Philosophy 20: Ethics

Pierce College

Department of Philosophy & Sociology

Summer Session A, 2020


Contact Information

Instructor: Christopher Lay, Ph.D

Email: and


Canvas Page:

Office Location: Room 910 in the 900 building (I will not be at my office)

Online "Office":  See link in Canvas


Office Hours

Send me an email so that we can set up a time to talk via Zoom. 


Meeting Times and Place for Course # 11058

Lecture Meeting Times:  This course is online, so no physical, face-to-face meeting will occur. 

Meeting Location:  This course is online, so we will not meet at any physical location.


Catalog Course Description

"Students consider human conduct, study the rules and institutions of moral order, and philosophically examine a range of today’s moral issues, such as the just distribution of the social good, abortion, euthanasia, the environment, war, and world hunger." 





Student Learning Outcomes:

1. Student will demonstrate the ability to explicate, analyze, compare, and evaluate a variety of theories in normative ethics or meta-ethics using rigorous philosophical methods.

2. Students will demonstrate the ability to apply moral theories and concepts to contemporary problems such as war, capital punishment, euthanasia, poverty and others.


Required Texts


Links to required texts will be provided.



Recommended Texts


Relevant entries from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy



Course Grade and Assignments

Weekly Discussions

10% of course grade (credit/no-credit)


90% of course grade (graded)


Course Grade Grading Scale


100 – 90%


89 – 80%


79 – 70%


69 – 60%


59 – 0%


Essay Grade Gradings Scale


100 - 94%


93 - 90%


89 - 87%


86 - 83%


82 - 80%


79 - 77%


76 - 73%


72 - 70%


69 - 67%


66 - 63%


62 - 60%


59 – 0%


Discussions Grading Scale



No Credit



General Ground Rules:

Do what you can to be collegial and respectful–and don't be intentionally offensive. 


Weekly Discussions  

I will be using the discussions (marked "Discussions" on our course's Canvas page) as a kind of virtual classroom wherein I will guide you through the assigned readings in addition to answering your questions about the class, the assigned texts, and the essays.  For each of the four essays there will be a weekly discussion.  To get full credit for any one discussion, contribute three complete sentences that are reasonably relevant to the discussion's essay.  My hope is that our online discussions will be lively and in line with the general ground rules spelled out above.  Specific instructions will be outlined in the discussion prompts on Canvas. 



You will be given a prompt for each of the four essays (in the "Assignments" section on our course's Canvas page), and approximately a week to complete it.  The single lowest of the four grades will be dropped.  Note: I will not drop an essay grade if the essay in question includes an instance of plagiarism.  The essays for this class must be philosophical.  Your essay must have an original thesis/argument and support for that thesis/argument.  Other, specific expectations for the essay will be spelled out in the essay prompts in Canvas.  Also, you will be expected to correct errors in mechanics, usage, grammar, and spelling. Here are some of my notes on writing philosophy essays. 



You are encouraged (but not required) to submit rough drafts of assignments (except the final essay) via email.  I will comment on your draft and offer advice and assistance where I can.  Rough drafts should usually not exceed half of the final draft length (e.g. if the final assignment is five pages the rough draft submitted for comments should not exceed two and a half pages).  The deadline for turning in a draft for comments is three days before the original scheduled due date. 


Late Paper Policy 

If you have a credible excuse (e.g., doctor's note, jury summons, obituary notice, etc.) late take-home assignments will be accepted.  Extensions for take-home assignments will be given only when 1) a compelling reason is given and 2) permission is sought at least three days before the normal deadline.  Without a credible excuse, late assignments will be given a third of a letter grade penalty for each day the assignment is late for up to seven days, after which late assignments without a credible excess will not be accepted for anything more than half of the assignment's value.  


Extra Credit

For 2.5% of extra credit, to be applied to your final course grade, seek out the assistance of our tutor at least twice before the middle of the semester/session.  For another 2.5% of extra credit apply the skills we've developed over the course of the semester.  More details about both of these extra credit options can be found here:


Turn-Around Times for Emails, Rough Drafts, and Final Drafts

I am usually able to respond to emails within 24-hours, but sometimes I cannot (e.g., it is the weekend, or it is the day before an assignment is due and everyone is emailing me with last-minute questions, etc.)  I usually return rough drafts with comments about two days after they have been submitted to me, but sometimes it takes longer because there is a sudden flood of rough drafts (e.g., when the due date is two days away).  I usually return final drafts (with the exception of the final assignment of the semester) two or three weeks (or one week during a shorter session) after they have been submitted to me (which is not always the same thing as the assignment's due date).  Taking that amount of time to grade final drafts allows me to give you all of the comments I give—I try and give many, many comments.  The final assignment of the semester will be returned upon request only. 


Accommodations for Students with Disabilities (from the Pierce College Catalogue):

"Students with physical, psychological or learning disabilities are offered a wide range of services including registration, special parking and counseling. These services are also available to students with a temporary disability such as injury or post-operative recuperation. All services and equipment are provided free of charge to any qualifying disabled student."

"Deaf and learning disabled students are offered additional services including special classes, tutoring and computer-assisted instruction. The Disabled Students Office is located in the Student Services Building, room 48175. The office is open Monday through Thursday from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. and Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m." 

