PHI 475: Bioethics 45465 - HPHI 475B - 01

Spring 2007


Course blog:

Syllabus @


10-10:50, MWF, Sale Hall, Room 105  


Instructor: Nathan Nobis, Ph.D. ( – best way to reach him)

Office: Philosophy & Religion Department, Sale Hall 113

Office Hours: 11-12; 1-2 MWF and by appointment (but please let me know if you want to meet)



This course provides students with the opportunity to improve their skills at reasoning critically about moral issues in bioethics, i.e., ethical issues that arise in the life sciences, technology, healthcare and related areas. It provides an introduction to philosophical bioethics, general moral philosophy, and critical thinking and logical argument analysis in ethics.

Students will learn some basic logic and critical thinking skills and apply them to theoretical and practical questions about morality. We will practice identifying precise and unambiguous moral conclusions (i.e., exact perspectives taken on moral issues) and the reasons given for and against these conclusions. We will then practice evaluating these reasons to see if they provide rational support for these conclusions or not.

We will think about what helps people think more carefully and critically about moral issues and what factors and influences discourage this. We will discuss influential ethical theories and moral principles – answers to the questions ‘What’s the basic difference between a right and wrong action?’ and ‘What makes right actions right and wrong actions wrong?’ – and apply our critical thinking skills to bioethical issues such euthanasia, abortion, stem cell research, cloning, animal and human experimentation, AIDS, organ donation, absolute poverty and racism, poverty and racism in healthcare, African-American perspectives on bioethical issues, and many other issues.


Required course materials: If you cannot get your own copies of these books and other materials, you cannot be in this class. If it will take you a while to get them, you need to be a “problem solver” and make photocopies of the relevant readings.


1.       Gregory Pence, Medical Ethics: Accounts of the Cases that Shaped and Define Medical Ethics, 5th Edition (Available used at Amazon, but be sure to get the 5th Edition), McGraw-Hill, 2008, ISBN-13 9780073535739

·         Pence’s webpage:

2.      Peter Singer, Writings on an Ethical Life, Harper Collins (available used at Amazon)

·         Singer’s webpage:

3.      Lewis Vaughn, Writing Philosophy: A Students Guide to Writing Philosophy Essays, Oxford, 2005.


4.      A small budget for printing a few articles from online to read and bring to class for discussion.

5.      A notebook for taking notes, since no computers or electronic devices are allowed (see below).

6.      A folder, to keep track of handouts, printed-out articles and other materials.



To succeed in this class, you are responsible to understand and meet the requirements outlined below and discussed in class. To do well in this class, you must be disciplined.

