Philosophy 341 Syllabus


Although one cynical reaction to the world around us is to think of morality as empty words, the actions of individuals and even of whole societies are nevertheless influenced by moral judgments. (Have you never been influenced by concerns about whether what you are doing is right or wrong? -- and if you have, why suppose that others haven't?) Furthermore (although further cynical qualms are possible here), our moral judgments concerning actions and social policies are influenced by reasoning and argument.

This course will give us the opportunity to think deeply about four controversial and difficult moral issues: 1) surrogate motherhood, 2) abortion, 3) inequalities of income, wealth, and health, and 4) health care. In addition, to provide some perspective and depth in our consideration of the particular issues, we shall spend some time with ethical theory.

Course Goals:

The overall goal is to enable all members of the class to reflect on their views and through this reflection and the criticisms of others to reach better articulated and justified conclusions. This requires both cultivation of skills of argumentation and criticism and familiarity with the considerations that support different sides of these issues. More specifically the course aims:

1. To provide some solid knowledge of the moral arguments concerning surrogate motherhood, abortion, inequalities, and health care. By providing this knowledge the course should help you to develop and to deepen your own views on these matters and to see through simplistic and shallow arguments. The moral arguments you will be studying should challenge your convictions or permit you to refine them.

2. To provide an introduction to moral argument and to moral theory in general: This course should help you to see how rational argument in morality works and to appreciate the force and limits of such arguments. The course should also help you to appreciate what moral theory is, how it can be important in your life and in society in general, how it can be valid and powerful, even though not always capable of producing consensus.

3. To provide an introduction to the nature of argument and of informal logic in general: To appreciate what can be said concerning moral issues such as abortion, one must be able to tell the difference between good and bad arguments, and one needs to be able to present and criticize arguments effectively. To the extent that this course helps you to make and criticize arguments, it should be valuable for you, quite apart from its particular subject matter.

4. To help you to develop your abilities to present and to criticize arguments both in discussion and, in particular, in writing: Every good essay, regardless of the subject matter, is an extended argument for some thesis or conclusion. The only thing special about philosophy essays is the extent to which one focuses upon the logic of the argument. This course should help you to write more sharply organized, focused and effective essays.It is hard to separate bad writing and sloppy thinking.

The extent to which these course goals can be achieved is, of course, largely up to you, but it is important that you appreciate what the teaching assistants and I are trying to accomplish. If you cannot see how any particular lecture or reading assignment relates to the goals of the course, ask about it. In abstract matters it is especially important and especially difficult to be clear on what the point is. Keep asking "So what?" Since this course is more concerned with mastering skills than with acquiring information, it demands your active participation, and I think that the interest and importance of the issues we will be addressing will reward that participation.

What this course does not aim to do:

1. This course does not aim to provide pat answers to questions such as "Is abortion morally permissible?" It is not Sunday School. I don’t intend to preach, and if I get carried away, I hope you’ll jump on me. I have my own views concerning the issues, and in some cases, I feel confident that I've got some good answers. Yet I shall not be concerned to convert anybody. What is important in the course is intellectual honesty and the sort of perseverance that makes one struggle to bring one's convictions and the weight of argument into accord. The course should help you rationally to make up your own mind concerning surrogate motherhood, abortion, inequalities, and health care, and it will not espouse a set of "correct" positions.

2. This course does not aim to provide a thorough or precise introduction to moral theory. Although you should learn some moral theory, the subject is a deeper one than it might appear from the introductory material we will consider.

Note: Students are encouraged to discuss problems concerning the teaching of this course with the instructor and/or your TA. If students wish to pursue a complaint with someone else, they should contact Jesse Steinberg, Assistant to the Chairperson, Philosophy Department, 5185 H.C. White Hall, 263-5162.


All of the course readings will be available electronically on the Learn@UW site for the course. Please download each of the readings and print it. You'll grasp the material much better if you read a printed version than if you try to read it on a computer or tablet screen.

Computers and cell phones:

To avoid distracting other students, I ask that those who want to use their computers or to send or receive text messages during class sit near the back of the lecture hall (behind the TAs) and that the rest of the class sit in the front of the room.

Course Web Site:

In addition to the learn@uw site, there is a public web site for the course at this link. You will find useful documents there.

I STRONGLY urge you to download and print out the essays that are posted on the Learn@UW site. You will have a more difficult time mastering the material, if you attempt to read the essays on your computer.

Students with disabilities:

I hope to make this course as accessible as is feasible to anyone with a disability. Please let me know as early in the course as possible if you need accommodations in the curriculum, instruction, or assessments in this course to enable you to participate fully. I will attempt to maintain confidentiality of any information you share with me.

Course Requirements:

There will be two essays, three quizzes, homework assignments, and a final examination. Your semester grade will depend on the essays (40%), the quizzes (10% each), the final (25%), and the homework assignments (5%). Active participation in discussion sections will be rewarded with extra credit.

