Philosophy 1200 - Philosophy and Society (honors)

Readings and Reading Questions

(and videos)

(see syllabus for reading due dates, if not listed below)


Below each reading (or video) is a list of questions. Keep these questions in mind as you do the readings, write down answers them, and be prepared to discuss them in class. For readings not in our book, click on the link for a pdf of the reading.


  1. Marquis, "Why Abortion is Immoral," Journal of Philosophy (1989): 183-202.

    Q1. According to Marquis, in order to resolve the abortion controversy, what do we need an account of?
    Q2. According to Marquis, why would it be wrong for me to kill you?
    Q3. Why does Marquis think the desire account is mistaken?
    Q4. What do you think Marquis might mean by 'prima facie wrong'?

  2. Paske, "Abortion and the Neo-Natal Right to Life," pp. 77-83.

    Q1. As Paske understands the notion of being a person, is every member of our species a person?
    Q2. As Paske understands the notion of being a person, could there be persons who are not members of our species?
    Q3. What, according to Paske, is the main reason it is wrong to kill an adult?
    Q4. What is Paske's argument against Marquis' Future-Like-Ours Theory based on the example of murdering the elderly.
    Q5. What does Marquis' Future-Like-Ours Theory imply about the case of the kitten that Paske thinks is mistaken?
    Q6. On Paske's view, is what makes it wrong to kill adults also what makes it wrong to kill newborns?

  3. Manninen, "The Metaphysical Foundations of Reproductive Ethics," Journal of Applied Philosophy 26 (2009): 190-204.

    Q1. On the animalist, or biological, theory of personal identity, when did you start existing, and why? And when will you stop existing, and why?
    Q2. On the psychological theory of personal identity, when did you start existing, and why? And when will you stop existing, and why?
    Q3. What do you think each of these theories implies about Marquis' argument against abortion?
    Q4. Can you think of any reasons to prefer either of the above two theories over the other one?

  4. VIDEO: John Weldon's "To Be."

  5. Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion," pp. 89-98.

    According to Thomson, the most common argument for the claim that the fetus is a person is based on the fact that the development of a human being from conception through birth is continuous, and so to choose a point in this development to be the point at which the fetus becomes a person is to make an arbitrary choice. Why does she think this is a bad argument?
    Q2. In her defense of abortion, what is Thomson prepared to grant about the fetus?
    Q3. Thomson thinks that if anything in the world is true, it is that you do not do what is impermissible if you ________________ .
    Q4. What do you think Thomson's "people-seeds" case is supposed to show?
    Q5. Thomson discusses a potential disanalogy between unwanted pregnancy and the case of the violinist: namely, that the woman in the case of unwanted pregnancy has, and you in the case of the violinist lack, a special kind of responsibility. From what does this special responsibility issue?
    Q6. In response to this objection, Thomson claims that we do not have any such special responsibility unless what?

  6. Beckwith, “Arguments from Bodily Rights,” pp. 102-107.

    Q1. Which claim of Thomson's is Beckwith's example of the father who refuses to pay child support meant to undermine?
    Q2. What does Schwarz (whose views Beckwith discusses) think is the main difference between the violinist case and a case of pregnancy?
    Q3. What does Levin (whose views Beckwith discusses) think is the main difference between the violinist case and a case of pregnancy?
    Q4. Finally, think about the above objections to Thomson. Do you think any of them is promising?

  7. Brody, “Thomson on Abortion,” pp. 99-101.

  8. Norcross, "Puppies, Pigs, and People: Eating Meat and Marginal Cases,” Philosophical Perspectives 18 (2004): 229-245. First read just §§1-3 (pp. 229-237).

    Q1. What general type of argument would you say Norcross is making in the first section of his paper? (It's a type we've read about and given a name to.)
    Q2. What is the first potentially morally-relevant difference between Fred's behavior and the behavior of meat-eaters that Norcross discusses?
    Q3. Even if your refraining from eating meat didn't prevent any animal suffering (because the choices of one individual can't affect such a big industry), would Norcross still think it wrong not to so refrain?
    Q4. What is the name of the doctrine that distinguishes between results that are intended and those that are merely foreseen side-effects of an action? Why does Fred act impermissibly, according to this doctrine?
    Q5. What is the last potentially morally-relevant difference between Fred's behavior and the behavior of meat-eaters that Norcross discusses (in the second section of the paper)?

  9. VIDEO: PETA's "Glass Walls." WARNING: this video contains graphic and disturbing images and descriptions. You are being asked to watch it because it relates directly to Norcross' argument. You may turn it off if you find it too difficult to watch.

