PHIL 102 A: Contemporary Moral Problems

Winter 2024
MWF 9:30am - 10:20am / KNE 110
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Course Syllabus 

Winter 2024

Philosophy 102: Contemporary Moral Problems

Course Head:

Michael Blake

Professor of Philosophy, Public Policy, and Governance


Teaching Assistants:


Brittney High

Tobias Romein 

Norman Trushaev


Learning goals:

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

1, To provide you with an introduction to the philosophical concepts and methods that have been used to analyze morality.  

2. To demonstrate how these tools have been used to argue about the morality of issues of public concern.  

3. To enable you to apply these tools yourself, so as to understand your own commitments and to engage with others in public discourse. 

Course structure:

There are three main ways in which this course will encourage conversation about ethics.

First: we will have three lectures a week, in person.

Second: you will be working with a TA, who will have discussion sections with you and will grade your written work.

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?).

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.  It’s best to work on the assumption that those who disagree with you are working out the implications of a complex moral universe, rather than simply demons in human form.

b. If someone in this community is making it difficult for you to speak – whether it’s a fellow student, a TA, or the course head –  let one of us know, and we’ll do something about it.  You can send an email, or talk to one of us in person.

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. AI services like ChapGPT are considered as equivalent to other forms of text: you can use them in developing your own arguments, but those arguments must be your own - and must be presented in words you come up with yourself.  

5. The boring, but necessary, stipulations:

a. Extensions are generally not available, except in cases of emergency.  Please try to hand in your work on time.

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.

Schedule of assignments and grade weights:

One-page summary of argument        February 5            20% of total grade

Mid-term exam                                     February 14          20% of total grade

One-page argumentative paper          March 8                20% of total grade

Final exam                                             March 13              30% of total grade

Participation                                          N/A                       10% of total grade 

Schedule of readings:

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

Week one (January 3 and 5): What is Philosophy, and Why Should We Care? 

Jim Pryor, "Guidelines on Reading Philosophy"

Mark Timmons, Disputed Moral Issues, 2d ed., 33-35

Week two (January 8, 10, and 12): Ethics and Consequences: Jeremy Bentham and the Importance of Pain 

Jeremy Bentham, “The Principle of Utility”

Video: The Life You Can Save

Week three (January 17 and 19): Ethics and Dignity: Immanuel Kant and the Importance of Agency 

Mark Timmons, Disputed Moral Issues, 2d ed., 15-20

Immanuel Kant, “The Moral Law.”

VIDEO: Kant’s Axe.

Week four (January 22, 24, and 26): Freedom of Speech, part I: Liberty 

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

VIDEO: The Harm Principle.

Jacob Mchangma, “Evidence is Growing that Free Speech is on the Decline.”  Available at

Danny Westneat, “The UW goes back to school on free speech." Available at

Week five (January 29, 31, and February 2): Freedom of speech, II: Beyond Free Speech 

Jason Stanley, How Fascism Works, Chapters Four and Five

Mari Matsuda, “Public Response to Hate Speech: Considering the Victim’s Story,” 2336-2348

Government of British Columbia, “Hate Speech Q&A."  Available at

Week six (February 5, 7, and 9): Punishment 

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

Jeremy Bentham, “Cases Unmeet for Punishment."  Available at

John Washington, “What is Prison Abolition?” Available at

Week seven (February 12, 14, and 16): Death and race 

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.)

Chandelis Duster, "Washington state eliminates death penalty from law."  Available at

VIDEO: Bryan Stevenson on race and justice.


Week eight (February 21 and 23): Abortion, part I: Personhood 

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

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

Week nine (February 26, 28, and March 1): Abortion, part II: Beyond personhood 

Don Marquis, "Why Abortion Is Immoral"

Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion.”

Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi, “How the Supreme Court changed America by Overturning Roe v. Wade." Available at

Week ten (March 4, 6, and 8): Immigration and course review 

Joseph Carens, “Who Gets the Right to Stay?" Available at

Carol M. Swain, “Response to Carens." Available at

Charlie Savage et al., “Sweeping Raids, Giant Camps and Mass Deportations: Inside Trump’s 2025 Immigration Plans."  Available at


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 Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Writing (W)
Last updated:
June 22, 2024 - 6:06 am