  • Attendance: Always come to class, as Morehouse College policy requires. Sign the role sheet: if it is not passed to you, then you need to find it.
    • Each unexcused absence will result in a 2% grade reduction to your final grade. An absence is excused only if you get the instructor an official Morehouse excuse in writing that he can keep.
  • Punctuality: Come to class on time.
    • After the add-drop period, no one will be admitted into class who is late. Tardiness is a disruption, so be on time.
    • Assignments will be collected only at the beginning of class and at no other time, unless you have a documented, College-excused absence. Thus, no late work will be accepted.
  • Preparation: Bring all your books, handouts and other materials – including materials that you must print off from the internet – and have them out on your desk and ready to discuss at the beginning of class.
    • Students who do not bring their materials may be asked to leave, as they are not prepared for class.
  • Doing the Reading: For every hour spent in class, spend at least two hours doing the reading and writing outlines, paraphrases &/or summaries of the readings (see Vaughn’s Writing Philosophy, Ch. 1). 
    • To effectively do the reading you must set aside adequate time and find a solitary, quiet, distraction-free environment (no/little noise and music with words, no access to the internet, etc.) to do your work. This is true for all your classes.
    • The reading assignments should be done before you come to class. Many of the readings are challenging and take time and effort to understand. They need to be read at least three times. See the chapters on reading philosophy from Writing Philosophy.
    • To better comprehend the readings, you should first skim the article or chapter, then you should read more carefully, taking notes, making an outline, underlining and highlighting, etc. Doing this kind of work is necessary for an adequate understanding of any challenging material. Your books should show evidence that they have been read: underlining, highlighting, marks, etc. See Writing Philosophy.
  • Preparation for discussion, not lectures:  
    • Morehouse College is a liberal arts college, not a university. Our classes are small and thus we are able to discuss issues and arguments and have a more interactive learning environment. The instructor, therefore, will rarely “lecture” in any traditional sense, since lecturing encourages student passivity and disengagement.
    • You have excellent texts that are readable, you can learn a lot from, and learn even more from discussing; lecturing, if lecturing summarizes the reading, discourages you from getting the benefits from careful reading. Thus, again, you need to read to be prepared for class.
    • We hope that our classroom discussions will go beyond what’s presented in the text: so you will gain a basic understanding of the issues, facts and arguments from the reading and then we will use class time to more deeply process and evaluate these arguments, consider new arguments and engage in other learning activities that you can’t get on your own. You can get these latter benefits only if you have carefully done the reading.
    • For a critique of the educational value of lecturing see, “To Lecture or Not to Lecture, an Age-Old Question” at
  • Honesty: Any plagiarism or cheating will immediately result in failing the course: no exceptions, no excuses.
    • “The Division of Humanities & Social Sciences at Morehouse College endorses the highest standards and expectations of academic honesty and integrity. Plagiarism or any other form of academic dishonesty will not be tolerated. Sanctions for violation of these standards include possible suspension or dismissal from the College. It is each student’s responsibility to be familiar with the expected codes of conduct as outlined in the College Catalogue and Student Handbook.”
    • Cheating and plagiarism are forms of lying (to the instructor, the school, future teachers and employers, and yourself, among others) and theft (of other people’s ideas and words) and are grounds for failing the course. If you submit a plagiarized paper (e.g., a paper you took in whole or in part from the internet or some other illegitimate source, such as a peer who has had this course before), the instructor (with the help of will notice this and you will then fail this course immediately. Although we will discuss this, it is your responsibility to know what plagiarism is.
    • Here are some suggestions to avoid plagiarism: do not check the internet for anything related to your papers: instead use the texts required for the course and think for yourself; do not take phrases from the texts; put all of your writings in your own words; do not cut and paste anything from the internet into your paper; do not visit Wikipedia; do not take articles from online encyclopedias; do not visit online dictionaries; use an acceptable citation method (e.g., MLA, APA, etc.), which you learned to do in Introductory English courses. If you would like additional sources to learn more about a topic, see the instructor. See Writing Philosophy, Ch. 6, for additional guidance on avoiding plagiarism.
  • Basic Manners:
    • No phone / PDA / I-pod / Sidekick / computer use is permitted after the first 5 minutes of class when students might type assignments into a device. If you use such a device in class, you will be asked to leave as such use is distracting, is disrespectful, reveals inattention and lack of participation in classroom activities.
    • Computers cannot be used in class, even for note-taking, because too many students are unable to resist surfing the internet, checking email, etc. If you attempt to use a computer, you will be asked to leave for reasons above.
    • No newspapers, magazines or work for other classes: if you wish to work on other classes and do not wish to participate in our class, you will be asked to leave.
    • If any students engage in disruptive and distracting behavior (e.g., non-class-related “private” chatting, etc.), they will be asked to leave.
  • Disability Services:
    • Morehouse College is committed to equal opportunity in education for all students, including those with documented disabilities. Students with disabilities or those who suspect they have a disability must register with the Office of Disability Services (“ODS”) in order to receive accommodations. Students currently registered with the ODS are required to present their Disability Services Accommodation Letter to faculty immediately upon receiving the accommodation. If you have any questions, contact the Office of Disability Services, 104 Sale Hall Annex, Morehouse College, 830 Westview Dr. S.W., Atlanta, GA 30314, (404) 215-2636, FAX: (404) 215-2749.
    • For students who use the services above, it is the students’ responsibility to remind the instructor of any special assistance, testing arrangements, etc. before an exam, assignment, etc.


