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Syllabus for U22 Philosophy 131 – Present Moral Problems



Fall 2018


Instructor: Katie Rapier

Office: Wilson 114

Office Hours: By appointment

Email: (24 hours to reply)

Classroom: Eads 204

Class Hours: Mondays 5:30-8:30PM



Course Website:

Course Description:


In this course students will discuss current ethical issues structured around four key principles: (1) beneficence, (2) do no harm, (3) justice, and (4) autonomy. Readings will feature a combination of philosophical texts as well as popular writings and media. Students will learn to engage in philosophical discourse on contemporary topics including how to allocate one’s resources, fair trade and human trafficking, and self-driving cars.

Learning Objectives:

(1) To learn the basics of philosophical argument in order to (2) read analytically and produce critical essays on current ethical issues, (3) and to propose and evaluate practical approaches to these issues.

Required Materials:


Weekly readings will be posted on the course website. You are expected to print or bring an electronic copy of the readings to class.




Participation: Students are expected to come to class prepared to discuss the readings, assigned activities, and case studies. You will need to bring copies of the daily reading to each class – printed or electronically. Participation will be assessed by contributions to the class discussion. Please be mindful of other students to allow everyone an opportunity to express their opinions.


Reflection Essays: Students will be responsible for completing 5 reflection essays throughout the course. Reflection essays should be approximately 2 pages long (1 ½-2 ½), double-spaced. Reflection essays are due at the beginning of class and should discuss the readings assigned for that day. Students may focus primarily on one reading or discuss all of the readings for that day equally. If you choose to focus on one reading be sure to include a brief discussion of how the other readings relate. You should cite the daily readings and any external sources using APA or Chicago style.


Essays will be graded based on (1) demonstrated knowledge of the readings and (2) thoughtful engagement. Students may choose to critically analyze an argument in one of the reading and discuss how it relates to past class readings and/or other assigned readings for the day, discuss an argument that you do not fully understand and why it seems perplexing, or use some other organization structure that accomplishes the two goals discussed above. We will discuss examples in class.

Reflection Essay Rubric

How To Write a Reflection Essay


Fair Trade Assignment: In the Do No Harm section, students will be expected to visit a fair trade store in the local area (Plowsharing Crafts or Zee Bee Market) and write a paragraph to present to the class on October 1st about their experience. If students are unable to travel one of the locations they can contact the instructor for an alternate assignment.


Case Study: At the end of the term you will design and analyze a case study based on a real or fictional moral dilemma. You will describe the situation, the possible actions and their potential consequences, and argue why one course of action is morally better than the others. Your case study should be 2-4 pages double-spaced. We will discuss an example in class. The case study is due via email by Wednesday, December 12th by 11:59PM.


Grade Calculation:

            Fair Trade Assignment: 10%

            Participation: 15%

            Reflection Essays: 35%

            Case Study: 40%



Attendance and Lateness Policy


Reflection essays on the daily readings are due at the beginning of class. Students should turn in a paper copy of their essay. Missed exams cannot be made up unless the student discusses options with the instructor prior to missing class. Absolutely no late work will be accepted.

Academic Integrity


“In all academic work, the ideas and contributions of others must be appropriately acknowledged, and work that is presented as original must be, in fact, original. Faculty, students, and administrative staff all share responsibility of ensuring the honesty and fairness of the intellectual environment at Washington University,”


(quoted from Washington University’s Undergraduate Student Academic Integrity Policy).  All violations of this policy will be reported to the academic integrity officer. Particularly relevant to this course, the case study and reflection essays will be monitored for cheating and plagiarism, respectively. Students should not collaborate on assignments or reflection essays. We will review the policy in class and students are encouraged to refer to the policy on the University’s website:

If a student is suspected of an academic integrity violation, the instructor will contact the appropriate authorities within the student’s degree program.




Accommodations for Students with Disabilities: Students with disabilities can request different kinds of accommodations. To learn more, please visit: If you need accommodations, please follow the instructions on the website and contact the instructor as soon as possible.


