Section C: M W F 11:30 am – 12:20 pm in Humanities Center, Room 1
Section D: M W F 12:30-1:20 pm in Humanities Center, Room 1
M T W R F 1:30-2:20 pm or by appointment
Humanities Center, Room 113
Course Description This course examines some ethical problems related to poverty and racism. In order to give the problems a human face, we will read Jonathan Kozol’s account of life in the South Bronx, NY in his book titled, Amazing Grace. In order to analyze and evaluate the problems from a philosophical point of view, we will study three classic philosophical theories of ethics, namely, the utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill, the deontology of Immanuel Kant, and the virtue ethics of Aristotle.
By the end of the semester, students will be able to:
Define terms and concepts that are crucial to the philosophical analysis of ethical problems.
Analyze and evaluate philosophical theories of ethics.
Articulate and defend their own analysis of a practical ethical problem related to poverty or racism.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. J. A. K. Thomson (New York: Penguin, 2004).
Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. H. J. Paton (New York: Harper & Row, 1964).
Jonathan Kozol, Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation (New York: Harper Collins, 1995).
John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, second ed., ed. G. Sher (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2001).
One examination on utilitarianism, to be administered in class on Mon., Feb. 5, 2007 (15%).
One examination on deontology, to be administered in class on Fri., Mar. 2, 2007 (15%).
One comprehensive final examination, to be administered on Wed., May 2, 2007 (20%).
One essay on an ethical question related to poverty or racism, due in class on Wed., Apr. 4, 2007 (30%).
Completion of take-home writing exercises (10%).
Participation in class discussions (10%).
The three examinations are intended to measure the extent to which you have fulfilled learning objectives one and two for this course (see p. 1). Each examination will include some multiple-choice or short-answer questions that are designed to determine whether you can define several of the key concepts and terms related to the philosophical theories of ethics that we will study in this course. Each examination will also include an essay question that will require you to analyze and evaluate one of the philosophical theories of ethics that we will study. In addition, the final examination will include a second essay question that will require you to evaluate the relative merits of each of the philosophical theories of ethics that we will study. More information about each of the examinations will appear on an examination review sheet that will be distributed on the Blackboard site for the course prior to the examination.
You will be required to write one essay of approximately 2000 words in length on an ethical problem related to poverty or racism that arises in the context of Jonathan Kozol, Amazing Grace. The essay is intended to measure the extent to which you have fulfilled learning objective three for this course (see p. 1). The essay will require you to identify and explain an ethical question related to racism or poverty that is addressed in Kozol, Amazing Grace, to analyze how one of the philosophical theories of ethics that we will study would answer the ethical question, and to articulate and defend your own answer to the ethical question. More information about the essay will appear in the essay assignment handout that will be distributed on the Blackboard site for the course in late January.
You will regularly be required to complete writing exercises on the required readings for the course. The writing exercises are designed to ensure that you are keeping up with and understanding the assigned readings. Each writing exercise will take one of two basic forms, namely, written reflections and study guides. The written reflections on Kozol, Amazing Grace are intended to highlight the ethical issues that arise in the assigned reading and to help you to begin to reflect philosophically on the issues before discussing them in class. The study guides on Mill, Utilitarianism, Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, and Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics are intended to help you focus on the most important claims and arguments that the author makes in the assigned reading and to help you work out what the claims and arguments mean. Your writing exercises will be graded on the basis of how much effort you are investing in them. For more information, please consult the standards for evaluation of writing exercises (p. 6).
You will be required to participate in class discussions in both large and small groups. While regular attendance at class meetings is necessary to do well on this component of the marking scheme, it is by no means sufficient. Both active listening to what others are saying and regular voicing of your own views, comments, and questions are expected. By the same token, activities that disrupt class discussions will count against this portion of your grade. Disruptive activities include, but are not limited to, whispering to your neighbor while someone else is talking, interrupting others, arriving late to class or leaving early without permission, sleeping or eating in class, and allowing your cell phone to ring in class. For more information, please consult the standards for evaluation of class participation (p. 6).
