PHIL 102 A: Contemporary Moral Problems

Meeting Time: 
to be arranged
* *
Professor Michael Blake
Michael Blake

Syllabus Description:

Philosophy 102: Contemporary Moral Problems

Course Head: 

Michael Blake
Professor of Philosophy, Public Policy, and Governance

Contact me:

You can contact me in a number of ways –

My email:

My dedicated email for this course:

(You can use either of these – but sending it to the latter makes sure it won’t get swamped in the sea of other emails I get.)

Twitter: @phil102uw


Contact your Teaching Assistants:

Cody Dout

Arthur Obst

Lindsay Whittaker --Page for  Lindsay's Recitation Sections 
     Lindsay's Office Hours (open to all students, try to go to your TA's if possible though!): 
                 Mondays 11am-12am, Wednesdays 3pm-4pm, by appointment. Link to Office Hour Zoom


Learning goals:

This course is an introduction to philosophical thinking about moral topics. It has three main goals:

  • To provide you with an introduction to the concepts and methods that have been used in philosophical thinking about morality.
  • To demonstrate what arguments have been made by others about the moral issues debated in public life.
  • To enable you to apply the tools of philosophy to these issues yourself.


Course structure:

We will interact in this course in four ways.

First: I will be making online presentations, which will be available each week by 9 AM on Monday (PST).  These presentations will be found in the Modules section, on the website.  Each of these modules will reference readings that are assigned to you; these readings are either online, or placed in the Files tab on the Canvas page.  The first two stated times for lectures – MW at 1:45 – are times at which we may be able to have a group session to go over some of these videos. Currently, Lindsay is planning on having lecture "watch parties" for those who want more accountability/structure to their course experience this fall. The "Lecture Viewing Party" Schedule can be accessed here and will be updated weekly.

Second: you will be working with a TA, who will arrange for you to have discussion sections twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays). These discussions will likely be synchronous, although this will be arranged in consultation with your TA.

Third: you have access to several discussion boards – both within your section, and for the course as a whole.  One of these boards is set up to answer questions of procedure and access (as in: where is that reading located?).  One of these is set up to ask and answer question of content (as in: what does that reading mean?)

Fourth: I will be holding, each Friday at 1:45, a Zoom discussion section.  This is entirely optional – there is no penalty for not going – but this is a place during which we can at least see each other face to face, and get answers to those questions that have come up during your reading.


Course expectations:

Ideally, what I would hope you could do is – before Friday – read the texts associated with each week; watch the videos giving some context and background to those readings; meet in section, to discuss with your TA (and other students) how these texts are to be understood; meet with me on Friday to go over any remaining questions you might have; and then hand in your assignment for the week, which is due at midnight on Friday.


Course rules:

  1. The issues we discuss are ones about which reasonable people disagree, often passionately. Philosophers are devoted to the idea that this disagreement can be the subject of reasoned, respectful, and mutually beneficial discussion. The discussion only works, though, when people are willing and able to share their beliefs and arguments – even when they’re unpopular. So, the most important rule: respect people even when they disagree with you. This means two things, in practice:
    a. Listen respectfully to the arguments of the other side.
    b. If someone in this community is making it difficult for you to speak – whether it’s a fellow student, a TA, or myself – come and talk with me, and we’ll do something about it.
  2. Section attendance is where you learn how to argue about the ideas we’re discussing in lecture. You have a duty to your fellow students to be there to discuss, critique, and improve their ideas.
  3. You have an obligation to learn about what counts as plagiarism and avoid it. Most plagiarism isn’t deliberate, but the result of misunderstanding what counts as acceptable academic practice. Any cases of suspected plagiarism will be sent to the Dean’s Representative for review.
  4. The boring, but necessary, stipulations:
    a. Extensions will be granted only in cases of emergency. Emergencies are generally medical in nature.
    b. Send your writing assignments to your TA via Canvas. Be aware that the text of your assignment may be compared with those of other students, past and present, in this class, by web-based means.
    c. Regrades will be available only after a written submission to the TA making the case that an objective error in grading has taken place.
    d. All assignments must be completed for a passing grade in this course.
    e. Any determination that plagiarism has occurred will result in a failing grade for the course.

