Bioethics (Fall 2010) - Syllabus


PHIL 261-01 | ID 10825 | TR 10:00-11:50 | Room: Fogarty 213 | Fall 2010

Course Syllabus

Instructor: Dr. Aaron Smuts | | office hours: 219 Alger Hall, 12:30-2:0 TR, after class, and by appointment


Is medical research on human subjects a form of exploitation? Should people be allowed to sell their organs? Is abortion murder? What about euthanasia? Should we treat depression with drugs? Just what is a mental disorder? Are psychopaths morally responsible? These are a few of the question that we will explore in this class. This is just a small sample of the issues discussed in bio-medical ethics.

This course is not designed to provide decisive answers to all the tough problems that face health professionals. Rather, the principal goal of the course is to improve our ability to think critically about moral problems. We will see to what extent it is possible to provide reasons for considered moral judgments.

About half of the course is devoted to theoretical issues concerning the status and content of morality. Before tackling our first moral problem, we will begin with a critical assessment of moral relativism. Then we will discuss the two leading kinds of moral theory: consequentialism and deontology. Later in the semester, before we discuss abortion we will ask about the relationship between morality and religion.

In addition to the core issues of human subject testing, organ selling, abortion, and euthanasia, at the end of the semester we will explore some of the fascinating problems in the recent field of neuroethics. Here we will ask about the nature of mental illness, the responsibility of psychopaths, and the morality of anti-depressants.


There are three required texts for this course:

  1. Helga Kuhse (Editor), Peter Singer. Bioethics: An Anthology (Blackwell Philosophy Anthologies). Wiley-Blackwell; 2 edition (March 27, 2006). ISBN-10: 1405129484. [KS]
  2. Russ Shafer-Landau. The Ethical Life: Fundamental Readings in Ethics and Moral Problems. Oxford, 2009. ISBN-10: 0195377699. [EL]
  3. Russ Shafer-Landau. The Fundamentals of Ethics. Oxford, 2009. ISBN-10: 0195320867. [FE]

I will post numerous additional readings on Blackboard. [BB]


There will be two different forms of coursework: (best 20 out of 27) daily quizzes and three take-home examinations. I will give a short quiz at the beginning of each class that will require one or two sentence answers. The quizzes are closed-book, but open-note. The bulk of your grade comes from the take-home exams. All assignments must be completed to pass the course.

Quizzes (10%) + first exam (25%) + late-term exam (30%) + final exam (35%).

Attendance Policy

If you miss 6 or more classes, you will receive a 0 for your quiz grade. If you miss 12 or more classes, you will receive an F for the course. (There are no excused or unexcused absences. But please talk to me if something major comes up that dramatically effect your attendance.)

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism—claiming someone else’s ideas or written work as your own—will not be tolerated. The tests are not collaborative. All sources must be cited. Outside research is not forbidden, but none of the assignments ask for sources outside the assigned readings. Anyone caught cheating will be given a failing grade in the course. I will also request that you be expelled from the college.

Class Schedule

(There will be a quiz every class on the required reading for that day.)

  • Week 1
    • C1 (8/31) Introduction
      • Hope, "A Tool-box for Reasoning" [BB]
      • Shafer-Landau, "Introduction" [ch.1, FE]

Topic I: The Status of Morality

    • C2 (9/2)
      • Midgley, "Trying Out One's New Sword" [EL]
  • Week 2
    • C3 (9/7)
      • Nussbaum, "Judging Other Cultures: The Case of Genital Mutilation" [BB]
    • C4 (9/9)
      • Mackie, "The Subjectivity of Values" [EL]
      • Shafer-Landau, "Moral Nihilism" [ch.20, FE]
  • Week 3
    • C5 (9/14)
      • Bambrough, "Proof" [EL]
    • C6 (9/15)
      • Shafer-Landau, "Ten Arguments Against Moral Objectivity" [ch.21, FE]

Topic II: Human Subject Testing

  • Week 4
    • C7 (9/21)
      • Jenner, "Development of the Smallpox Vaccine" [BB]
    • C8 (9/23)
      • "The Belmont Report" [BB]
      • Elliott, "Guinnea Pigging" [BB]

Topic III: Normative Ethics: Consequentialism

  • Week 5
    • C9 (9/28)
      • Shafer-Landau, "Consequentialism: Its Nature and Attractions" [ch.9, FE]
    • C10 (9/30)
      • Shafer-Landau, "Consequentialism: Its Difficulties" [ch.10, FE]

Topic IV: Normative Ethics: Deontology

  • Week 6
    • C11 (10/5)
      • Shafer-Landau, "The Kantian Perspective: Fairness and Justice" [ch.11, FE]
    • C12 (10/7)
      • Shafer-Landau, "The Kantian Perspective: Autonomy and Respect" [ch.12, FE]

Topic V: Organ Donation

  • Week 7
    • --- (10/12) NO CLASS
    • C13 (10/14)
      • Scheper-Hughes, "The Global Traffic in Human Organs" (report) [BB]
  • Week 8
    • C14 (10/19)
      • Radcliffe-Richards, "The Case for Allowing Kidney Sales" [KS]
      • Titmuss, "Why Give to Strangers" [KS]
    • C15 (10/21)
      • Kluge, "Organ Donation and Retrieval" [KS]
      • Harris, "The Survival Lottery" [EL]

Topic VI: Morality and Religion

  • Week 9
    • C16 (10/26)
      • Plato, "Euthyphro" [BB]
    • C17 (10/28)
      • Weilenberg, "God and Morality" [BB]
      • Shafer-Landau, "Morality and Religion" [ch.5, FE]

Topic VII: Abortion and Euthanasia

  • Week 10
    • C18 (11/2)
      • Feldman, "The Search for Death Itself" [BB]
      • Feldman, "Life-Functional Theories of Life" [BB]
      • Feldman, "Vitalist Theories of Life" [BB]
      • {Optional: Feldman, "The Enigma of Death" [BB]}
    • C19 (11/5)
      • Roe v. Wade (1973) [BB]
      • Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion" [EL]
  • Week 11
    • C20 (11/9)
      • Marquis, "Why Abortion is Immoral" [EL]
    • C21 (11/10*) Euthanasia
      • Rachels, "The Morality of Euthanasia" [EL]

Topic VIII: Neuroethics

  • Week 12
    • C22 (11/16) Depression
      • Horowitz and Wakefield, "The Loss of Sadness" [BB]
    • C23 (11/18) Mental Disorders
      • Wakefield, "The Concept of a Mental Disorder" [BB]
  • Week 13 (Thanksgiving Break: TDB)
  • Week 14
    • C24 (11/30) Criminal Insanity
      • Hope, "Inconsistencies about Madness" [BB]
    • C25 (12/2) Psychopaths
      • Levy, "The Responsibility of the Psychopath Reconsidered" [BB]
  • Week 15
    • C26 (12/7) Drugs vs. Therapy
      • Levy, "Changing our Minds" [BB]
    • C27 (12/9) Treatment / Enhancement Distinction
      • Levy, "The Presumption Against Direct Manipulation" [BB]