Academic Policies Criteria for the Evaluation of Written Work. The majority (60%) of your grade for this course will be determined by your performance on five essays that you will write: one essay on an ethical problem related to poverty or racism, one essay answer to questions on each of the in-class examinations, and two essay answers to questions on the final examination. In grading your essays, I will evaluate how clearly you state the thesis of your essay, how clearly, thoroughly, and accurately you analyze the arguments of the philosopher you are discussing, how well you articulate and support your evaluation of the philosopher’s arguments, how good the grammar and style of your writing are, how well you document the sources to which you refer, and how closely you follow my guidelines for the format of the essay. Detailed standards for applying these evaluative criteria to each assignment will be explained in the handout concerning the assignment.
Academic Honesty. If you present the words or thoughts of another person as if they were your own, then you are guilty of plagiarism. This is true whether or not you intended to pass off the words or thoughts in question as your own. You are also guilty of plagiarism if you present the same work for credit in two different university courses.
Plagiarism is an extremely serious academic offense. My normal practice is to penalize acts of plagiarism by assigning the offending student a grade of F for the course, although I may choose to assign a lesser penalty (such as a grade of zero for the assignment) or to petition the Dean to apply a greater penalty (such as expulsion from the university) depending on the severity of the offense. No matter what penalty is applied to punish an act of plagiarism, college policy requires that a letter documenting the offense and the penalty applied be placed in the offender’s permanent academic file in the college office. Plagiarism is also relatively easy for the experienced instructor to spot, so it is difficult to get away with. Given the severe penalties that you may incur as a result of plagiarism and the high risk of getting caught, it is wise to do all in your power to avoid committing plagiarism knowingly or unknowingly. The best way to avoid plagiarism is to be as thorough as possible in documenting the sources you rely on in your essays. Detailed guidelines for documenting your sources will be supplied on the assignment handouts for each of the essays in this course.
The most common reasons for plagiarism are (1) carelessness or laziness in providing page references to sources, (2) confusion about just when documentation is and is not required, and (3) feeling overwhelmed or intimidated by the difficulty of an assignment. If you feel prone to any of these feelings, reflect for a minute on the fact that I am highly likely to see right through your attempt to get by without documentation and consider what the consequences may be if you are caught. And remember, I am always happy to talk to you about any and all issues related to plagiarism, and especially about concerns (2) and (3) listed above.
Academic Integrity Pledge. The students and faculty of the Creighton College of Arts and Sciences comprise an academic community established within the framework of Jesuit ideals and firmly rooted in the concept of integrity. In an effort to instill integrity in those attending this college and to reaffirm its significance along each student’s academic journey, the college has set in place an Integrity Pledge. I am asking you to include a signed copy of the Academic Integrity Pledge on the title page of the essay you will write for this course and to sign the copy of the Academic Integrity Pledge that will appear on each exam.
The Pledge promotes a shared culture of integrity amongst Creighton students, while acknowledging in its language that each of us holds him- or herself accountable for any attenuation or neglect of the conventions that define academic integrity. The intent of this Pledge is not to act heavy-handedly. The students and faculty of the college strongly believe that each student intends to present his or her own original work. But the Pledge serves as a regular reminder of Creighton University’s commitment to the very highest standards of integrity—not only academic but also personal integrity.
The Pledge reads as follows:
Academic Integrity Pledge
In keeping with Creighton University’s ideals and with the Academic Integrity Code adopted by the College of Arts and Sciences, I pledge that this work is my own and that I have neither given nor received inappropriate assistance in preparing it.
Absence Policy. In accordance with university policy, “conscientious attendance of classes” is a necessary condition of successful completion of this course (Creighton University Bulletin: Undergraduate Issue, 2006-2007, p. 87). It is not my policy formally to take attendance at each class meeting. The class participation and writing exercise requirements are, however, partly intended to ensure your regular attendance. Consequently, if you receive a grade of F on either the class participation or the informal writing exercise component of your grade due to excessive absences, then you will receive a grade of AF for the course. Deadlines and Petitions for Extensions and Make-up Exams. All deadlines for the submission of course work are firm. Late essays will not be accepted unless you have successfully petitioned for an extension of the deadline before the deadline arrives. Petitions for extensions of essay deadlines will be considered IF AND ONLY IF (1) you give a compelling reason why circumstances beyond your control prevent you from submitting the paper on time AND (2) you request an extension in writing by the deadline specified in the essay handout. After that date, requests for extensions will not be considered. If you submit your essay late without previously having obtained an extension, then your essay will not be accepted and you will receive a grade of zero for the assignment.
