Assignments for
Honors Colloquium: Ethics of Life and Death
Autumn 1995

Assignment 1: Due 9/5/95
Do either (a) or (b)

(a) Glover 3.1 distinguishes "direct" objections to killing from "side effects" objections. Explain this distinction. Consider some side effects objections to (at least some kinds of) killing. What would be a good "direct" objection to (at least some kinds of) killing? Why?

(b) What, if anything, is it about life that makes it in general a morally bad thing to take it away (in those circumstances where it is morally bad to take it away)? (See Glover 3, passim.) Explain.

Assignment 2: Due 9/11/95
On page 64 of Causing Death and Saving Lives Jonathan Glover begins a paragraph with "Whether or not the two versions give different answers to questions about whether the value of creating new people depends . . ." Explain what Glover is saying in this paragraph. That will require explain a lot of terms he uses, and will probably require explaining each sentence in the paragraph, and where appropriate giving examples.

Assignment 3: Due 9/18/95
Carefully state the doctrine of double effect. Explain an example of an application of it not having to do with killing (or explain why there are no such examples). Does the principle seem correct, or acceptable, to you? Why or why not?

Assignment 4: Due 9/25/95
Is it morally worse to do something than to allow it to be done? For example, is it morally worse to trip a person than it is to allow them to be tripped (e.g. by not moving an object or warning the person)? (Leave everything else the same, e.g. presume in both cases that you are wanting the person to trip.) Why or why not? Consider arguments against your position and reply to them.

Assignment 5: Due 10/2/95
Judith Jarvis Thompson argues that even if a fetus is a person it does not follow that it is wrong to have an abortion. Explain her argument (though the end of section 1) for this. Is she right? Critically discuss.

Assignment 6: Due 10/9/95
Do either (a) or (b):

(a): Henry Gensler in "The Golden Rule Argument Against Abortion" brings up an example involving a "blindness drug." What is he trying to show using this example? (Presumably to explain this you'll have to explore his "golden rule" argument.) Critically explore his argument concerning this blindness drug.

(b): Henry Gensler in "The Golden Rule Argument Against Abortion" considers (and replies to) six objections to his argument. Explain the fourth of these objections. How is it an objection to his position. (To do this, you'll have to explain his initial argument, of course.) Explain his reply. (Don't simply quote it. I can read. I want you to explain it to me.) Is his reply adequate? Why or why not?

Assignment 7: Due 10/16/95
David Hume argues that "suicide is no transgression of our duty to God." Carefully explain his argument(s) in support of this claim. Offer some critique of his argumentation to this point. How might Hume reply to your critique? Would that reply be adequate? Why or why not?

Assignment 8: Due 10/23/95
American Medical Association policy distinguishes between "ordinary" and "extraordinary" means of prolonging a life, and sometimes allows cessation of "extraordinary" means of preserving a life but not or "ordinary" means. Explain this distinction between "extraordinary" and "ordinary" means. Is this distinction morally relevant to decisions? Why or why not? (See the Sullivan article, among others.)

Assignment 9: Due 10/30/95
In "Should the Numbers Count?" (available for viewing in MAIN 315) John Taurek asks "whether we should in such trade-off situations [in which "we must choose between bestowing benefits on certain people, or preventing certain harms from befalling them, and bestowing benefits on or preventing harms from befalling certain others"], consider the relative numbers of people involved as something in itself of significance in determining our course of action." He argues that "we should not." E.g., if I have an opportunity to save either five people or save one, I don't have any moral reason (special obligations, such as promises, aside) to save the five. Carefully explain his argument for this position. Is he right? Why or why not?

Assignment 10: Due 11/6/95
Carefully tear to shreds (i.e., refute) the most interesting arguments either of van den Haag or of Schwartz in "The Death Penalty: Pro and Con."

Assignment 11: Due 11/13/95
Jan Narveson argues that "the pacifist position is self-contradictory." Carefully explain his argument. Critically discuss.

Assignment 12: Due 11/20/95
How (morally) should non-combatants be treated in war? Why? Compare (and contrast) your view with that of Robert Phillips.

Assignment 13: Due 11/27/95
According to Immanuel Kant, "Our duties towards animals are merely indirect duties towards humanity." What does Kant mean by this? What are "indirect duties?" In what way are duties toward animals "indirect?" Give examples. Critically evaluate Kant's position.

Assignment 14: due 12/4/95
Peter Singer claims that the interests of non-human animals should count equally with human interests. Why? Critically discuss.

Assignment 15: due 12/11/95
Do either (a) or (b).

(a) In "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" Peter Singer argues that people in affluent countries ought to give up relative luxuries (color televisions, fancy cars, video games, perhaps) and give the money saved to aid starving people in other countries. Explain his argument. Critically discuss.

(b) Is it morally wrong to kill? Why or why not?

Richard Lee,, last modified: 5 December 1995