Sandra LaFave


Welcome to Philosophy 3!



  1. You should be able to recognize and explicate the major normative ethical theories in Western philosophy, and relate these theories to contemporary moral problems.

  2. You should be able to apply techniques of philosophical analysis to ethical arguments, and diagnose fallacies in those arguments.

  3. You should be able to apply the moral problem-solving techniques proposed by various ethical philosophers to your own moral thinking.

  4. You should demonstrate competent English composition skills, honed in this class by the writing of analytical essays.



Disabled students: West Valley College makes reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. College materials will be available in alternate formats (Braille, audio, electronic format, or large print) upon request. Please contact the Disability and Educational Support Program at (408) 741-2010 (voice) or (408) 741-2658 (TTY) for assistance.

All Students: FREE TUTORING for this class is available on campus.



  1. James Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, fourth edition (McGraw-Hill), abbreviated JR below.

    The WVC bookstore will stock only the latest edition of this text. However, all the earlier editions of the Rachels book will work equally well for this class, and if you are willing to shop around the net, you will likely find earlier editions at much better prices, especially second-hand.


  2. Christina Sommers and Fred Sommers, Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life, (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovitch), abbreviated SS below. Since this book is expensive, a copy is on reserve in the library for your use.

    Again, the WVC bookstore will stock only the latest (sixth) edition of this text. However, the fourth and fifth editions of Sommers and Sommers will work equally well for this class, and if you are willing to shop around the net, you will likely find those earlier editions at much better prices, especially second-hand.


  3. Patricia T. O’Conner, Woe Is I (Grosset Putnam), abbreviated OC below.

  4. David A. Conway and Ronald Munson, The Basics of Reasoning (Wadsworth), abbreviated CM below.

  5. On-campus students: The Study Guide for Philosophy 3. The Study Guide comprises all files hyperlinked in the Schedule below.

I recommend that you have at your disposal a reference text on the basics of English composition and standard English usage, such as you used in English 1A.

You are expected to understand and adhere to the FULL contents of this syllabus from the first week of class. This syllabus is our contract. It describes all assignments and special policies regarding attendance, grading and other matters relevant to this class. Unless you contact me during the first week of class with any objections, I will assume you understand and agree to the terms and conditions as presented here.



Week of Topic Readings

Aug 28   Objectives and Readings for Week 1
  What is philosophy? Philosophy and Critical Thinking
  What is ethics? Ethical reasoning JR Ch 1
  Descriptive, normative, and metaethics Introduction to Ethics
  Why study ethics?
James Stockdale's answer
"The World of Epictetus" (SS)
    Powerlessness and Integrity
  English review: Apostrophe,
Active and passive Voice
Accept - Except
Among - Between
Amount - Number
Quiz 1 on English

    Objectives and Readings for Weeks 2-3
Sept 4 -11 Critical Thinking CM (all)
    Logic and more English review
    Study Guide for Logic Test
    What is Bad Logic?
    Refutation by Logical Analogy
    Open and Closed Concepts and the Continuum Fallacy
    The Fallacies of Composition and Division
    What Are the Odds? Elementary Probability
    Online Resources for Informal Fallacies
    Self Test on Logic Concepts (interactive, within Angel only)
    Self Test on Fallacies
  English review: Run-ons and Fragments Quiz 2 on English
  English review: Singular-Plural Agreement
"e.g." and "i.e."
Quiz 3 on English

Sept 18 Improving writing OC Woe Is I (all)
    Writing Well: Objectives and Readings
    Study Guide for English Test
    Examples of Bad Writing
    Guidelines for Non-Sexist Use of Language
    Self Tests on English
    Predict Your Essay Grade
    Critical Thinking Checklist
  English review: Miscellaneous
Common Confusions
Spelling Errors
Quiz 4 on English