LECTURES Attendance at lecture is optional, and after each lecture, I will post the powerpoint slides on the learn@uw site. Although it will be harder to master the material without attending lecture, it should be possible. My expectation is that most of the students who come to lecture will be engaged with the course material and eager to participate. With the TAs help, I will keep track of who speaks up, and students who actively participate in lecture by asking or answering questions will receive extra credit.

DISCUSSION SECTIONS Section attendance is also optional, but if you miss no more than two discussion sections during the semester, you will receive one point of extra credit toward your semester point total, and if in addition you are an active and helpful contributor to discussions in section you will receive a point of extra credit. (You thus have the possibility of earning two points of extra credit if you both attend regularly and participate actively and helpfully.)

INTRODUCTORY PAPER The introductory essay should be no more than 1000 words in length. It counts for 10% of your semester grade. It is designed to give you an opportunity to try your hand at writing a philosophy essay without the anxiety of having much of your grade depend on the result. It counts for only ten percent of your grade. A first version is due promptly at the beginning of class on Tuesday, September 22, and a revised version is due one week later, Tuesday, September 29.Your grade depends entirely on the revised version, but if you do not hand in a preliminary version on time, there will be a 10% penalty.

TERM PAPER The term paper counts for 30% of your semester grade. It should be no more than 1800 words and it is due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, November 8. The term paper is due fairly early in the semester in order to make it possible for you to rewrite it and to submit a revised version, if you choose. Unlike the introductory paper, the first version you hand in will be graded. Revising the paper is optional. The optional revision is due on Thursday, December 8. If you submit a revised version, your grade will be a weighted average of your grades on the two versions with the first version having twice the weight of the revised version. (In other words, if you do not submit a revised version, the first version counts for 30% of your semester grade. If you do submit a revised version, then the first version counts for 20% of your semester grade, and the revised version counts for 10%.)

DEBATES We will begin the consideration of each of the four issues with which this course is concerned with a debate on that issue. Those who participate in the debates will receive credit for the initial homework assignment on the issue debated and two points of extra credit, provided that they do a competent job in the debate. See below for further information about the debates.

QUIZZES After we complete the discussion of surrogate motherhood, abortion, and income and wealth distribution, there will be a quiz on that issue. Each quiz will last for approximately 45 minutes and will count for 10% of your semester grade. The dates of the quizzes are:

  • Logic and surrogate motherhood: September 29; Tentative repeat quiz on October 8
  • Kant and abortion: October 25;
  • Utilitarianism, libertarianism, and income and wealth inequalities: November 22.

FINAL EXAMINATION The final examination will serve both as a quiz on the health care issue and as a cumulative test of your mastery of the course material and skills. It will count for 25% of your semester grade.


  • There will be eleven homework assignments, which are listed in the outline of class assignments below.
  • The homework assignments must be handed in during class or placed in Dan Hausman's mail box by 2:30 on the due date in order to count as on time.
  • Homework may not be submitted via email.
  • Your homework grade depends on how many of the assignments you successfully complete. The assignments will not otherwise be graded. The homework will count for 5% of your semester grade. For details see below in the syllabus.
  • I will read a sample of each homework assignment and email comments to students.
  • Homework that is more than four classes late or that is handed in after the last lecture in the semester will not be accepted. Provided that no assignment is more than four classes late, you will have during the semester an allowance of six classes of late homework, without any penalty. So, for example, your homeworks could count as on time if six of your homework assignments were submitted one class late, or one were 3 classes late, one two classes late, and one one class late.
  • If you need to miss class and do not want to use up one of your late allowances, you should feel free to hand in your homework in advance of the due date.
  • In 25 years of teaching this course, I have only twice had students who had legitimate excuses for handing in homework assignments later than this allowance covers. If you turn out to be the third exception, I will make allowances, but note that you have a choice between either taking advantage of the generous system of allowances for late homework or providing excuses for every late homework assignment. You cannot make use of the allowance and then in addition approach me with explanations for additional delays in handing in homework.
  • Please do not send me explanations for late homework unless there are such major problems that the allowances are not adequate..
  • Homework should be submitted directly to me, not to your TA.
  • Further details can be found near the end of the syllabus.

WARNING!! Philosophy challenges complacency and demands rigorous thinking. It’s hard to know what the truth is concerning hard questions like the ones we will be addressing this semester.

Course Outline:

Tuesday September 6: Introduction: discussion of the goals, structure and requirements of the course; discussion of the notion of what is morally right and of the distinction between facts and values.

Thursday, September 8: Is morality a matter of opinion or social consensus?

D. Hausman and M. McPherson, "What Are Moral Questions and How Can They Be Answered?"

Steven Pinker, "The Moral Instinct"

Tuesday, September 13: Conclusions on the nature of morality and discussion of arguments and informal logic

Steven Pinker, "The Moral Instinct"

D. Hausman, "Skill Sheet: Good and Bad Arguments"

*Thursday, September 15: Debate: Resolved that contracts whereby a surrogate mother agrees to bear and to give up a child in exchange for a fee ought to be as legally binding as is any other contract.

