Introduction to Ethics Phil 140 @ Binghamton University, Win '11


Course Goals:

This course has three goals: to introduce you to the topics and methods of ethics, to teach you how to think and develop your opinions into complete arguments, and to teach you to reason and structure discussions independently.  To do this, we will focus, first, on close readings of basic texts in ethics and, second, on examining the ideas presented in these texts, comparing ideas across texts, and applying these texts to concrete situations.  Through this, you will grapple with some of the major conflicts in ethics.  The ultimate goal of the course is for each student to consider and examine their own ethical stances.

Form of Course:

This course is designed around the concept of student-led collaborative learning.  This means that there is heavy emphasis on student participation.  In fact, your entire grade is derived from publicly displayed material.  Appropriately then, you are mostly graded on two components: starting a discussion and contributing to a discussion.  Assignments are arranged around these two components.

Discussions are arranged around two types of class days: Writing Days and Reading Days.  On Writing Days, all students will be expected to post to the course blog in answer to a specific assignment.  On Reading Days, certain students will be selected as Group Leaders (on a rotating basis).  These students will have additional responsibilities on top of the normal commenting duties.

For more details on the form of the course, see the Grading section

Course Materials:

All required course material is listed across the top of the course website.

All Reading Day assignments will be posted at the course website in advance.

All readings are available at

Instructions for using the course site are available at


Grades are usually posted on Blackboard 36 hours after the assignment’s due date.  Grades for larger assignments (i.e. Writing Days) may take longer.

Group Leaders: On days when you are a Group Leader, the overall quality of the whole discussion may impact your grade for the Discussion element.

Every student is required to post or comment 10 times by 11:59 pm EST Friday each week.  These posts or comments are in addition to the posts that selected students must make as Group Leaders.

Marginalia [10%]

An important part of this course is being able to read the texts with one another.  Think about the text as you read and comment about those thoughts as you go.  As you comment and others comment there will be a running commentary next to the text.  If you see a comment that you think is interesting, start a conversation.  If you see an interpretation you disagree with, argue about it.  What is important is building on each other’s understanding of the text as we go along.

Do not feel pressure in commenting on the text.  All of us are going to be wrong at some point, but all of us will also bring up new points that the rest of us haven’t thought of.  What is important is that you share your thoughts with the class and we learn through those thoughts.

Reading Days [50%]

Group Leader Comments [30%]

On Utilitarianism, Deontology, or Virtue Ethics: The day’s Group Leaders should each post, by 10:00 am EST, a comment on a passage from the day’s assigned reading.  This comment should explain why the passage is important, how it relates to the rest of the reading, what the passage claims ethically.  The comment should also note any important concepts or terms in the passage.

On the remaining readings: The day’s Group Leaders should each post, by 10:00 am EST, a comment on a passage from the day’s assigned reading.  This comment should explain why this passage is important, what impact this reading has on the Group Leader’s assigned ethical theory (from the first Group Leader assignment), and why this impact is or isn’t important.

See here for updated info

These comments can build on marginalia from other students.

Word Count:400-600 words

Reading Comments [20%]

On Utilitarianism, Deontology, or Virtue Ethics: Each student should comment on the Group Leaders’ posts.  Commenting can include agreement, critique, raising of problematic issues, questions of clarification, etc.

On the remaining readings: Each student should comment on the Group Leaders’ posts.  Comments should be from the student’s assigned ethical theory (from the first Group Leader assignment).  This can mean challenging the Group Leader’s own ethical theory with points from the reading, arguing for the reading or against the reading, disagreeing with the Group Leader’s account of the reading, etc.

Each student’s first comment of the day must be before 6:00 pm EST (earlier is preferred).

Writing Days [50%]

Every Writing Day, each student will be responsible for answering a writing prompt posted to the course site.  These writing prompts will be cumulative and involve revising the previous Writing Day assignment.

First Writing Day [5%]

This will be posted the first day of class.  It is an opinion prompt.  Any decent attempt will receive full credit.

Second Writing Day [10%]

Third Writing Day [25%]

See Grading Rubrics for more details

All Writing Day assignments should be posted by noon EST.

Word Count: by assignment

Writing Comments [10%]

Each student should comment on at least two other students’ posts.  Commenting can include agreement, critique, raising of problematic issues, questions of clarification, etc.  Each student’s first comment of the day should be before 6:00 pm EST.

Extra Credit [+5%]

Students may earn extra credit by finding a current (within the last year) news story and writing a post for the course blog that discusses this news story in terms of the ethical issues we have discussed during that week’s discussions.  Extra Credit Posts are due by 11:59 pm EST on the Thursday of each week.  Three Extra Credit posts must be done to receive the full 5%, but less than that may be done for less extra credit.

Make Ups

For each non-Group Leader Reading Day assignment missed, the student may make up the day’s work without penalty by writing a summary of the Group Leaders’ work for the missed day.  Writing Day assignments may also be made up in full.  The student must inform the instructor of the absence prior to the day of the absence.  Make ups without penalty will not be given for absences without notice or days when the student is assigned to be a Group Leader.  Make ups are due by 11:59 pm EST on the day after the missed assignment or at a time determined by the instructor.

See Grading Rubrics for more details

Final Grade Distribution:

Group Leader Comments [30%]

Writing Day Posts [40%]

Comments [20%]

Marginalia [10%]

Extra Credit [+5%]

Weekly Progress Reports:

Each week on Wednesday, I will email every student a short progress report detailing individual strengths, weakness, and current grade.  Please feel free to use these reports as a springboard for questions about how to improve your engagement with the class.

A Note on the Website:

Because this class is conducted entirely through the course website, you are responsible for being familiar with all of the tools that you will be using.  Instructions have been provided to help you learn to use the blog properly.  Unfamiliarity with the tools is not an acceptable excuse for lateness when turning in assignments or for any other problems that may arise. If the course website is down, it is your responsibility to email the instructor any assignments due that day by the time they are due (although, obviously, this does not hold for commenting on other student’s work).  Alternate due dates will be provided for site wide technical difficulties that interfere with completing assignments that cannot be completed without the website.  If you are having problems with the site, it is your responsibility to contact the instructor immediately about the problem.

Academic Honesty:

All students must adhere in their posts to the University’s plagiarism policy, which is listed in full here.   By taking this course, the student agrees to adhere to the University’s Honesty Code.  Any and all violations of the Honesty Code will be referred to the appropriate Academic Honesty Committee and the referred student will fail the course.  All graded assignments should be worked on by the student submitting the work and no one else. Since this is a collaborative class, it can be difficult to tell where the line is sometime.  When in doubt make it explicitly clear where you are drawing on the work of others.  Cutting and pasting other student’s work is, of course, never acceptable.