PHIL 27: Ethics and Society [Spring 2016]


The theme of this course is “Ethics and the Family: Birth to Death.” During this quarter, we will use philosophical tools to think about how our lives should go: about whether we should have children, about the meaning of our lives, about how those lives should end. We will go chronologically, from before birth to the moment of death, investigating some major moral and political theories along our way. The main areas we will look at are:

  • The ethics of birth: We start before birth, looking at the questions surrounding reproduction. Is it ever okay to have children? If it is, should you adopt rather than having biological children? If it’s permissible to have biological children, what about abortion or genetic enhancement of fetuses? In this section, we’ll also discuss some influential moral theories.
  • Justice and the family: Next, we talk about how the family should be organized. Once you have children, can you favor them over strangers? Should the state recognize marriages, and should issues of gender justice affect how we organize those marriages? Considering these questions will take us into work on political theories of justice.
  • The end of life: Finally, we’ll end the course by considering end-of-life issues. Should you be allowed to have the choice to end your own life? And when you look back on your life, will it have been meaningful?