John Locke, Chapter 2 "Of the State of Nature" of his Second Treatise of Government

J.C.S. Sorkow, Opinion in the "Baby-M" Case

Katha Pollitt, "The Strange Case of Baby M,"

Opinion of the New Jersey Supreme Court

Homework #1 due: Write an informal essay of 300 to 500 words (one or two typed pages--but it doesn't have to be typed) stating your "initial" view of whether surrogate motherhood contracts ought to be legally binding. Give what seems to you to be the strongest argument in support of your initial view and try to make the argument as clear and logical as possible. Explain what reservations one might have concerning your argument and your position.

*Tuesday, September 20: Individual rights and the limits of government: Where do natural rights come from? What determines their scope? To what extent do they depend on matters of social expediency? Does permitting or banning surrogate motherhood contracts increase individual freedom? Does either policy violate individual rights?

John Locke, Chapter 2 "Of the State of Nature" of his Second Treatise of Government

J.C.S. Sorkow, Opinion in the "Baby-M" case

Homework #2 due. Write a brief essay of roughly 300 words analyzing the following argument:

Provided that the parties are competent and sign voluntarily, surrogate motherhood contracts should be legally binding, because they do not call on the parties to do anything illegal. All contracts between competent individuals that are voluntarily signed and that do not call on the parties to do anything illegal should be legally binding.

Formulate this argument as logically valid and discuss whether it is sound. This homework assignment is something of a "dry run" for the introductory paper.

Thursday, September 22: Qualms about surrogacy: What is right under ideal circumstances versus what is right under actual circumstances. Is there a conflict here in our understanding of individual liberty?

Katha Pollitt, "The Strange Case of Baby M"

Opinion of the New Jersey Supreme Court

First version of introductory paper is due

Read and study "Cutting Motherhood in Two: Some Suspicions concerning Surrogacy" by Hilde Lindemann Nelson and James Lindemann Nelson. Then reformulate their central argument against commercial surrogacy as a valid argument and discuss whether it is sound. Although you need not present the argument in the form of numbered premises, the argument you make should be easy to identify and clearly valid.

  • Papers should not be longer than three double-spaced typed or printed pages (approximately 700-800 words).
  • Please use a reasonably large font with at least 1" margins.
  • Please staple your papers, and do not use binders of any kind.
  • All papers should have titles at their beginnings that suggest their contents, but should not have the student's name on the front.
  • Papers must be correct in their grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation and so forth. Sloppy and badly written papers will be marked down by 10% and in some cases both marked down and returned for rewriting.
  • On the back of the last page of your essay, please write your name and the title. Papers will be read "blind."
  • Late papers will be penalized unless you speak with me or your TA before the due date.
  • Be sure to consult the general suggestions on paper writing near the end of the syllabus.

The point of the introductory paper assignment is to enable you to have a try at writing an analytical paper. Do not be discouraged if the paper is difficult to write well. (It probably will be hard.) Our job is to teach you how to tackle assignments such as this one. You cannot learn to swim without getting in the water.

You have until next Tuesday, September 29) to revise and improve your essay. I will read a short portion of the draft you hand in today (9/22) and by the end of the week will post in the grade book on learn@uw either "OK" or "U". "U" means that the writing in the paper is unsatisfactory and if the version of the paper handed in on September 29th has not been repaired, it will be returned for further revisions and marked down by 10%. "OK" means that the small portion examined seems okay. An "OK" is not a judgment that as a whole the writing in the paper is satisfactory and does not preclude the possibility that the version you hand in on the 29th will be returned for revisions and marked down. If you discuss your essay with a classmate or with anyone else, be sure to acknowledge any help you've received when you hand in the revised version. You do not need to change the version you hand in today, but you have the opportunity to improve the paper before your TA or I grade it.

We are serious about requiring clear and grammatical writing, and we have high standards – probably much higher than you are accustomed to. Although we will make some allowances for non-English speakers, we insist upon clear and grammatical prose that is well organized into paragraphs. Read your work out loud with care. No paper that is not grammatical and reasonably well written can expect to get a grade higher than a BC.

Tuesday, September 27: On the limits of contracts and of natural rights--conclusions on surrogate motherhood

*Thursday, September 29: Quiz on logic and surrogate motherhood.

Note: this quiz, like all the other quizzes in this course, demands knowledge of the readings and lectures and some hard thinking. If, as is often the case, students do badly, the class will have an opportunity to retake the quiz on Tuesday, October 11. However, grades on the second quiz will be capped at 90% in fairness to students who do well on the original quiz.

Revised versions of introductory paper due.

*Tuesday, October 4: Debate #2: Resolved that abortion ought to be legal only in circumstances where continuing a pregnancy would lead to the death of the pregnant woman.

Immanuel Kant, "Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals"

Roe v. Wade

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

Don Marquis, "Why Abortion Is Immoral"

Judith Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion"

Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin, "Pregnant and No Civil Rights"

Baruch Brody, "Opposition to Abortion: A Human Rights Approach"

Homework #3 due: Write an informal essay of 300 to 500 words presenting and criticizing the argument concerning abortion that you personally find most persuasive. The task is to play "Devil's Advocate" and to try to lay bare, as far as possible, any weakness in your own position. Be sure to specify clearly what is your view before developing criticisms of it.

