PHL 250 Philosophical Foundations for Ethical Understanding

Dr. Kevin Graham, Instructor

Fall Semester 2002

Humanities Center, Room 113


Class Meetings. Section A: M W F 9:30-10:20 am in Administration, Room 432

Section B: M W F 10:30-11:20 am in Administration, Room 432

Office Hours. M Tu W Th F 2:30-3:20 pm

or by appointment


Course Description

We constantly confront situations that require us to determine which actions are right or just, and which are wrong or unjust. You already have more or less coherent ideas about what is right, good, and just, and a more or less well-developed ability to make moral judgments. This course is designed to help you reflect on and refine these ideas and this ability so that you can make better ethical choices and lead a more moral life. We will address questions such as the following: Why should you do what is morally right when it is not in your self-interest to do so? How can you determine what course of action is morally right? How should you balance your duty to act as morally as you can with responsibilities such as being a good friend or being a faithful employee?

Because this course begins from the moral ideas and moral judgment that you have acquired over the course of your life rather than with abstract philosophical theories about morality, the central reading in this course is a novel rather than a series of philosophical essays. As we read the novel together, we will discuss moral questions like those listed above as they arise. Alongside this novel we will read a sociological study that will explain a lot of the background information that is necessary to understand the industry in which the novel's characters work. And at certain key junctures in our study of the novel, we will read a few philosophical essays that will help you to clarify your moral ideas and hone your moral judgment.


Course Goals

  1. Acquaint students with a variety of philosophical views about moral action and the good life.
  2. Help students to refine their own ideas about morality and to develop their own moral judgment.
  3. Enable students to develop, articulate, and defend their ideas and judgments clearly and rigorously.
  4. Help students to reflect on a variety of moral questions related to racism.
  5. Develop students’ skills in careful reading and interpretation of philosophical texts, critical reflection on important personal beliefs, and written and oral exposition.


Required Texts

Bebe Moore Campbell, Brothers and Sisters (Berkley)

Melvin L. Oliver & Thomas M. Shapiro, Black Wealth/White Wealth (Routledge)

Louis P. Pojman, ed., Moral Philosophy: A Reader, second ed. (Hackett)


Grading Scheme

  1. One minor essay (1000 words) on utilitarian or deontological novel, (b) explain how you might use one (or more) of the ethical theories that we will study in this course to answer this question, and (c) develop and defend your own answer to that question. More details about this assignment will be provided on a handout that will be distributed in class in mid-September.
  2. You will write two quizzes on the material covered in Oliver & Shapiro’s book, Black Wealth/White Wealth. These quizzes will be administered in class on Wednesday, October 9 and Monday, November 18, respectively. Because our study of Oliver & Shapiro is primarily intended to provide background information that you will need in order to understand Campbell’s novel fully and accurately, these quizzes are primarily intended to ensure that you can understand and interpret the information with which the authors are providing you. Each quiz will consist of about five short-answer questions and will cover approximately two chapters of the book.
  3. You will write one final examination covering all course readings except Oliver & Shapiro. The final examination will consist exclusively of two essay questions, one of which will cover Aristotle’s virtue ethics and the other of which will cover other readings. In each section of the examination, you will be able to choose from among two or more questions which one you want to answer. The questions that will appear on the final examination will be announced in class during the last week of classes. You may bring with you to the examination one 4" x 6" index card, on which you may write whatever you like.
  4. You will be required to participate in class discussions in both large and small groups. While regular attendance at class meetings is necessary to do well on this component of the marking scheme, it is by no means sufficient. Both active listening to what others are saying and regular voicing of your own views, comments, and questions are expected. By the same token, activities which disrupt class discussions will count against this portion of your mark. Disruptive activities include, but are not limited to, whispering to your neighbor while someone else is talking, interrupting others, arriving late to class or leaving early without permission, and sleeping or eating in class. Repeatedly engaging in such disruptive activities after being warned is grounds for being assigned a failing grade on this component of the marking scheme.
  5. You will regularly be required to complete brief, informal writing exercises in class or as homework. These exercises may take the form of, for example, study guides, reactions to specified passages of the course readings, or articulation of your own thoughts on some issue or question related to the course material. They are primarily designed to determine whether you are keeping up with the course readings and thinking about what you read. I will grade them with an eye for the effort you are putting into them. Regular completion of in-class writing exercises will also contribute to your class participation mark.


