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Instructor-specific Course Descriptions

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Fall 2020

Lower Division Courses

Whether one supports the Affordable Care Act or some form of replacement (e.g., the American Health Care Act, Medicare for All), these debates are a stark reminder of not only the high-stakes issues at play, but also the way in which moral, legal, and social perspectives can often collide.  This is because the medical field and the biological sciences, more generally, are riddled with value judgements — from the classic life and death issues of abortion and euthanasia to larger questions about access to health care and medical research.  Bioethics, as a form of applied ethics, critically engages these matters in a systematic fashion, often with an eye towards informing public policy, and we will do the same in this course.  We will start by learning about some particularly useful ethical theories, as well relevant aspects of the legal system, and then move into discussions centered on the following: the right to care, informed consent, end of life issues, privacy and confidentiality, reproductive health, cultural sensitivity, and medical research.  To engage these issues, we will make frequent use of past cases to spur discussion.  This course does not presuppose previous experience with philosophy and is aimed at providing skills and outcomes that would benefit those interested in careers in health care, research, or public policy.

Of the various fields in applied ethics, bioethics receives the most attention, resources, and funding.  The reasons for this become fairly clear after considering the various kinds of life and death issues as well as quality of life questions that arise in the field.  For example, is abortion, euthanasia, or physician-assisted suicide morally permissible (and if so, under what set of conditions)? What are the basic ethical requirements of human subjects research? What are the relevant moral considerations in the ethics of genetic enhancement and eugenics? When (if ever) are medical practitioners morally justified in acting paternalistically in the interests of their patients? What moral obligation (if any) does the state have to provide adequate access to healthcare to its citizens, especially the poor? In this course, we will critically examine some of the common philosophical questions that arise in bioethics.  The course will begin with a survey of some of the basic concepts and leading theories in bioethics, and proceed from there to closely examine some of the more intensely disputed issues in contemporary bioethics.

Metaphysics is the philosophical study of reality.  In this course, we will investigate some of the central issues in metaphysics, focusing (in the first half) on issues about the world in general and (in the second half) on questions about us.  Our aims are to clarify the main positions on these issues and develop and defend our own views about them.  These issues are tough; and deciding what to think about them is not obvious (at least not to me!).  Hence, the class will be run ‘seminar-style’—emphasizing student involvement and discussion.  I will encourage you, through class discussion and written work, to develop your own critical perspective on the material.

This is an undergraduate survey course focused on central philosophical issues that arise in our effort to understand the nature of our social and political institutions, their interactions, and our relationships to them.  We and our text will focus on the main currents or schools of thought in contemporary social and political philosophy.  Though lecture, I will often provide historical context for and explore the more determinate policy implications of these currents or schools of thought.  Our text will be Will Kymlicka's Contemporary Political Philosophy, 2nd. Ed., Oxford University Press.  Class meetings will be devoted to lecture and discussion.  Assessments will include take-home examinations and short essays.      

This is an upper-division philosophy course focused on recent work concerning the norms, if any, that govern and/or ought to govern the international and global order. These norms include state sovereignty, non-intervention, the rule of law, jus cogens, the voluntarist nature of international law, just war theory, fair and free trade, human rights, humanitarian intervention and R2P (responsibility to protect), and much else. This is not a class focused on international or global politics or institutions, though of course both will be relevant. Nor is it a class on particular problems such as global climate change, though again such problems will be relevant. It is a philosophy class, though perhaps a bit more interdisciplinary than other philosophy classes, the aim of which is to move students closer to understanding the possibilities for and merits of a defensible normative order international or global in reach and scope. Class meetings will be devoted to lecture and discussion. I will not merely summarize readings during course lectures; you are expected to have read assigned readings in advance of attending lecture. Required readings will include John Rawls, The Law of Peoples, Harvard UP, 1999; Jim Nickel, Making Sense of Human Rights, 2nd Ed., Blackwell, 2007; and David Held and Pietro Maffetone, eds., Global Political Theory, Polity, 2016. Students wanting to get a feel for course material in advance may find it helpful to consult either Jon Mandle, Global Justice, Polity, 2006; or Mathias Risse, Global Political Philosophy, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; but these are not required texts. Required assessments will include exams and papers.

This will be a seminar on contemporary moral theory in which we read and discuss some of the seminal papers in moral theory over the last 100 or so years, including ones by G.E. Moore, W.D. Ross, Philippa Foot, Bernard Williams, and Susan Wolf.  Questions we will address include: What is the nature of value, right action, virtue, ideals, and reasons?  What are moral judgments and how, if at all, can we justify them?  What, if any, role can moral theory add to our understanding of morality and how, if at all, should we go about formulating ethical theories?  And what are some of the main objections to utilitarianism and what can they tell us about various aspects of the moral life, such as friendship and integrity?

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