Thursday, October 6: On rights and persons: What is a person? Do only persons have rights? Why do persons have rights? How can we decide which rights a person has?

Immanuel Kant, "The Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals

Roe v. Wade

Tuesday, October 11: Abortion: Is a fetus a person? What is the relationship between mental capacities and being a person? What determines whether something has a right to life?

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

Date of possible make-up quiz #1.

*Thursday, October 13: Avoiding rights

Don Marquis, Why Abortion is Immoral

Homework #4 due: Write an informal essay of 300 to 500 words addressing the question of whether someone who believes that abortion should generally be illegal can consistently make an exception for the cases of rape or incest.

Tuesday, October 18: If a fetus is a person does it follow that abortion ought to be illegal?

Judith Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion"

Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin, "Pregnant and No Civil Rights"

*Thursday, October 20: Is killing an innocent human being always impermissible? Abortion and the doctrine of double effect.

Baruch Brody, "Opposition to Abortion: A Human Rights Approach"

Homework #5 due: Write an informal essay of 300 to 500 words contrasting Brody's example of the lifeboat to Thomson's example of the violinist. What do you think most people's intuitions would say about the two cases? What are your own intuitions? Are these intuitions consistent? How can they be explained?

Tuesday, October 25: Quiz on Kant and abortion

*Thursday, October 27: Debate: Resolved that government policies, including tax policies, should aim to lessen inequalities in wealth and income.

"Inequalities Data"

Dan Hausman, "Some Notes on Utilitarianism"

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (excerpts)

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (excerpts)

Dan Hausman and Michael McPherson, "Some Notes on Libertarianism"

Will Wilkinson, "Thinking Clearly about Economic Inequality"

Laim Murphy and Thomas Nagel, Excerpts from The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice

Gregory Mankiw, "Defending the One Percent"

Elizabeth Anderson, "How Not to Complain About Taxes (III): "I deserve my pretax income"

Homework #6 Due: Write an informal essay of 300-500 words stating your "initial" view of whether the government should aim to lessen inequalities in wealth and income. Give what seems to you to be the strongest argument in support of your initial view and try to make the argument as clear and logical as possible. Explain what reservations one might have concerning your argument and your position.

*Tuesday, November 1: Inequalities -- How large and how disturbing

"Inequalities Data"

Will Wilkinson, "Thinking Clearly about Economic Inequality"

Thursday, November 3: Inequalities and Moral Theory (I) Utliitarianism

Will Wilkinson, "Thinking Clearly about Economic Inequality"

Dan Hausman, "Some Notes on Utilitarianism"

*Tuesday, November 8: Inequalities and Moral Theory (II) Rawls' Theory of Justice

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (excerpts)

Term Paper Due

Read and study "The Pro-Life Argument," by Peter Kreeft and then write an essay considering how well its argument withstands the criticisms of it that are implicit in the readings and lectures on abortion. You should argue for a definite conclusion to the effect that his argument is refuted by some specific consideration or considerations in the readings or lectures or that his argument survives these criticisms.

Please note the following:

  1. Your paper must have a definite point --it must attempt to establish some specific claim concerning whether Kreeft's argument for the moral impermissibility and illegality of abortion is sound.
  2. Your paper must be logically organized as an argument for your thesis. Be sure to think hard about objections to your point of view and about how to respond to them. You can draw on other sources, and I would expect most of the papers to draw on the arguments and distinctions drawn in the readings and in lecture, but this is meant to be an analytical rather than a research paper.
  3. Term papers should be individual work, not collaborative efforts. They should be about 1800 words long -- about six double-spaced pages. They should be printed double-spaced with a reasonably large font and at least 1" margins.
  4. Every paper should have a title at the beginning. Please write your names on the back of your papers and do not otherwise put your name anywhere on the paper.
  5. Term papers must be correct in their grammar, usage, punctuation, spelling and so forth. Sloppy papers will be returned ungraded, and your term-paper grade will then depend entirely on the grade on the revised version, which will in addition be marked down by 10%. The TA and I will be more lenient to those who are not native English speakers, but even they must produce minimally literate papers.

If you have trouble with your writing, I encourage you to seek help in the writing lab. Your TA and I will be happy to help you with your papers, but because you have the option of rewriting them, we will not read and comment on rough drafts, and it is not our job to copy-edit your work..

Be sure to consult the general directions on writing philosophy papers near the end of the syllabus.

*Thursday, November 10: Libertarianism and justice

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (excerpts)

Dan Hausman and Michael McPherson, "Some Notes on Libertarianism”

Homework 7: Write a 300 to 500-word informal essay discussing how a utilitarian would approach surrogate motherhood or abortion and what conclusion the utilitarian would draw.

Tuesday, November 15: Libertarianism and the distribution of income and wealth

Laim Murphy and Thomas Nagel, Excerpts from The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice

Homework #8 due: Write a 300-500-word informal essay discussing whether we should care about equal opportunity and, if so, why we should care or, if not, why equal opportunity is not of moral importance.