Academic Policies

Absence Policy. It is not my policy formally to take attendance at each class meeting. The class participation and writing exercise requirements are, however, partly intended to ensure your regular attendance. In accordance with University policy, "conscientious attendance of classes" is considered a necessary condition of successful completion of this course (CU Bulletin, Undergraduate Issue: 2002, p. 85). Consequently, if you receive a grade of F on either the class participation or the informal writing exercise component of your grade due to excessive absences, then you will receive a grade of AF for the course.

Deadlines and Petitions for Extensions and Make-up Quizzes and Exams. All deadlines for submission of course work are firm. Late papers will not be accepted unless you have successfully petitioned for an extension of the deadline before the deadline arrives. Petitions for extensions of essay deadlines will be considered IF AND ONLY IF (1) you give a compelling reason why circumstances beyond your control prevent you from submitting the paper on time AND (2) you request an extension in writing by the deadline specified in the essay handout. After that date, no requests for extensions will be considered. If you submit your essay late without previously having obtained an extension, your essay will not be accepted and you will receive a grade of zero for the assignment.

If you miss an exam or a quiz due to reasons beyond your control, then you can arrange to take a make-up exam or quiz by contacting the instructor as soon as possible, and no more than 24 hours after the scheduled time of the exam or quiz. In order to obtain permission to take a make-up exam or quiz, you need to provide documentary proof of the circumstances that prevented you from writing the exam or quiz at the scheduled time within 5 business days of the scheduled time. If you fail to contact the instructor within 24 hours or to provide evidence of what prevented you from taking the test within 5 business days, then you will receive a grade of zero for that quiz or exam.

Academic Honesty. If you present the words or thoughts of another person as if they were your own, you are guilty of plagiarism. This is true whether or not you intended to pass off the words or thoughts in question as your own. You are also guilty of plagiarism if you present the same work for credit in two different university courses.

Plagiarism is an extremely serious academic offense. Penalties for plagiarism can range from getting a zero on the assignment in question through getting an F in the course to being expelled from the university. Generally speaking, my policy is to penalize acts of academic dishonesty by assigning a grade of F for the course, although I reserve the right to assign a lesser penalty (such as assigning a grade of zero for the assignment) or to appeal to the Dean to assign a greater penalty (such as expulsion from the university) at my discretion. Whatever penalty I assign, you should know that every act of academic dishonesty, however small or large, is recorded in a letter placed in the student’s permanent academic file in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Plagiarism is also relatively easy for the experienced instructor to spot, so it is difficult to get away with. This is especially true now that instructors have access to technology for detecting plagiarism that is on a par with the technology students have for committing plagiarism. By taking this course, students agree that all required papers may be subject to submission for textual similarity review to for the detection of plagiarism. All submitted papers will be included as source documents in the reference database solely for the purpose of detecting plagiarism of such papers. Use of the service is subject to the terms of use agreement posted on the Web site. I will submit your essay to for evaluation if I judge that your essay does not respond to the assignment stated in the essay handout or if I detect specific evidence of knowledge or styles of expression not generally accessible to undergraduate students.

Given the severe penalties you may incur as a result of plagiarism and the high risk of getting caught, it is wise to do all in your power to avoid committing plagiarism knowingly or unknowingly. The best way to avoid plagiarism is to be as thorough as possible in documenting the sources you rely on for the claims you make in your papers. Detailed guidelines for documenting your sources will be supplied on the assignment sheets for each of the essays in this course.