Phone: (818) 719-6430

Fax: (818) 710-4219

VP Number:(818) 436-0467



Three Attempts Policy

Familiarize yourself with the statewide policy regarding how many times (generally 3) you may attempt a class before you are ‘locked out’ of further attempts in the LACCD.  See the Pierce College Schedule of Classes, the Counseling Center, or me for more info. 


Name and Gender Policy

The campus provides me with a roster that lists the name that it has on record for you.  But you may prefer a different name. In such cases, please email me or correct me in class and I’ll gladly refer to you however you wish as best I can.  The same applies with gender identity: if you identify with a particular pronoun, set of pronouns, or always by your proper name, please let me know and I’ll gladly refer to you however you wish as best I can.


Current and Former Foster Students

Pierce College is making a special effort to support current and former foster youths at Pierce College. If you are a current or former foster youth you may qualify for other support services to help you achieve your educational goals.  Please contact our Guardian Scholars Program at (818) 710-3323 or send an email to so you can get the support you are eligible for.


Assignment Summary

(See course Canvas page for details)  


First Topic: Generosity


Required Reading:  Singer on Generosity from his "Famine, Affluence, and Morality"

Required Reading:  Heilbronner on the Environment from his "What has Posterity Ever Done for Me?"


First Essay Assignment Summary: Argue for or against one significant argumentative claim made by either Singer in "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" or by Heilbronner in "What has Posterity Ever Done for Me?" 



First Topic Assignments Due Date: 

Monday, June 22

First Essay and Corresponding Discussion Post(s) Due




Second Topic: Discrimination

Required Reading:  Humber on Reverse Discrimination from his "In Defense of Reverse Discrimination"

Required Reading:  Vonnegut on Reverse Discrimination from excerpts of his Harrison Bergeron


Second Essay Assignment Summary:  Charitably imagine how a character from Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron would argue for or against a significant argument from Humber's "Defense of Reverse Discrimination," then argue for or against that imagined argument. 



Second Topic Assignments Due Date:

Wednesday, July 1

Second Essay and Corresponding Discussion Post(s) Due




Third Topic: Animal Ethics

Required Reading:  Baxter on Animals' Value "People or Penguins: The Case for Optimal Pollution"

Required Reading:  Singer on Animal Rights from his "All Animals are Equal" 


Third Essay Assignment Summary: Charitably imagine how Singer (using just his "All Animals are Equal") would argue against one significant argumentative claim from Baxter and his "People or Penguins: The Case for Optimal Pollution," then argue for or against that imagined argument. 



Third Topic Assignments Due Date:

Friday, July 10

Third Essay and Corresponding Discussion Post(s) Due




Fourth Topic: Family Ethics

Required Reading:  English on Parents and Children from her "What do Adult Children Owe Their Parents?" 

Required Reading:  de Beauvoir on our Ethics from excerpts of her Ethics of Ambiguity


Fourth Essay Assignment Summary:  Charitably imagine how de Beauvoir, from her Ethics of Ambiguity, would argue for or against a significant argument from English's "What do Adult Children Owe Their Parents," then argue for or against that imagined argument. 



Fourth Topic Assignments Due Date:

Sunday, July 19

Fourth Essay and Corresponding Discussion Post(s) Due





Conduct on Campus for Students and Instructors (from 


"A student enrolling in one of the Los Angeles Community Colleges may rightfully expect that the faculty and administrators of the Colleges will maintain an environment in which there is freedom to learn. This requires that there be appropriate conditions and opportunities in the classroom and on the campus. As members of the college community, students should be encouraged to develop the capacity for critical judgment, to engage in the sustained and independent search for truth, and to exercise their rights to free inquiry and free speech in a responsible, non-violent manner. In the furtherance of the students' interest in free inquiry and the search for truth, it is also important that students be able to hear the views of non-students and engage in the free exchange of ideas with non-students."


Academic Honesty (from the Pierce College Catalogue):

"I . Violations of academic honesty and integrity occur when a student participates in any act in which he/she uses deception or fraud while performing an academic activity. Violations include, but are not limited to, the following:

"• Submitting for a grade the words, ideas, and/or written work (including laboratory notes and drawings) of another person without giving due credit to that person. This includes purchased papers or papers written by other students."


Student Grievances (from 

"The student grievance procedure is designed to provide a prompt and equitable means for resolving student grievances, including but not limited to the grading process. The grievance procedure may be initiated by a student or group of students who reasonably believe that they have been subject to unjust action or denied rights that adversely affect their status, rights, or privileges as a student. To initiate a student grievance, please contact the Office of Student Services at 818-710-6418."

"Informal Resolution"

"All parties involved in a potential grievance are encouraged to seek an informal remedy."

"The recommended steps for students to follow are:

"meeting directly with the faculty member(s) with whom the student has a problem"

"meeting with the department chair of the faculty member(s)"

"meeting with the department's Dean of Academic Affair" or

"meeting with the College Ombudsperson Ombudspersons are faculty members appointed by the Academic Senate to assist students in obtaining informal resolution of a grievance."