Your assignments will be submitted via Canvas; for help on this process, go to this Link (Links to an external site.)


Schedule of readings:

NOTE: All readings below are either online readings, or readings that will be downloaded with the below links.


Week one (week of September 30): Introduction to philosophy, academic honesty, and the ethics of authority (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)

Mark Timmons, Disputed Moral Issues, 2d ed., 33-35 (Please read before Thursday discussion sections!)


Week two (week of October 5): Consequentialism

Jeremy Bentham, “The Principle of Utility”

VIDEO: The Life You Can Save.


Week three: (week of October 12): Kantian ethics

Mark Timmons, 15-20

Immanuel Kant, “The Moral Law.”

VIDEO: Kant’s Axe.


Week four (week of October 19): Liberty

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Chapter 2. Available at (Links to an external site.)

VIDEO: The Harm Principle.


Week five (week of October 26): Liberty and unwelcome speech

Irving Kristol, “Pornography, Obscenity, and the Case for Censorship.”

Catharine MacKinnon, “Pornography, Civil Rights, and Speech.”

Ana Mari Cauce et al., “How free should speech on campus be?” July 23, 2018. Available at (Links to an external site.)

Shirin Ghaffarey, “Civil Rights Leaders are still fed up with Facebook over hate speech,” Vox, July 7, 2020.  Available at


Week six (week of November 2): Punishment and death (all three are required reading)

Immanuel Kant, “Punishment and the Principle of Equality.”

Ernst Van Den Haag, “A Defense of the Death Penalty.”

Hugo Adam Bedau, “The Case Against the Death Penalty.” Available at (Links to an external site.)


Week seven (week of November 9): Death part II, and Public Protest  

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, pp. 97-139.

Mark Berman, “Washington Supreme Court strikes down Washington’s death penalty, saying it is ‘racially biased’.” October 11, 2018. Available at (Links to an external site.)

Liliana Segura, “Trump’s Execution Spree Continues at Federal Killing Ground in Indiana,” The Intercept, September 30, 2020.  Available at



Week eight (week of November 16):  Natural Law and sex (the three readings and the video are required)

Mark Timmons, Disputed Moral Issues, 2d. ed., 12-15

Vatican Declaration on Some Questions of Sexual Ethics.

John Corvino, “Why Shouldn’t Tommy and Jim Have Sex? A Defense of Homosexuality.”

VIDEO: Aristotle on flourishing.


Week nine (week of November 23): Abortion, part I

Pope John Paul II, “On the Unspeakable Crime of Abortion”

Mary Anne Warren, “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion.”


Week ten (week of November 30): Abortion, part II

Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion.”

Don Marquis, “Why Abortion is Immoral.”

Christina Caron, “Ohio House Passes Bill to Criminalize Abortion of Fetuses With a Heartbeat,” New York Times, November 16, 2018. Available at (Links to an external site.)

Michael Tarm and Michael Biesecker, “High court front runner hailed by right, feared by left.”  AP Newswire, September 21, 2020.


Week eleven (week of December 7): Climate ethics and course review



University of Washington, Department of Philosophy


Academic Misconduct

Academic misconduct, including plagiarism, is prohibited by the Student Conduct Code for the University of Washington and is taken very seriously by the UW. According to the student conduct code, academic misconduct includes:

  1. "Cheating" which includes, but is not limited to:

    1. The use of unauthorized assistance in taking quizzes, tests, or examinations, or completing assignments;
    2. The acquisition, use, or distribution of unpublished materials created by another student without the express permission of the original author(s);
    3. Using online sources, such as solution manuals, without the permission of the instructor to complete assignments, exams, tests, or quizzes; or
    4. Requesting, hiring, or otherwise encouraging someone to take a course, exam, test, or complete assignments for a student.
  2. "Falsification," which is the intentional use or submission of falsified data, records, or other information including, but not limited to, records of internship or practicum experiences or attendance at any required event(s), or scholarly research.
  3. "Plagiarism," which is the submission or presentation of someone else's words, composition, research, or expressed ideas, whether published or unpublished, without attribution. Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to:

    1. The use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment; or
    2. The unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or acquired from an entity engaging in the selling of term papers or other academic materials.
  4. Unauthorized collaboration.
  5. Engaging in behavior specifically prohibited by an instructor in the course of class instruction or in a course syllabus.
  6. Multiple submissions of the same work in separate courses without the express permission of the instructor(s).
  7. Taking deliberate action to destroy or damage another's academic work in order to gain an advantage for oneself or another.
  8. The recording of instructional content without the express permission of the instructor(s), unless approved as a disability accommodation, and/or the dissemination or use of such unauthorized records.

(Source: WAC 478-121 - Academic Misconduct)


Plagiarism may lead to disciplinary action by the University against the student who submitted the work. Any student who is uncertain whether his or her use of the work of others constitutes plagiarism should consult the course instructor for guidance before formally submitting the course work involved.


Incomplete grades may only be awarded if a student is doing satisfactory work up until the last two weeks of the quarter and has furnished proof satisfactory to the instructor that the work cannot be completed because of illness or other circumstances beyond the student’s control. (Sources: Office of the Registrar – Incomplete Grades), UW General Catalog, Student Guide – Grading System)

Grade Appeal Procedure

A student who believes that the instructor erred in the assignment of a grade, or who believes a grade recoding error or omission has occurred, shall first discuss the matter with the instructor before the end of the following academic quarter (not including Summer Quarter). If the student is not satisfied with the instructor’s explanation, the student, no later than ten days after their discussion with the instructor, may submit a written appeal to the chair of the Department of Philosophy with a copy of the appeal also sent to the instructor. The chair consults with the instructor to ensure that the evaluation of the student’s performance has not been arbitrary or capricious. Should the chair believe the instructor’s conduct to be arbitrary or capricious and the instructor declines to revise the grade, the chair, with the approval of the voting members of his or her faculty, shall appoint an appropriate member, or members, of the faculty of the Department of Philosophy to evaluate the performance of the student and assign a grade. The Dean and Provost should be informed of this action. Once a student submits a written appeal, this document and all subsequent actions on this appeal are recorded in written form for deposit in a School file. (Source: UW General Catalog, Student Guide – Grading System)

Concerns About a Course, an Instructor, or a Teaching Assistant

If you have any concerns about a philosophy course or your instructor, please see the instructor about these concerns as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable talking with the instructor or not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact the chair of the program offering the course (names available from the Department of Philosophy, 361 Savery Hall).

If you have any concerns about a teaching assistant, please see the teaching assistant about these concerns as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable talking with the teaching assistant or not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact the instructor in charge of the course. If you are still not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact the chair of the program offering the course (names available from the Department of Philosophy, 361 Savery Hall), or the Graduate School at G-1 Communications Building (543-5900).

Equal Opportunity

The University of Washington reaffirms its policy of equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, disability, or status as a disabled veteran or Vietnam-era veteran in accordance with University of Washington policy and applicable federal and state statutes and regulations.

Access and Accommodations

Your experience in this class is important to the instructor. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to the instructor at your earliest convenience so you can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but are not limited to: mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 (Voice & Relay) or or DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is defined as the use of one’s authority or power, either explicitly or implicitly, to coerce another into unwanted sexual relations or to punish another for his or her refusal, or as the creation by a member of the University community of an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or educational environment through verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

If you believe that you are being harassed, seek help—the earlier the better. You may speak with your instructor, your teaching assistant, the undergraduate advisor (363 Savery Hall), graduate program advisor (366 Savery Hall), or the chair of the philosophy department (364 Savery Hall). In addition, you should be aware that the University has designated special people to help you. For assistance you may contact: SafeCampus; Office of the Ombud (339 HUB, 206-543-6028); Title IX Investigation Office (for complaints that a University student has violated the sexual misconduct provisions of the Student Conduct Code); University Complaint Investigation and Resolution Office (for complaints concerning the behavior of University employees, including faculty, teaching assistants, and other student employees).


The Office of Research Misconduct Proceedings (ORMP) coordinates the University’s handling of allegations of research misconduct against members of the University community, in consultations and cooperation with the University’s schools, colleges, and campuses.