  10. Press release from the American Dietetic Association (2009).

  11. Cohen, "The Case for the Use of Animals in Biomedical Research," New England Journal of Medicine 315 (1986): 865–870.

    Q1. Name three human attributes Cohen mentions from which some philosophers have maintained have rights arises?
    Q2. Cohen thinks animals have no right because ___________ .
    Q3. Briefly, what is the first objection Cohen discusses to his claim that animals have no right because they cannot grasp and apply moral laws?
    Q4. According to Jeremy Bentham, the question is not ________, nor ________, but ________?
    Q5. What is speciesism? To what does Peter Singer compare speciesism? Is Cohen a speciesist?

  12. Norcross, "Puppies, Pigs, and People: Eating Meat and Marginal Cases," Philosophical Perspectives 18 (2004): 229-245.
    Sections 4-6. (same reading as Norcross reading above)

    Q1. What do defenders of the view that humans have a superior moral status to animals need to find in order to establish the view that humans have a superior moral status to animals?
    Q2. According to Norcross, the view that a creature's moral status depends upon whether it is rational implies that we may use what sorts of human beings in experiments and as food.
    Q3. What is the second response that Norcross considers to his argument from marginal cases?
    Q4. Explain the distinction between a moral agent and a moral patient, as you understand it.

  13. VIDEO (optional): Peter Singer on the Colbert Report (12/11/2006).

  14. Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” pp. 135-142.

    Q1. On the first page of his paper, Singer states his main thesis. What is it?
    Q2. One of the main premises in Singer's main argument is a principle about what we ought, morally, to do. He actually gives two (non-equivalent) versions of his principle. What are they?
    Q3. Singer discusses and defends at some length two features or implications of this principle. What are they?
    Q4. Singer discusses three "practical" objections to his position. What are they?

  15. The World Bank, “Understanding, measuring and overcoming poverty.”

  16. Shah, “Poverty Facts and Stats.”

  17. VIDEO (optional): Peter Singer on the Colbert Report (3/12/2009).

  18. Arthur, “World Hunger and Moral Obligation,” pp. 142-145.

    Q1. What, according to Arthur, is the principle of equality to which Singer appeals in order to help justify what Arthur calls Singer's "greater moral evil rule"? How is this principle supposed to support the greater moral evil rule.
    Q2. Does Arthur discuss the weaker (or more moderate) version of Singer's principle?
    Q3. What are the counterexamples Arthur gives to Singer's greater moral evil rule.
    Q4. What is the distinction between positive and negative rights? Think of examples of each.
    Q5. Does Arthur maintain that an act can be wrong only if it violates someone's rights? Explain.
    Q6. What, according to Arthur, would a reasonable moral code require people to do (concerning the topic of Singer's paper)?

  19. Slote, "Famine, Affluence, and Empathy," pp. 146-154.

    Q1. From what perspective does Slote say he will attempt to grapple with Singer's ideas in "Famine, Affluence, and Morality"?
    Q2. Slote states his basic theory of right and wrong a few pages in. What is it?
    Q3. Regarding Slote's "trapped miners" example: Why, according to Slote, would it be morally wrong to install safety devices to save miners in future disasters (as Fried suggests) rather than help the presently trapped miners?
    Q4. Why, according to Slote, is failing to give money to famine relief NOT morally on a par with failing to save the child in Shallow Pond.
    Q5. What do you think of Slote's sentimentalist theory of right and wrong?

  20. LaFollette, "Licensing Parents," pp. 314-322.

    Q1. What is LaFollette's thesis?
    Q2. According to LaFollette, what three features of driving a car have makes it appropriate for the state to require a licence to do it.
    Q3.To what common practice does LaFollette appeal to show that the idea of parent licensing isn't as radical as it seems?
    Q4. Why does LaFollette think most of us find the idea of parent licensing unpalatable?

  21. Thompson Child & Family Focus, "Foster Parent Licensing."

  22. Colorado Dept. of Human Services, "Adoption: Process & Qualifications."

  23. Frisch, "On Licentious Licensing," pp. 323-327.

  24. Lemieux, "Parent Licensing," pp. 327-329.

  25. Bonsor and Conger, “How Human Cloning Will Work,” HowStuffWorks.

  26. Council on Bioethics, “Human Cloning and Human Dignity,“ pp. 477-491.

  27. VIDEO: Shelly Kagan on the Ethics of Human Cloning, University of Colorado, April 2007. This video is required, unlike some of the earlier ones; you are also required to take notes on it, and to formalize an argument from it. The video is in two parts, here (you'll have to turn the sound way up to hear it well -- sorry about that):