the assigned topic, or are badly written will get a D or an F.

Some advice
I have put my lectures on line as a courtesy to you.  Since they are my lectures, I often lecture from them, and since they are online typically I do not use power point.  (If you are addicted to power point, this is a good time to recover). This neither means nor entails that I merely repeat what's in them.  Please understand that just looking at the online lectures and/or your notes is not sufficient; to do well in this class you must regularly read the texts listed in the syllabus.