Thursday, November 17: Desert and competition

Gregory Mankiw, "Defending the One Percent"

Elizabeth Anderson, "How Not to Complain About Taxes (III): "I deserve my pretax income"

Homework #9 due: Write a 300-500-word informal essay discussing whether you think that wages, as determined by the market, do or should reflect people's merit or desert.

*Tuesday, November 22: Quiz on utilitarianism, libertarianism, and income and wealth inequalities

*Thursday, November 24: Thanksgiving

*Thursday, December 1: Justice, health and health care in the U.S. and elsewhere

"Comparison of Canadian and U.S. health care systems"

Richard Wilkinson and Michael Marmot, "Social Determinants of Health: The Solid Facts"

Angus Deaton, "What does the empirical evidence tell us about the injustice of health inequalities?"

Tuesday, December 6: Health care and equal opportunity

Norman Daniels, "Justice, Health, and Health Care"

Thursday, December 8: Liberty, responsibility, and health care

Loren Lomasky, "Medical Progress and National Health Care"

Optional Revision of Term Paper Due

You must submit the original paper along with the revision and an explanation (no more than one page) of how you revised your essay. Only significant revisions will be graded. Revisions that merely fix some copy-editing will not be graded.

*Tuesday, December 13: Assessment of Obamacare

Obamacare Summary

Grace-Marie Turner & James C. Capretta & Thomas P. Miller & Bob Moffit, "Getting Health Care Right"

Jonathan Chait, "4 New Studies Show Obamacare Is Working Incredibly Well"

John Hayward, "ObamaCare - Failure at any Price"

Homework #11 due: Write an informal essay of 300-500 words explaining how your views on one of the issues discussed this semester changed and why they changed.

Thursday, December 15: Summary and review


At the beginning of the discussion of each of the four issues with which the course in concerned, there will a debate on a specific resolution concerning the issue. To compensate participants in the debates for their efforts, they will receive credit for the homework assignment due on the date of the debate -- provided that they do a competent job in the debate. Debaters will also receive two points of extra credit toward their semester grade. There should be three debaters on each side. The debate team members will need to decide how to divide up and organize their presentation. I do not expect debaters to do extensive research beyond doing the assigned reading on the topic. These debates can be fun, and they valuable to the whole class, not just to the participants. Their success depends (of course) on you.

The format for the debates will be as follows: Each team will have ten minutes to fifteen minutes to make its case. The team-members may divide up the time or choose one or two speakers to express their position. Then the floor will be open to give and take between the two teams, and all the debaters will be expected to participate. If I think it useful, I may direct some questions to the teams at the beginning of the give-and-take session. There is no definite time limit to this second round, but I will break off the exchange at some point to permit questions and arguments from the audience.


  • The homework assignments are not meant to be polished essays and, unlike the introductory and term papers, they will not be graded for style, organization, spelling, and so forth. Because homework is not graded, it is not read "blind". So please put your name on the front of your homework.
  • I will skim the homework and check to see that you've done what is required, but I will only comment on a random sample. (If there is a specific homework assignment of yours that you would like me to be sure to read, please write a note on the front of it.)
  • Each assignment will be graded "pass" or "fail," and everyone who does what is assigned conscientiously can expect to pass. In the past, I have failed only a small number of the homework assignments, when they were too short or thoughtless or not on the assigned topic.
  • You need to hand in only ten of the eleven homework assignments to get an A, though there is a small bonus (you receive 10 points rather than 9.8 points) for handing in all 11.
  • To satisfy my own curiosity, I hope that as many students as possible are able to hand in homework #11.
  • Though there seems little reason to plagiarize homework assignments, it has happened; and the fact that the assignments do not receive letter grades does not make the offense less serious. A plagiarized homework assignment will result, minimally, in a cumulative homework grade of zero.
  • There are many homework assignments and many good reasons why students may fail to hand them in on time, and both you and I could wind up spending many unrewarding hours keeping track of explanations and excuses. To simplify matters, homework will be counted as handed in on time if the total number of late classes (not days) during the semester is six or less. (For example, your homework for the semester would count as on time if your 2nd assignment were 2 classes late, your 5th were 1 class late, and your 9th were 3 classes late.)
  • No homework will be accepted that is more than two weeks late or after the last day of lecture.
  • This system is intended as a substitute for keeping track of excuses why your homework was late. Specific excuses can be used only instead of, not in addition to the six-class allowance and should not be given to me until after you have exhausted the six-class allowance. (In more than 20 years of teaching, only two students have justified a need for more than the 6-class allowance.) So there is no need to discuss the reasons why you are late handing in homework unless you have excuses for missing more than six classes, and it will make life easier both for you and for me if you don't contact me to explain why you need to hand in homework assignments late. The system is set up to make it easy for those who do their homework to get an A.
  • Homework counts as late if it is not handed by 2:30 on the assigned date. Homework can be handed in during class or in Hausman's mailbox in front of room 5185 of Helen C. White Hall. If you cannot attend for any reason, including a conflict with religious observation, and do not want to use up one of your late allowances, you are welcome to hand in the homework early.
  • Homework cannot be submitted via email.
  • If the total number of late classes is more than six, you will lose one-half point for each late class. Remember that you need hand in only ten of the eleven assignments to get an A. The grading will be as follows:

Office hours:

If my office hours, (Tuesdays 12:30-1:30; Wed. 1:30-2:30) are not convenient, see me after class to arrange another time to meet. My job is to help you to master the skills and material with which this course is concerned, so feel free to come see me.