University rules define scientific and scholarly misconduct to include the following forms of inappropriate activity: intentional misrepresentation of credentials; falsification of data; plagiarism; abuse of confidentiality; deliberate violation of regulations applicable to research.

Students can report cases of scientific or scholarly misconduct either to the ORMP, to their faculty adviser, or the department chair. The student should report such problems to whomever he or she feels most comfortable.

(Sources: Executive Order No. 61 – Research Misconduct Policy; Office of Research Misconduct Proceedings; minutes of Grad School Executive Staff and Division Heads meeting, 7/23/98.)


Preventing violence is everyone's responsibility. SafeCampus is the University of Washington’s Violence Prevention and Response Program. They support students, staff, faculty, and community members in preventing violence.

SafeCampus staff will listen to your concerns and provide support and safety plans tailored to your situation. Caring, trained professionals will talk you through options and connect you with additional resources if you want them.

If you're concerned, tell someone.

  • Always call 911 if you or others may be in danger.
  • Call 206-685-SAFE (7233) to report non-urgent threats of violence and for referrals to UW counseling and/or safety resources. TTY or VP callers, please call through your preferred relay service.
  • Don't walk alone. Campus safety guards can walk with you on campus after dark. Call Husky NightWalk 206-685-WALK (9255).
  • Stay connected in an emergency with UW Alert. Register your mobile number to receive instant notification of campus emergencies via text and voice messaging. Sign up for UW Alert
  • For more information visit the SafeCampus website.

Religious Accommodations

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (

Food Insecurity and Hardship

Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact the UW Any Hungry Husky Program. Any Hungry Husky provides hunger relief free of judgment or stigma. Go to for information about the food pantry and food security grants. In addition, UW offers emergency aid for students experiencing unexpected financial hardships that may disrupt their education or get in the way of completing their degree. Go to for more information about how to apply.

Guidance to Students Taking Courses Outside the U.S.

Faculty members at U.S. universities – including the University of Washington – have the right to academic freedom which includes presenting and exploring topics and content that other governments may consider to be illegal and, therefore, choose to censor. Examples may include topics and content involving religion, gender and sexuality, human rights, democracy and representative government, and historic events.

If, as a UW student, you are living outside of the United States while taking courses remotely, you are subject to the laws of your local jurisdiction. Local authorities may limit your access to course material and take punitive action towards you. Unfortunately, the University of Washington has no authority over the laws in your jurisdictions or how local authorities enforce those laws.

If you are taking UW courses outside of the United States, you have reason to exercise caution when enrolling in courses that cover topics and issues censored in your jurisdiction. If you have concerns regarding a course or courses that you have registered for, please contact your academic advisor who will assist you in exploring options.

Face Coverings and Social Distancing in the Classroom during COVID

The health and safety of the University of Washington community are the institution’s priorities. Until otherwise stated face coverings are required per UW COVID Face Covering Policy: indoors where other people are present and outdoors when keeping a 6-foot distance may not be possible. This includes all classrooms and buildings/public spaces on each of the UW campuses.

If you physically can’t wear a mask, you choose not to wear a mask, your mask isn’t appropriate/sufficient, or if you aren’t wearing a mask properly (covering both your nose and mouth-diagram below), you CANNOT be in the classroom and will be asked to leave.

If you have a medical condition or health risk as outlined in the UW COVID Face Covering Policy, you may request an accommodation. Please contact Disability Resources for Students office BEFORE GOING TO CLASS at (Seattle) (Tacoma) (Bothell).

A face covering must:

  • Fit snugly against the sides of the face
  • Completely cover the nose and mouth
  • Be secured with ties, ear loops, elastic bands, or other equally effective method
  • Include at least one layer of cloth, although multiple layers are strongly recommended
  • Allow for breathing without restriction
  • Be capable of being laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

CDC: How to Wear Masks


Catalog Description: 
Philosophical consideration of some of the main moral problems of modern society and civilization, such as abortion, euthanasia, war, and capital punishment. Topics vary.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
October 7, 2020 - 9:14pm