Sept 25 Tuesday Sept 26 Logic Exam
Thursday Sept 28 English Exam

Oct 2 - Oct 9 METAETHICS Introduction to Metaethics
  Relativism Relativism: Objectives and Readings
  Relativism Notes on Relativism
    JR Ch 2
  William Graham Sumner "A Defense of Cultural Relativism" (SS)
  Ruth Benedict "A Defense of Moral Relativism" (SS)
  Louis Pojman "Who's to Judge?" (SS)
  Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban "Cultural Relativism and Universal Rights" (SS)
  Lawrence Kohlberg "The Child as Moral Philosopher"
  Steven Pinker Excerpt from The Language Instinct
  Writing a Paper on Relativism Writing a Paper on Relativism

Oct 16 Ethics and Religion Objectives and Readings
  Divine command theories JR Ch 4
  Natural law theory Notes on Ethics and Religion

Oct 23 Subjectivism Subjectivism: Objectives and Readings
    JR Ch 3
    Notes on Subjectivism
    Thinking Critically About the "Subjective"/"Objective" Distinction

Oct 30 Ethics and Ideology Objectives and Readings
    Notes on Ethics and Ideology
  Friedrich Nietzsche "Beyond Good and Evil" (SS)
Nietzsche on Race and Sex
    Notes on Marxist Economics
  Kurt Vonnegut "Harrison Bergeron"

Nov 6 Egoism Egoism: Objectives and Readings
  Rachels JR Ch 5 and 6
    Notes on Psychological Egoism and Ethical Egoism
    Are All Voluntary Acts Selfish?
    12 Ways to Be Perfectly Miserable
  Plato "The Ring of Gyges" (SS)
    Plato's Philosophy as a Reply to Glaucon's Challenge
  Feodor Dostoevsky "Why Not Murder?" (SS)
  Browne "The Unselfishness Trap" (SS)
  Ayn Rand "The Virtue of Selfishness" (SS)
  Louis Pojman "Egoism, Self-Interest, and Altruism" (SS)
  Writing a Paper on Egoism Writing a Paper on Egoism
Tuesday Nov 7 MIDTERM EXAM DUE Midterm Questions

Nov 13 NORMATIVE ETHICS Introduction to Normative Ethics
  Normative Theories: Consequentialism Consequentialism: Objectives and Readings
    JR Ch 7 and 8
  John Stuart Mill "Utilitarianism" (SS)
  Act- and Rule-utilitarianism Notes on Utilitarianism
  Arguments against Utilitarianism  

Nov 20 Normative theories: nonconsequentialism Nonconsequentialism:
Objectives and Readings
  Immanuel Kant "Good Will, Duty, and the Categorical Imperative" (SS)
  Kant's ethics JR Ch 9 and 10
    Notes on Kant's Ethics

Nov 27 Aretaic (virtue-based) systems JR Ch 13
  Phillip Hallie "From Cruelty to Goodness" (SS)
  Aristotle "Happiness and the Virtues" (SS)
"Habit and Virtue" (SS)
Tuesday Nov 28 RELATIVISM AND/OR EGOISM PAPER DUE Writing a Paper on Egoism
Writing a Paper on Relativism

Dec 4 Peter Singer "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" (SS)
Duties to the Less Fortunate
  John Arthur "World Hunger and Moral Obligation: The Case Against Singer" (SS)
  Garrett Hardin "Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor"" (SS)
  Murdoch and Oaten "Population and Food: Metaphors and the Reality" (SS)

Dec 11 Final Exam Week Your Final Paper (Final Exam)



Online students: submit final paper within Angel by Tuesday Dec 12 11:55 PM




My office hours are Monday and Wednesday 11:00 to 12:30 PM. Hours by arrangement are Tuesday and Thursday 2-3 PM. No appointment is needed for office hours. If you want to see me at some other time, please make an appointment.


If you want me to get back to you, be sure to indicate how and when I can contact you. If you do not specify a time (within regular business hours, please), I will return your call during my next office hour. ONLINE STUDENTS: The most reliable way to reach me is via email within Angel.

