Course: CHV 310 / PHI 385
Instructor: Peter Singer
Description of Course Goals and CurriculumThe goal of the course is to present students with a variety of ethical problems/questions and a variety of ethical frameworks to answer those questions. Students are meant to think about and discuss real-world ethical issues from both a theoretical and practical standpoint, though generally more focus is on theory than on practice. Main topics include various views of what ethics is/ethical theories, effective altruism, climate change, population growth, environment, animals’ rights, death, and disability. The topics of the first couple weeks—namely, the ethical theories—relate to all other topics, and students are expected to incorporate these ethical theories in assignments and discussions throughout the course, so it is vital to gain a strong understanding of the fundamentals at the beginning of the course. Within each main topic in the curriculum, there are several sub-topics; as such, much content is included in the course, making it necessary to keep up with lectures/readings.
Learning From Classroom InstructionThis course includes lectures and precepts. Lectures: Lectures are a presentation of material and of various views regarding the issue in question. Rather than presenting facts, lectures present ways of thinking about the facts, and students can evaluate those methods themselves and discuss them in precepts. Lectures are notable for the many guest speakers—several known philosophers are guest speakers throughout the course, and they each discuss their views (or methods of arriving at a particular view) of the given issue. Lectures generally cover a lot of what is included in the readings, but doing the readings prior to lectures allows students to better grasp the concepts. Precepts: Precepts are discussion-based—precepts do not quiz students on the readings, nor do they go over the concepts again. Rather, precepts delve into the details of the concepts from the readings, under the assumption that students have completed the background readings. Some precept discussion is geared toward the practical implications of the topics/views discussed in lectures, and much discussion is devoted to showing students, in more detail, how a particular philosopher arrived at an argument. This prepares students to write papers in a philosophical style.
Learning For and From AssignmentsThere are no weekly written assignments. Depending on preceptor, there may be 1-2 short in-precept presentations, during which a student must complete some extra reading on a chosen topic and present a summary and evaluation of the readings to the precept, and answer questions from classmates and the preceptor. There are 3 short essays required for this course. Essays range from 3-8 pages. For each essay, students have several topics to choose from. Topics pertain to specific ethical issues focused on in the course, and most topics include several sub-questions that students must answer in the essay. Each essay requires students to develop their own position about a controversial issue. Students must also consider and respond to the strongest counter-argument to their own positions. Each essay must include support from the in-class readings. To achieve a high grade, it is vital to consider both sides of an issue in each essay and to provide examples, either real or hypothetical, to illustrate the effects of the position one is arguing for. There is no midterm exam, but there is a cumulative final exam. There is an extensive review session before the final exam, at which attendance is highly recommended. The final exam, unlike the essays, does not require students to take a position on an issue; rather, it is largely memory-based. Several IDs must be answered with much detail, including how the given ID fits into the course as a whole, and a few short essays must be answered. To study for the final, students should look through lecture slides to be able to describe the arguments described in lectures. Reviewing the main ideas of the readings will also be necessary—students must be able to match the author with the idea.
External ResourcesThe Writing Center can help with the three essays required for the course. For this course, the Writing Center can be especially helpful at the beginning of the writing process, in the ideas and organization phase—in philosophy papers, it is crucial that ideas are presented clearly, and discussions with Writing Center Fellows can help students clarify their arguments. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a helpful, easy-to-read website that can help clarify almost any of the theoretical ideas presented in the course. This website breaks down more complex ideas into simple steps, which not only helps students understand what is being argued in the readings/lecture, but can also make it easier to find faults in a given argument (finding a fault in a single step is often simpler than finding a fault in a broad theory), which can be useful when writing essays. This site is especially useful at the beginning of the course, when key ethical theories are being presented.
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course SelectionStudents do not need any particular knowledge or skills before taking this course, though experience in philosophical reading and writing will be helpful. The essay-writing process is thoroughly described in precept, making the course doable for students of all backgrounds. Content-wise, this course is rather similar to most moral philosophy courses, such as PHI 202, and is applicable especially to social science majors, as many topics in the course are current political issues as well.