The Use of Email:

Email can be a great convenience, but in a large class, it can get out of hand. Your TA will have his own guidelines, which you should be careful to respect. With respect to communicating with me, feel free to email me at with any specific questions you have about substance, assignments or requirements. If the question and answer are relevant to others, I may post them anonymously on the course discussion page or send an email to the classlist. If you want to keep the discussion private, please let me know. Otherwise, in emailing me about any aspect of the course, you’ve given me permission to post your question. That way I can serve as many students as possible. Some questions are not appropriate. For example, "Could you please restate the last three lectures?" Some questions are of course better discussed in person than over email. I’ll do the best I can to be helpful.

A Note on Plagiarism:

Plagiarism is a serious offense, for which there is no excuse. All sources and assistance used in preparing your papers must be precisely and explicitly acknowledged. If you have any questions about what constitutes plagiarism, please come talk with me or with your TA. Ignorance of what constitutes plagiarism is not a defense. It is your responsibility to be sure. The web creates special risks. Cutting and pasting even a few words from a web page or paraphrasing material without a reference constitutes plagiarism. If you are not sure how to refer to something you find on the internet, you can always give the URL. It is generally better to quote than to paraphrase from material on the web, because in the absence of page numbers it can be hard to find passages that are paraphrased rather than quoted. The minimum penalty for plagiarism -- even of just a phrase -- is a zero on the assignment.

In my experience, plagiarism usually happens because it is 3 a.m. on the morning when a paper is due. Your rough draft is going nowhere. You're exhausted and increasingly desperate. And you've come across an obscure web page that says pretty much what you've been trying to say. And ... well you can fill in the rest, perhaps even what happens when you get caught. This is the time to stop and go to bed. Much better to talk with me or your TA and get some help, take the mild penalty for not handing the paper in on time, and write a paper that gives you some satisfaction and that doesn't risk expulsion from the University.

Grading Scheme:

I am planning on employing the on-line gradebook on the Learn@UW web site.

  • The homework grades will show the number of late classes. If your homework is on time, I will record a "+". If a homework assignment fails, I will record an "X" instead. If your homework assignment is, for example, handed in two classes late, there will be a "2" in the column.
  • For the graded assignments, I employ a point system; and even though the grades at the end of the semester are limited to A, AB, B, BC, C, D, and F, we will draw finer distinctions on particular assignments. Here is the point-to-grade conversion table we will use:
  • On assignments where we give you letter grades, such as papers, we will record the grade as the middle number in the range. So, for example, someone who gets a B+ on their term paper and does not hand in a revision will have 17.4 points in the tp (term paper) column, because 17.4 is 87% of 20 points and 8.7 points in the tpr (term paper revision) column.
  • Assignments that are not completed will get zero points.
  • The table for converting total points for the semester to final letter grades is as follows:

The Role of Readings in the Course:

I do not usually devote my lectures to the exposition and discussion of the readings (though I am happy to entertain questions about how my lectures relate to the readings). Although I will cite and criticize specific arguments from the readings, the lectures usually present an independent perspective on the issues. Critically engaging with the arguments in the lectures is your most important task, but you may have a hard time understanding my arguments or exactly how they are relevant if you do not study the readings carefully. I selected the readings to represent a variety of different perspectives, and even when the readings are mistaken (as, in one regard or another, they often are), there are valuable lessons to be learned from understanding their mistakes. The examinations will ask not only that you have mastered the material in the lectures but that you be able to relate the arguments in the lectures to the arguments in the readings and to respond intelligently to questions concerning the important arguments in the readings.

Some Hints on Reading Philosophy Papers:

Although you will not be able to understand completely the most difficult philosophical texts such as Kant's Groundwork, you should aim to master most of the readings, particularly those that address specific issues. Here are some detailed hints about how to do so:

  1. Use your highlighter sparingly. It is much more useful to pencil in marginal notes summarizing or querying specific points than to highlight passages. Actively engaging the author is much more valuable than merely trying to assimilate the prose. And if you do highlight, only highlight a small percentage of the text. (There is not much point to highlighting everything, apart from adding color to the page!)
  2. The assignments are usually short, and you should plan on reading the assignments at least twice. During the first reading you should ask yourself:
    • What is the author's position?
    • What is the general structure of the essay? Is it a collection of separate arguments, or does it aim to make one main argument?
    • What are the author's main assumptions? (Where is the author coming from?)
    • Against whom does the author take him/herself to be arguing? What is the context in which the piece was written?
    • What is the main line of argument (or what are the main lines of argument)?
    • What objections does the author address and how successful is the author in answering them?
    • How does the author's position relate to your views? To what extent does the author reinforce or challenge your views?
    • How do the author's arguments relate to the arguments developed in lecture and in other reading assignments? What criticisms would the author make of arguments developed in lecture or in other readings? To what extent is the position of the author open to criticisms made in lecture or in other readings?