The most common reasons for plagiarism are (1) carelessness or laziness in providing page references to sources, (2) confusion about just when documentation is and is not required, and (3) feeling overwhelmed or intimidated by the difficulty of an assignment. If you feel prone to any of these feelings, reflect for a minute on the fact that I am highly likely to see right through your attempt to get by without documentation, and consider what the consequences may be if you are caught. And remember, I am always happy to talk to you about any and all issues related to plagiarism, and especially about concerns (2) and (3) listed above.







Criteria for Evaluating

Philosophy Essays

Appropriateness. Does your essay answer each of the questions stated in the handout you received in class? Will it be obvious to the reader what your answers are to each of those questions?

Clarity of exposition and argument. How clearly have you explained the arguments and concepts from the course material that are relevant to the assignment? How clearly have you expressed your critical evaluation of the arguments contained in the readings? Have you clearly stated the reasons behind your evaluations?

Critical understanding of the material. Have you demonstrated a detailed, thorough understanding of the relevant course readings? Is there any important part of an argument that you have not considered? Do your accounts of the arguments make sense in light of what you know about the larger context in which they are set?

Fairness to the authors' arguments. Are your interpretations of the authors’ arguments charitable? Have you done your best to interpret them as good, strong arguments? If you think a certain argument is badly flawed, can you identify any beliefs that the author may have held which would make the argument stronger than you first thought? If you have expressed doubts about whether a certain premise of the author’s argument is true, have you supplied an argument to show that that premise is probably or certainly false?

Coherence of your explanations and arguments. Does your essay make sense as a whole? Is it well-organized? At each stage of the essay, is it easy to tell what you are saying and how that fits in with what you have already said? Are there any conflicts between things you say at different points in the essay? Do your arguments flow logically from your premises to your conclusions?

Ability to anticipate objections to your point of view. Have you considered how the authors of the articles you discuss (or someone else who read your essay and disagreed with you) might respond to your arguments? Are your arguments open to any obvious objections? Have you committed any glaring errors of reasoning? Are any of the assumptions you make obviously false?

Documentation of works cited. Have you noted where you refer to the work of writers other than yourself? Have you included page numbers in parentheses in the text of your essay to mark where you refer to works on the course syllabus? Have you included full endnotes or footnotes to mark where you refer to works other than those on the course syllabus? Have you included a bibliography listing all the bibliographical information about books you refer to that are not on the course syllabus?


Interpretations of Letter Grades

F "Failure – no credit"

D "Work of inferior quality, but passing"

C "Satisfactory work"

B "Noteworthy level of performance"

Demonstrates all of the qualities of average work, as well as:

A "Outstanding achievement and an unusual degree of intellectual initiative"

Demonstrates all of the qualities of above average work, as well as:

Standards of Evaluation for

Participation in Class Discussions

F - infrequent class attendance

- little or no participation in class discussions

D - irregular class attendance

- limited participation in class discussions

C - regular class attendance

- limited participation in class discussions

B - regular class attendance

- regular participation in class discussions

A - regular class attendance

- regular participation in class discussions

- frequent thoughtful, insightful, or provocative contributions to class discussions


Standards of Evaluation for

Informal Writing Exercises

F - Completion of none or practically none of the informal writing exercises

D - Completion of few of the informal writing exercises

- All or most of those completed are of poor or fair quality (Ö -)

C - Completion of most of the informal writing exercises

- Most of those completed are of poor or fair quality (Ö -)

B - Completion of all or most of the informal writing exercises

- Most of those completed are of good (Ö ) quality

A - Completion of all or practically all of the informal writing exercises

- All or practically all of those completed are of good quality (Ö )