Accommodations Based Upon Sexual Assault: The University is committed to offering reasonable academic accommodations to students who are survivors of sexual assault. Students are eligible for accommodation regardless of whether they seek criminal or disciplinary action. If you need to request such accommodations, please direct your request to Kim Webb (, Director of the Office of Sexual Assault and Community Health Services.  Ms. Webb is a confidential resource; however, requests for accommodations will be shared with the appropriate University administration and faculty.  The University will maintain as confidential any accommodations or protective measures provided to an individual student so long as it does not impair the ability to provide such measures.


Bias Reporting: The University has a process through which students, faculty, staff, and community members who have experienced or witnessed incidents of bias, prejudice or discrimination against a student can report their experiences to the University’s Bias Report and Support System (BRSS) team.  See:


Mental Health: Mental Health Services’ professional staff members work with students to resolve personal and interpersonal difficulties, many of which can affect the academic experience. These include conflicts with or worry about friends or family, concerns about eating or drinking patterns, and feelings of anxiety and depression. See:





*All assignments are subject to change. Please check the course website regularly.


Monday, August 27th:

Introduction, Syllabus Overview, Academic Integrity, “How to Write a Reflection Essay,” and How Should We Discuss Ethics?

*Please take the following brief survey: (

Reading: Jim Pryor, “What is an argument?” and “Guidelines on Reading Philosophy”  

Case Study:How to Write a Reflection Essay” (distributed in class)


Monday, September 3rd:




Monday, September 10th:


Reading: Heathwood, “Welfare

Case Study: Selections from Singer, Doing the Most Good (pgs. 3-11)


Monday, September 17th:


Reading: Review Heathwood

Case Study: Selections from Singer, Doing the Most Good (pgs. 107-115 and pgs. 116-127)


Monday, September 24th:


Readings: Railton, “Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality”  

Case Study: Look up details on one charity at and bring the details to class


Monday, October 1st:

Do No Harm – Fair Trade and Human Trafficking

Readings: Elliott, The Role of Consent in Human Trafficking, Chapter 1: Introduction - 1.4; Chapter 2: The Contextual and Legal Background (

Case Study: New York Times, “Modern Slavery Grows

Assignment: Fair Trade Assignment (see above)

Monday, October 8th:

Do No Harm – Human Trafficking

Readings: Hepburn, Human Trafficking Around the World (pg. 11-43)  

Case Study: New York Times,  “Slavery and the Shrimp on Your Plate


Monday, October 15th:




Monday, October 22th:


Readings: Cameron and Rapier, “Compassion is a Motivated Choice

Case Study: Grey, “The Nazi Trials: The of Auschwitz Guard Reinhold Hanning” (  


Monday, October 29th:


Readings: Selections from Williams, “Moral Luck” (pg. 117 after red line to red line on pg. 122)

Case Study: Wheaton, “Protesters Gather at BP Gas Stations


Monday, November 5th:


Readings: Selections from Doris, Talking to Our Selves: Reflection, Ignorance, and Agency: “Responsibility” [pgs. 155-156 (stop at “Revisions”), pgs. 159 (start at “Attribution”)-171 (stop at “Pluralism”)]

Case Study: Baer, “Kevin Spacey’s New Movie “Billionaire Boys Club” Earned Just $618 This Weekend” (


Monday, November 12th:


Readings: Selections from Moya, The Philosophy of Action: An Introduction:  “Introduction” and “Actions and Happenings”

Case Study: David, “First World War: who was to blame?” (


Monday, November 19th:


Readings: Bratman, “Reflection, Planning, and Temporally Extended Agency

Case Study: Nowak, “The Ethical Dilemmas of Self-Driving Cars

Monday, November 26th:


Readings: Review Bratman

Case Study: Himmelreich, “The Ethical Challenges Self-Driving Cars Will Face Every Day


*Sample Case Study Distributed in Class


Monday, December 3rd:

Case Study Outline Workshop

Readings: Pryor, “Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper” ( )

Case Study: none


*Bring copy of Case Study Outline to class


Monday, December 10th:

Virtue Ethics and Mental Health

Readings: Rapier, "Borderline Personality Disorder: The Moral Superheroes Virtue Ethics Needs" (pg. 12 "Moral Superheroes" - 22; 9-28 optional), optional - Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (Book II, Book VII pgs. 375-377 and 437-439)

Case Study: Carey, "Expert on Mental Illness Reveals Her Own Fight"


Wednesday, December 12th:

Case Study Due Via Email

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