University policy forbids the cancellation of the last regularly scheduled class meeting prior to a university break, such as Spring Break or Easter Break. The second examination in this course is scheduled to occur on the day before Spring Break precisely in order to ensure that you will attend class on that day. For this reason, no one will be permitted to take the second examination early. The sole exception to this policy is for students whose participation in university-sponsored activities, such as varsity athletics or debate, requires their absence from campus at the time of the exam. In such cases, requests for an alternate exam time must be accompanied by a letter from the appropriate university office.
If you miss an exam due to reasons beyond your control, then you can arrange to take a make-up exam or test by contacting me as soon as possible, and no more than 24 hours after the scheduled time of the exam. In order to obtain permission to take a make-up exam, you need to provide documentary proof within 5 business days that circumstances beyond your control prevented you from writing the exam at the scheduled time. If you fail to contact me within 24 hours or to provide evidence of what prevented you from taking the exam within 5 business days, then you will receive a grade of zero for that exam.
Final Examination Schedule. University policy forbids me to administer the final examination at any time other than the one scheduled by the Registrar’s Office. Consequently, no one will be permitted to take the final examination early for any reason. The sole exception to this policy is for students whose participation in university-sponsored activities, such as varsity athletics or debate, requires their absence from campus at the time of the exam. In such cases, requests for an alternate exam time must be accompanied by a letter from the appropriate university office.
Cancellation of Class Meetings. In the event that the university closes for the day and cancels all class meetings due to inclement weather, this action will be announced on the university’s weather hotline (280-5800). In the unlikely event that inclement weather, illness, or a family emergency prevents me from making it to campus to meet with your class, I will announce this by sending you an email message prior to the beginning of class.
Blackboard Site. Copies of many important documents related to the course, including the course syllabus and all study guides, will be available on the Blackboard site for this course (http://courses.creighton.edu/). Some important documents for the course, including the essay assignment handout and the review sheets for all three examinations, will be distributed only on the Blackboard site for the course. To access the Blackboard site for PHL 250, direct your Internet browser to http://courses.creighton.edu/. Enter your NetID from your university identity card as your userid and enter the password from your university email account as your password. Then select this course by name and course number from the list that appears.
Schedule of Written Reflections on Kozol, Amazing Grace
On p. 10, Cliffie’s mother says, “The point is that they put a lot of things into our neighborhood that no one wants.” List several features of the South Bronx that you would not want to be features of a neighborhood where you lived. For each feature, explain why you would not want it to be present in your neighborhood. From an ethical viewpoint, is there any problem with the fact that some people live in neighborhoods where such features are present and some live in neighborhoods where such features are absent? Why or why not? Explain.
On p. 39, Maria says, “If people in New York woke up one day and learned that we were gone, that we had simply died or left for somewhere else, how would they feel?… I think they’d be relieved. I think it would lift a burden from their minds.” Why do you think Maria says this? Do you think what she says is true? Why or why not? Suppose for the sake of argument that many well-off, white Americans do share this attitude toward people like Maria. From an ethical viewpoint, would there be anything wrong with adopting this attitude? Why or why not? Explain.
On p. 63, the security director of the Diego-Beekman Houses says, “If you ask some tenants, ‘Is your life worth living?’, some of them might not know how to answer.” How would John Stuart Mill answer this question about the lives of the residents of the South Bronx? What reasons and arguments would he give in support of his answer? Would his answer be correct? Why or why not? Explain.
On p. 80, Rev. Groover says, “The apparent consensus of the powerful is that the ghetto is to be preserved as a perpetual catch-basin for the poor. It’s not about annihilating segregation or even about a transformation of the ghetto, but setting up ‘programs’ to teach people to ‘adjust’ to it, to show ‘functional’ adaptation to an evil institution.” Based on what you have read in Kozol, Ch. 1-3, does this sound like an accurate description of the role of the ghetto in US society? Why or why not? Explain. Supposing for the sake of argument that it is an accurate description, how would Mill evaluate the social institution of the ghetto from a moral point of view? What reasons and arguments would he give in support of his evaluation? Explain.