During the second reading of the assignment, you should proceed more slowly and critically. Rather than asking, as suggested above, questions about what the author's purposes, organization, and argument are, you should try to assess all of these and particularly the author's arguments

General Directions on Writing the Papers

Style and references:

  1. You are expected to give references when you cite detailed claims or arguments made in the readings, and your papers should, where appropriate, show familiarity with relevant materials from the lectures or reading for the course. But you are expected to write essays, not examination answers. So don't introduce irrelevant matters merely to demonstrate that you have done the course readings. (But you must not ignore relevant supporting arguments and, particularly, objections in the readings.) Cite the readings only when they are relevant. Be sure that your paper is a well organized argument for some clearly articulated thesis.
  2. When you quote, paraphrase, or make use of a point made by others, be sure to document the source. Your reference style is not important. What matters is that your references be precise and usable. If you say that Pollitt says that contracts are worthless, it should be clear on what page Pollitt supposedly says that. The easiest way to give a reference is simply to put the source and page number in parenthesis. Papers without clear references (where needed) will be marked down.
  3. Papers must be typed or printed double-spaced in a reasonably large font with wide margins (at least one inch) on all sides, so that there is plenty of room for marginal comments. Be sure to keep copies of your papers. Please do not use binders. There is no need for a separate title page.
  4. Papers for the course must be essentially correct in their writing- spelling, punctuation, grammar, usage, typing, and so forth. Papers with more than 3 or 4 errors per page will be marked down, and if they are very messy, they will be returned for correction before they are graded and also penalized.First versions of term papers that are messy will not be graded at all. Your term-paper grade will then depend entirely on the revised version and marked down by 10%. Messy and badly written papers are hard to assess; and it is not unfair to expect you to take responsibility for making sure that your papers are in minimally correct English. Although the TAs and I will make some allowances for non-native speakers, papers that are not reasonably well written will not receive a grade higher that a B. If you have writing difficulties, seek help in the writing lab and get someone to proofread your paper before you hand it in.
  5. I have abridged and reprinted on the learn@uw site some principles of composition from Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. I urge you to read them before you start to write and then again when you have finished your rough draft.

Hints on essay writing:

  1. The paper topics are not recipes for writing your essays. You have to decide what you want to maintain in your essays. Do not regard the paper topic as an essay examination question. Although your papers must be on the assigned topic, the point is to write a well-organized and unified argument for some clearly enunciated conclusion.
  2. The task of writing a good essay is virtually identical with the task of thinking out a clear thesis or conclusion that you want to defend and then elaborating and defending it. You should be able to say clearly and precisely not only what your paper is about, but also what your paper maintainsor shows. Be sure each of your papers has both a thesis--that it asserts something definite--and a logical organization. Once it is clear what you what to show, you will have a criterion to decide what is relevant and the basis for organizing your paper. Can you put your main point clearly in a sentence? Can you say clearly in a sentence what your paper shows or proves? Are all the parts of your paper relevant to your main point? Is the structure of your argument clear? No good essay merely summarizes things you have read and then offers your remarks or points of comparison or differences you noticed. Every acceptable essay integrates its remarks into an argument of its own. Exposition of the views of others should always be part of your argument for your thesis.
  3. Note that a well-organized paper is not merely orderly. For example, a paper that argues that Thomson argues claims 1, 2, and 3 and that one can defend claim 1 as follows, claim 2 as follows, but not claim 3 is orderly, and it has a thesis. But it would only be well-organized--truly one paper rather than three--if the discussions of the three claims bore some relations to one another and if the paper added up to some unified and substantive thesis. A thesis like "Brody has some good things to say" is not detailed or substantive enough to hold a paper together.
  4. Avoid first paragraphs that say things such as, "First I will discuss the views of Pollitt and Sorkow. Then I will discuss their strengths and weaknesses. Then I will compare their conclusions and formulate my opinion." Passages such as these make it sound as if your argument will begin only on the last page. Exposition of the views of others has to find its place within your argument, not as a preface to your argument. If you think in terms of what you want to establish, and outline your paper in terms of stages in your argument, your essay will be much stronger.
  5. Try to say exactly what you mean. Pay careful attention to your language. Sentences such as "Abortion is a mistaken principle" are unacceptably careless. (Abortion is a medical procedure, not a principle.) Value your words and use them accurately. Avoid putting section headings in your papers. The papers are not long enough to need them. Provide clear transitions from one paragraph to the next so that the reader knows where you are going without section headings.
  6. Avoid what I call "the chicken passive." Students often write sentences such as "Letting people starve to death when one has extra food is generally considered to be wrong." My response is "By whom is it considered to be wrong? And why should we care about their opinion?" In most cases when students write sentences like this what they mean is "It is wrong to let people starve to death when one has extra food, but I'm afraid to come out and say what I think."
  7. To help in organizing your thinking, you should attempt to answer the following three questions:
    1. What is your thesis--that is, what is it that you are trying to maintain or show or prove? What is your main argument for your thesis?
    2. What is the most important objection to or criticism of your thesis that you need to consider? Formulate that objection or criticism as an argument.
    3. What is your argument in response to the objection or criticism mentioned in answer to question 2?

