Contemporary Moral Issues

107-237B (Contemporary Moral Issues)
Instructor: Gerry Beaulieu
Office: 933 Leacock
Office Hours: TBA
e-mail: [email protected]
Course Description: In this course, we will examine some of the major moral
controversies facing us today, such as abortion, euthanasia, animal rights, the
environment, affirmative action, and sexuality. We will critically evaluate arguments
stemming from various perspectives on these issues. The aim of the course is to learn to
appreciate the significance of the reasons offered in support of different and often
opposing moral views, as well as to learn to argue (i.e., provide rational considerations)
for your own views. To that end, we will begin with a brief general introduction to moral
theory in order to provide us with a foundation for discussing the issues. We will examine
three classical moral theories (namely, utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics),
which purport to provide answers to philosophical questions such as ‘How ought one to
live?’ ‘What makes an action right or wrong?’ and ‘What makes a good person?’ Many
of the authors we will discuss, when we take up the contemporary issues, tacitly assume
or directly rely on one or another of these theories and so it will be useful to familiarize
ourselves with them in advance. The focus of the course, however, will be on the issues
and the particular arguments offered from the various perspectives on them. I will
provide a detailed reading list at the beginning of term.
Course Method: You are required to attend two weekly lectures (Monday and
Wednesday) and one weekly conference (Thursday or Friday). While it is difficult to
engage in an extensive in-class discussion with a class of this size, I will encourage
focused questions (i.e., questions directly pertaining to the lecture material). But, given
the size of the class, I reserve the right to press on with the lecture. The conferences are
where you will get a chance to discuss more extensively the material and your own
arguments regarding the issues.
Evaluation: There are four formal requirements for this course:
(i) three short (3-4 page) papers (20% each)
(ii) a final exam (40%)
You must hand in all three papers and write the final exam. Paper topics will be
distributed at least one week in advance. Late papers will be penalized one half grade per
late day (e.g., from a B to a B-). While there is no formal grade assigned to conference
participation, you are expected to attend your conferences having read the relevant
material and prepared to discuss it. Participation can affect your mark if it is borderline
(e.g., between a B and B+).
Text: James E. White, Contemporary Moral Problems, 7th edition. The text will be
available at Paragraphe Bookstore, 2220 McGill College.