Explain who Bernardo Rodriguez, Jr. was, where he lived, and how he died. Suppose for the sake of argument that Mayor Giuliani’s cuts in the city budget for elevator and building inspectors contributed to Bernardo’s death. In that case, how would Mill evaluate whether or not the city budget cuts were justified from a moral point of view? What reasons and arguments would he give to support his evaluation? Does Mill’s moral evaluation of the city budget cuts omit any morally important features of the cuts? Does it include any features of the cuts that are morally irrelevant? Explain.
On p. 125, a teacher at P.S. 65 in the South Bronx says, “Many of the ambitions of the children are locked-in at a level that suburban kids would scorn. It’s as if the very possibilities of life have been scaled back…. In this neighborhood, a sanitation job is something to be longed for.” Is there anything morally wrong with a situation where the aspirations of children are limited to the most menial of achievements? If so, exactly what is morally wrong with it? If something is morally wrong with such limited aspirations, who bears the responsibility for the limitation of the aspirations of the children of the South Bronx? Why? Explain.
Schedule of Written Reflections on Kozol, Amazing Grace (continued)
What are some of the differences between the education received by students at Morris HS and Taft HS in the South Bronx, on the one hand, and the education received by students at Stuyvesant HS in Manhattan, on the other? Do students at each of these schools have an equal opportunity to obtain a good secondary education from the New York Public Schools? Why or why not? Explain. If the students do not have equal educational opportunity, would Kant think that there is anything wrong with this from a moral point of view? Why or why not? Explain.
What are some of the differences between the health care received by poor, non-white residents of the South Bronx and that received by well-off, white residents of Manhattan? Do members of these two groups have an equal opportunity to obtain adequate health care? Why or why not? Explain. If members of the two groups do not have an equal opportunity to receive adequate health care, would Kant think that there is anything wrong with this from a moral point of view? Why or why not? Explain.
Consider some of the individuals whom Kozol describes in the assigned reading. What are some of the virtues, or strengths of moral character, that certain individuals display? How do they display these virtues? Explain. What are some of the vices, or faults of moral character, that certain individuals display? How do they display these vices? Explain. Would the character traits that you have listed count as virtues (or vices) in every social setting? Or does the status of certain character traits as virtues (or vices) depend in part upon the social setting in which a person lives? Why? Explain.
In her Mother’s Day sermon on pp. 226-229, what virtues does Barbara Ann Groover encourage the women of the congregation to cultivate? Why does she encourage the women to cultivate these virtues? Would it be morally good for the women to cultivate these virtues? Why or why not? Would the cultivation of these virtues allow the women to become happy? Why or why not? Explain. What, if anything, do your answers to the above questions imply about Aristotle’s claim that the happy life is the life of virtue? Why? Explain.
On p. 246, Mrs. Washington says, “You asked me once if I thought white people wish that Puerto Rican and black people would just die or go away…. I don’t think they wish that we would die. I think they wish that we were never born. Now that we’re here, I think they don’t know what they ought to do. I think that’s the biggest problem their minds about poor people.” Is Mrs. Washington’s belief about whites’ attitudes true? What do you think well-off, white Americans think about poor, non-white Americans? Support your answers with reasons and arguments.
Schedule of Required Readings
Kozol, Amazing Grace, Ch. 1, pp. 3-24
Kozol, Amazing Grace, Ch. 2, pp. 27-54
Mill, Utilitarianism, Ch. 1-2, pp. 1-12
Mill, Utilitarianism, Ch. 2, pp. 12-26
Mill, Utilitarianism, Ch. 4, pp. 34-40
Kozol, Amazing Grace, Ch. 3, pp. 57-77
Mill, Utilitarianism, Ch. 5, pp. 41-52
Mill, Utilitarianism, Ch. 5, pp. 52-63
Kozol, Amazing Grace, Ch. 3, pp. 77-91
Review for exam on utilitarianism
Exam on utilitarianism
Kozol, Amazing Grace, Ch. 4, pp. 95-117
Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Preface and Ch. I, pp. 55-64
Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Ch. I, pp. 64-73
Kozol, Amazing Grace, Ch. 4, pp. 117-138
Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Ch. II, pp. 74-76, 80-88
Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Ch. II, pp. 88-94
Kozol, Amazing Grace, Ch. 5, pp. 141-160
Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Ch. II, pp. 95-103