Assignments and grading:

  1. Readings:
    • A (tentative) schedule / calendar of readings is below and will be announced in class. See above and below for more about the importance of doing the reading, doing it well, and how to do it.
  1. “OPS” (Outline/Paraphrase/Summarize) writing assignments:
    • The absolute most important thing you can do to succeed in this class is to do the reading and do the reading well. To encourage you do to do, you will be required to write 1-3 page outlines, paraphrases &/or summaries for nearly all of the readings. Vaughn’s Writing Philosophy, Ch. 1 provides instruction on how to do this.  None of these assignments will be accepted late – NONE – since they are to be done so you will be prepared to discuss the arguments with your peers. (20% of your final grade)
  1. “Lead the Discussion by Presenting the Arguments” assignments:
    • Students and instructor(s) will take turns presenting the main arguments from the readings. For the Pence book, this should cover the sections on “Ethical Issues,” not the cases and history; for other readings, it should be the arguments themselves (20% of your final grade)
  1. Four Argumentative Essays (4-6 pages each):
    • Since one of the most important things you can do is improve your writing skills, writing will be a priority in this class, and we will make time for it.
    • Papers must by typed and carefully written: put your name, email, the date, course # and time at the top of the first page; DO NOT USE A COVER PAGE. Give your paper a real title.
    • We will set some classes sessions aside to do peer and instructor reviews.
    • Two peer reviews are required for each paper; the questions for that  are here:
    • Papers will graded vigorously on the basis of:
      • (1) Having an appropriate introduction, (2) having a clear thesis statement, (3) organization, (4) accuracy in explaining the arguments under discussion, (5) raising objections and responding to them, (6) writing for your intended audience, (7) grammar and spelling, (8) peer review participation, and (9) whether all aspects of the assignment have been addressed.
    • You will have the opportunity to revise your papers, if you would like the opportunity to learn more and improve your writing abilities; you might also be required to take your paper to the Writing Lab (in Brawley 200) to work with their staff.
      • If you revise a paper, it must be re-submitted in within two weeks of when you get the paper back from me.
      • If you revise a paper, you must also write a 1 page statement where you explain – in detail – how you revised your paper and why it has improved.
      • You must also turn in your original paper, along with the revision.
      • Your grade can improve if your paper improves in significant, profound ways; superficial changes will not result in an improved grade.
    • No late papers will be accepted: you will have plenty of time to write the papers, so you need to make wise use of that time. (40% of your final grade)
  1. A final argumentative research paper on a bioethical topic of your choice. (20% of your final grade)

·         We will likely take a trip to the Woodruff and/or MSM library to learn how to use them.

  1. Extra Credit Opportunities: 
    • There will likely be events addressing ethical and/or philosophical issues that I’ll encourage you to attend and write up a 3 page detailed summary and reaction to for variable bonus points.  These are due, in class, within one week of the event.


Note: A syllabus is not a contract, but rather a guide to course procedures. The instructor reserves the right to alter the course requirements and/or assignments based on new materials, class discussions, or other legitimate pedagogical objectives.


Course Outline


We have approx. 14 weeks and 38 class meetings.  Will likely not get to all of this material, but we will do our best: we are mainly looking to improve our quality of understanding and ability to argue, so we might sacrifice the quantity of readings to get that.  


First assignments:

  • Get the books and needed materials.
  • Sign up for the email announcement group here:
  • First reading assignments:
    • For next Wed.
      • Vaughn, Ch.1, “How To Read Philosophy”
      • Pence, Preface, About the Author
      • SINGER Introduction, xvi
      • SINGER Moral Experts FROM Analysis, 3
      • SINGER About Ethics FROM Practical Ethics, 7
      • PENCE Chapter 8: Ethical Theory and Bioethics, p. 158 (focus on Kantian ethics, Utilitarianism/Consequentialism and Rawls)


    • For next Friday:

o        Vaughn, Ch.2, “How To Read An Argument”

o        Rachels, RTD: Ch. 2, “Some Basic Points About Arguments,” available here:

o        Vaughn, Ch. 5, “Avoiding Fallacious Reasoning”


A complete schedule is on its way!