My email address is


I will not return calls or email for information that is available on this syllabus.



All students

This course is worth 3 units. "Units" means Carnegie units. By law, to earn 1 Carnegie unit, a student must spend at least 3 hours a week on a class. (A 1-unit class, in other words, requires 3 hours of student work per week in an 18-week semester.) Therefore, since this is a 3-unit class with two additional hours (to reflect the increased workload for this class), you will be expected to spend, at minimum, 11 hours a week on this class. Please plan accordingly!

Most students use computers to write their essay assignments. You are also expected to access course materials using the Internet. You need reliable computer access. If your ISP suddenly goes out of business, or your disk crashes, or your puppy pees on your modem, or you experience some other personal hardware issue, you are responsible for having an emergency alternative computer access plan. Know in advance where you can go (library, Internet cafe, friend's house, workplace) if your primary system fails!


All students are expected to know the rules regarding plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious violation of the academic code. It is cause for expulsion in many schools. Ignorance is not an excuse. Other teachers may not enforce the rules; that is also NOT an excuse. If you are unclear about what constitutes plagiarism, educate yourself! Look closely at all the eye-opening examples here. Students are often surprised to learn that what they consider standard practice is actually plagiarism.


Any direct quote or close paraphrase without proper citation — any use of anybody else’s words without giving proper credit — is plagiarism. In addition to the usual kinds of plagiarism (stealing sentences, paragraphs, papers, etc. from books or journals or web sites), it is also plagiarism to “answer” an essay question by cutting and pasting sentences from the study guide for this class. Remember I wrote the study guide. If you cut and paste from the study guide, you are plagiarizing my own sentences back to me. I will notice.


Any student who violates the academic code (e.g., by cheating or plagiarism) will, at minimum, receive a final course grade of F. This rule is rigidly enforced.


According to the catalog, instructors may drop students "... when accumulated hours of absences exceed ten percent of the total number of hours the class meets during the semester." I may exercise this option. But the main responsibility lies with you. If you want to drop the class, it is YOUR responsibility to do so. The last day to drop with a W is usually about one month before the end of the semester. Check the Schedule of Classes for the exact date.

In summary,

  • Class requires at least 11 hours a week.

  • Have a backup plan in case you have computer problems.

  • Be sure you know what plagiarism is.

  • Don't plagiarize.




Philosophy 3 meets the IGETC Critical Thinking/English Composition requirement for transfer to CSU or UC. Therefore, this class focuses heavily on English composition skills, in addition to critical thinking (argument analysis). The grading policy reflects this: grades are based primarily on essay writing. Grades will be based on:



If you add up the total required points, you get 1000. So your final grade is determined as follows:


900 or more total points


800 - 899 total points


700 - 799 total points


600 - 699 total points


fewer than 600 total points

Page counts here refer to pages of text. Illustrations, pictures, cartoons, or other visual aids do not count as text.


Some instructors permit you to hand in a paper, receive comments, revise the paper, and hand it in again for a higher grade. I do NOT do that. However, the course tutors will review your papers in advance if you give them enough lead time.

Some instructors permit you to drop your lowest grade. I do NOT do that.


You may write an additional paper for extra credit, (250 points) on the topic you did NOT choose in the table above. This is the only extra credit opportunity. I do not give additional, special extra credit assignments to individual students.


Papers are due on the due date. I do not except late papers. You may hand papers in early.


This class can be taken for credit/no credit. This means that if you get an A, B, or C, you get a final grade of "CR" and 3 units; otherwise, you get "NCR" and no units. You must declare your intention to take the class with this option during the first six weeks of class.



Criteria for Grading Exams and Papers

Please do not ask me "what I want" on written assignments until you have carefully read this section and the Key to Paper Comments.


Exams will consist of at least two essay questions each; each exam answer should be at least three typewritten pages long. Page count here refers to pages of text. Cover sheets and works cited pages are generally not necessary, and do not count as pages of text.