If you cannot answer these questions clearly and easily, then there are problems with your paper. Do not regard your papers as finished or acceptable until each clearly implies answers to the above questions. (But an essay is not, of course, a list of answers to any set of questions.) Taking the task of answering these questions seriously can make a big difference in the quality of your paper.

Some recommendations on how to write badly: (adapted from Martin Hassel

1. Begin with a sentence that is clear and direct:

Katha Pollitt vigorously condemns surrogate motherhood.

2. Change its verbs, adjectives, and adverbs into abstract nouns:

Katha Pollitt presents a vigorous condemnation of the acceptability of surrogate motherhood.

3. Make the sentence passive:

A vigorous condemnation of the acceptability of surrogate motherhood is presented by Katha Pollitt.

4. Use two words where one would do:

A vigorous and strong condemnation and critique of the acceptability of surrogate motherhood is presented by Katha Pollitt.

5. Use plenty of 'in regard to,' 'as to' and similar terms:

A vigorous and strong condemnation and critique in regard to the acceptability of surrogate motherhood under some circumstances is presented by Katha Pollitt.

6. Sprinkle with words that add little or nothing

An interesting and quite vigorous and reasonably strong condemnation and forceful critique in regard to the acceptability of surrogate motherhood under some circumstances is compellingly presented by Katha Pollitt.

7. Use negatives:

A not uninteresting and quite vigorous and not unreasonably weak condemnation or too timid critique in regard to the unacceptability of surrogate motherhood under some circumstances is not uncompellingly presented by Katha Pollitt.

8. Repeat the preceding steps: How awful can you make the sentence?

Special considerations in writing philosophical papers:

  1. In a political debate, the point is to win, and one consequently tries to make the arguments of one's opponents sound as ridiculous and worthless as possible. In a philosophical debate (or in writing a philosophy essay), in contrast, the objective is to learn the truth. So you should try to make the arguments conflicting with your views as compelling as possible, before you answer them. If there are any objections to your position that you cannot answer, then you cannot be sure that you are right. Work hard at trying to see "the other side". (This is not to say that there are no mistakes and that both sides of every issue are always equally well supported. If the question was, "Should slavery be legal?" it is worth studying what can be said in the defense of slavery, even though there is in fact very little to be said in its defense.)
  2. Although many sociological and economic facts are relevant to the issues you are addressing in your essays, be careful to keep your focus philosophical. If you aren't sure whether your papers are philosophical or not, check with me or with your TA.

Seeking help:

When working on the final versions of your essays, feel free to come to your teaching assistant or me for help. You do not need to do further research, but you can consult with us if you want references for further reading.

There are some excellent resources on the web for writing philosophy papers. After consulting the brief writing suggestions in on the learn@uw site, I particularly recommend:

UW-Madison Writer's Handbook This excellent handbook is produced by The Writing Center here. Highly recommended! This is brief, clear, and helpful. Excellent, but much lengthier. For those who are serious about philosophy. Contains lots of references for further study.

A terrific general source on writing is Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. The first edition is available on the web at

Paper grading criteria

An "A" paper typically has all of the following virtues, although in exceptional cases papers with five of the six virtues might merit an "A":

  1. It has a well-defined thesis and a logical organization.
  2. It shows good sense, intellectual honesty and struggle. It defends a defensible thesis and takes seriously objections to that thesis.
  3. It is well-informed. If there are passages in the assigned readings for the course that are particularly relevant to the matters under discussion in the essay, these are cited and discussed. The paper shows an awareness of conceptual distinctions and clarifications developed in the course.
  4. It is intelligent, logical, and careful. The argument is carefully articulated and developed. Obvious difficulties are anticipated and answered, and gaps are closed.
  5. It is significant. The issues discussed, although detailed, are of some importance, and the essay makes their importance clear.
  6. The paper is written in a lucid and grammatical style.

A "B" paper has the following virtues:

  1. As before.
  2. As before.
  3. As before.
  4. It is logical and not careless. The argument is well articulated.
  5. It is not trivial. The essay provides some motivation for its topic.
  6. The paper is grammatical.

A "C" paper has at least the following virtues:

  1. It is orderly and has some focus.
  2. It shows some serious concern with the issues it deals with.
  3. It is not uninformed. Where relevant, it shows awareness of the content of the course.
  4. There are some definite and cogent arguments in the essay.
  5. The paper has some point.
  6. The paper is readable and minimally grammatical.

A "D" paper:

  1. Has some intelligible organization.
  2. Shows some concern with the issues it deals with.
  3. Shows minimal awareness of the course content.
  4. Makes some relevant and sensible argument
  5. Has some point.
  6. Is comprehensible and minimally grammatical.