Percentile Equivalents of Letter Grades

A = 93-100 C+ = 77-81

B+ = 88-92 C = 70-76

B = 82-87 D = 60-69

F = 0-59




Schedule of Required Readings



Aug. 21


Aug. 23

Campbell, Brothers & Sisters, Chapters 1-3, pp. 1-42

Aug. 26

Campbell, Brothers & Sisters, Chapters 4-7, pp. 43-91

Aug. 28

Jeremy Bentham, "Classical Hedonism," in Pojman, Moral Philosophy, pp. 113-15

Aug. 30

John Stuart Mill, "Utilitarianism," in Pojman, Moral Philosophy, pp. 141-43

Sept. 2

Labor Day – No class meeting

Sept. 4

Campbell, Brothers & Sisters, Chapters 8-10, pp. 92-141

Sept. 6

John Stuart Mill, "Utilitarianism," in Pojman, Moral Philosophy, pp. 144-46

Sept. 9

Wrap-up discussion of Utilitarianism

Sept. 11

Mass of the Holy Spirit – No class meeting

Sept. 13

Campbell, Brothers & Sisters, Chapters 11-14, pp. 142-97

Sept. 16

Immanuel Kant, "The Foundations of Ethics," in Pojman, Moral Philosophy, pp. 194-97

Sept. 18

Immanuel Kant, "The Foundations of Ethics," in Pojman, Moral Philosophy, pp. 197-201

Sept. 20

Campbell, Brothers & Sisters, Chapters 15-17, pp. 198-247

Sept. 23

Immanuel Kant, "The Foundations of Ethics," in Pojman, Moral Philosophy, pp. 201-05

Sept. 25

Immanuel Kant, "The Foundations of Ethics," in Pojman, Moral Philosophy, pp. 205-08

Sept. 27

Oliver & Shapiro, Black Wealth/White Wealth, Introduction and Chapter 1, pp. 1-32

Sept. 30

Immanuel Kant, "The Foundations of Ethics," in Pojman, Moral Philosophy, pp. 208-212

Oct. 2

Wrap-up discussion of Deontology

Oct. 4

Minor Essay Workshop

Oct. 7

Oliver & Shapiro, Black Wealth/White Wealth, Chapter 2, pp. 33-52

Oct. 9

Campbell, Brothers & Sisters, Chapters 18-22, pp. 248-301

Quiz on Oliver & Shapiro, Introduction and Chapters 1-2

Oct. 11

Minor Essay due

Oct. 14-18

Fall Break – No class meetings

Oct. 21

Campbell, Brothers & Sisters, Chapters 23-25, pp. 302-48

Oct. 23

Major Essay Workshop #1

Oct. 25

Campbell, Brothers & Sisters, Chapters 26-29, pp. 349-98

Oct. 28

Oliver & Shapiro, Black Wealth/White Wealth, Chapter 5, pp. 91-111

Oct. 30

Campbell, Brothers & Sisters, Chapters 30-34, pp. 399-450

Nov. 1

Oliver & Shapiro, Black Wealth/White Wealth, Chapter 5, pp. 111-25

Nov. 4

Major Essay Workshop #2

Nov. 6

Oliver & Shapiro, Black Wealth/White Wealth, Chapter 6, pp. 127-51

Nov. 8

Instructor away at conference – No class meeting

Nov. 11

Campbell, Brothers & Sisters, Chapters 35-40, pp. 451-506

Nov. 13

Campbell, Brothers & Sisters, Chapters 41-44, pp. 507-44

Nov. 15

Oliver & Shapiro, Black Wealth/White Wealth, Chapter 6, pp. 151-70

Nov. 18

Quiz on Oliver & Shapiro, Chapters 5-6

Nov. 20

Aristotle, "Virtue Ethics," in Pojman, Moral Philosophy, pp. 249-52

Major Essay due

Nov. 22

Aristotle, "Virtue Ethics," in Pojman, Moral Philosophy, pp. 252-56

Nov. 25

Aristotle, "Virtue Ethics," in Pojman, Moral Philosophy, pp. 256-59

Nov. 27-29

Thanksgiving Break – No class meetings

Dec. 2

Bernard Mayo, "Virtue and the Moral Life," in Pojman, Moral Philosophy, pp. 260-63

Dec. 4

Wrap-up discussion of Virtue Ethics

Dec. 6

Final Exam review

Dec. 9

Section A: Final Exam, 10:00-11:40 am

Dec. 13

Section B: Final Exam, 8:00-9:40 am