Contemporary Moral Problems

Hi-Phi Nation episodes make an ideal series of hook-stories to introduce some standard, and some surprising, contemporary moral problems. Here is a sample syllabus from which to pick and choose, along with additional readings and assignments.

War, Ethics of Killing, and Self Defense

  • Soldier Philosophers 1: Moral Exploitation*-An army whistle-blower discovers the official use of torture, and a philosopher-veteran examines how moral decision-making and blame gets outsourced.
  • Soldier Philosophers 2: The Morality of War*-Why ethics is mandatory for officers, and the ethics of war and self-defense, from traditional to revisionist just war theory.
  • The Forever War-A retrospective on the Afghanistan War, especially concerning moral and financial costs, sunk costs, and justice and responsibility after war.

Additional Readings:

  • Helen Frowe’s The Ethics of War and Peace: An Introduction
  • Michael Robillard and Bradley Strawser “The Moral Exploitation of Soldiers”
  • Seth Lazar’s “Evaluating the Revisionist Critique of Just War Theory”

Ethics of Policing

  • The Precrime Unit*-A look at the spread of predictive policing technologies and the ethics of profiling.
  • Risky Business*-The use of predictive algorithms in pre-trial detention and sentencing, and whether future danger can justify imprisonment.
  • Police Discretion-The history of fourth amendment litigation in Supreme Court giving increasing power to police, and a Rawlsian approach to political ethics of police discretion.
  • The Informant-The use of informant deals in sting and undercover operations, and the tension between police discretion and the rule of law.

Additional Readings

  • Judith Jarvis Thomson, “Liability and Individualized Evidence,”
  • Christopher New, “Time and Punishment”.
  • Saul Smilanksy, “The Time to Punish”.
  • Christopher New, “Punishing Times: Reply to Smilansky”.
  • Neven Sesardić’s “Is Racial Profiling a Legitimate Strategy in the Fight against Violent Crime?”
  • Annabelle Lever’s “Race and Racial Profiling”.

What Should be the Definition of “Woman” for Law and Sports?

  • For Women Only Part 1-Our first part on gender ontology by looking at the origins of radical feminist critiques of transgenderism and the founding of transgender studies.
  • For Women Only Part 2-The second part on gender ontology, focusing on the gender-identity certificates in the UK and the many definitions of “woman” over the various waves of feminism.

Additional Readings

  • Readings for gender recognition in law and society on show pages.
  • Alice Dreger “Sex Typing for Sport”
  • Claudia Weisemann “Is there a Right not to Know One’s Sex, The Ethics of ‘Gender Verification’ in Women’s Sports.”
  • Taryn Knox, Lynley C. Anderson, & Alison Heather’s “Transwomen in elite sport: scientific and ethical considerations”.

Does Democracy Rest on a Mistake?

  • The Chamber of Facts*-Do people of different political parties live in alternative realities? We look at the research, and the theory of belief, that suggest the answer to be complicated.
  • The Demons of Democracy*-We go into democratic schools, and look at American voters, to see whether decision-making in the hands of the ignorant is good or bad.

Additional Readings

  • Annabelle Lever’s “Compulsory Voting: A Critical Perspective”.
  • Paul Gunn’s “Against Epistocracy”
  • Piero Moraro’s “Against Epistocracy”

Should we Punish Wrongdoing?

  • Gender Justice-The use of police and prosecutorial discretion to prosecute domestic violence and sexual assault in the interest of a more feminist state, and its contribution to mass incarceration.
  • Punishment without End-The story of a girl picked up for cocaine trafficking, and whether collateral consequences after prison should count as part of official punishment.
  • Justice and Retribution-Prison abolitionism and its philosophical basis; the case for and against retributive justice.

Additional Readings:

  • Michelle Madden Dempsey’s “Prosecuting Domestic Violence”
  • Chloe Taylor’s “Anti-Carceral Feminism and Sexual Assault—A Defense.”
  • Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?
  • Michael S. Moore, “The Moral Worth of Retribution”
  • Jean Hampton “The Moral Education Theory of Punish
  • Russ Shafer- Landau, ‘The Failure of Retributivism”
  • Heidi Hurd, ‘The Morality of Mercy’
  • Heather Strang and Lawrence W. Sherman, “Repairing Harm: Victims and Restorative Justice”

Should we Treat Addiction as a Disease or a Voluntary Act?

  • Willful Acts*-Two cases of litigation on whether addiction should be an excuse in the law, and the disease/choice distinction in the theory of action.

Additional Readings:

How Far Should Property Rights Extend?

  • The Wishes of the Dead*-The story of the Hershey chocolate fortune, and why the state enforces the wishes of the dead contrary to those of the living.
  • Freedom and Hostile Design*-A theory of awesomeness and suckiness, and how it manifest in urban design against homelessness.

Additional Readings:

  • Barry Lam’s “The Invisible Hand from the Grave”
  • David Boonin’s Dead Wrong: The Ethics of Posthumous Harm
  • Jeremy Waldron’s “Homelessness and the Issue of Freedom”

Free Speech and Civility

  • No Offense-A man sues another for calling him a racial slur, and the tricky balance between harm and freedom of speech in two political societies.
  • Uncivil Disobedience-Vegan activism in Australia is getting disruptive and uncivil. Do causes ever justify the means?

Additional Readings:

  • Plethora of readings on free speech and uncivil protest on the show pages.