All papers must be typed double-spaced.


If your paper comes out too short, it is probably not detailed enough.


If your paper comes out longer than the minimum required, that's not a problem: please continue to double-space and use a normal font size.


On exams and papers, I will be looking for the following 3 elements, each explained below:


  1. Demonstrated familiarity with assigned reading and lectures

  2. Critical awareness

  3. Competent English skills


I will now explain what I mean by each of these criteria.

Demonstrated familiarity with assigned reading and lectures

The primary purpose of papers is to present and analyze the arguments in the reading and lectures. You are not responsible for generating any new arguments; your job is to paraphrase the arguments and counterarguments from your texts and lectures. If you do not present the arguments in the assigned reading and lectures, you have not done the assignment. Papers MUST demonstrate familiarity with all assigned readings in JR and SS on any topic assigned. The papers must state explicitly which authors gave which arguments.


Do not merely summarize class notes in your paper. Do not vent your unanalyzed personal feelings or relate your autobiography — although you can certainly argue for positions that accord with your personal feelings.


All quotes or close paraphrases require appropriate footnotes or endnotes. Note that using direct quotes without proper attribution constitutes plagiarism. Direct quotes should be taken from the readings themselves, not from the editors' introductions to the readings.


Critical awareness

Papers must also demonstrate critical awareness; that is, you must analyze and critique all relevant arguments and potential counter-arguments. You must explain any logical and factual errors and obvious fallacies. The dialog format can make this task easier and more fun. For example, you might present and critique the arguments for and against ethical subjectivism by writing a dialog between a subjectivist and a non-subjectivist; you might present the arguments for and against utilitarianism by writing a dialog between a utilitarian and a Kantian.


I assign the paper so you can demonstrate skill and clarity in marshaling, presenting, and criticizing arguments. You are not expected to present "new" positions or break any new ground. You are not required to "state your own personal views." Please do not feel compelled to make one author or position come out "the winner" the issues we will be discussing are often complicated, and every contributor may say at least some worthwhile things.


Competent English skills

All assignments must demonstrate competent English writing skills, though these count somewhat less than clear presentation and analysis. You get up to 9 obvious technical errors (#1-20) per assignment with no penalty. However, if there are more than 10 obvious grammar or spelling errors, your grade will be lowered one letter (10%); more than 20 errors, two letters (20%); more than 30 errors, three letters (30%), etc. Each instance of a misspelling counts as one error. Passing the English test does not guarantee that you will receive no deductions on your essays.


It is possible you have never had an English teacher as picky as I am. You may have passed all your previous English classes; that is no guarantee you will succeed here. In their effort to engage you in writing, English teachers — especially in California — often ignore elementary errors in English grammar and spelling; and as a result, students often are unaware of their mistakes. I urge you not to blow off the time allocated for basic English skills! Please use the English skills links, which contain many explanations and drills. And read the paper comments carefully, please, so you can correct your mistakes next time!


To see just how detailed the scrutiny of your work in this class will be, look at the sample graded papers.


Please be especially aware about the following:

It is your job to edit and proofread your papers.


A note on style: The imaginary "audience" for your essay is the average high-school graduate — someone who knows nothing about the subject matter but can follow an argument. You can assume the reader is interested; don't worry too much about capturing the reader's attention; e.g., don't start a paper on the ethics of abortion with "Jane's hands were shaking as she stepped through the line of demonstrators on her way into the clinic." Many attention-getting gambits are fallacious. Your model is a layperson's "brief" — a piece of reasoning using clear language and logic. Define all technical terms, use plain English and straightforward sentences. You are striving for a sober, even-handed, modest analysis. Don't oversimplify. Take your time.


The Key to Paper Comments lists most of my usual comments.






Technical errors/Style issues

1 Incorrect use of apostrophe

2 Missing apostrophe

3 Singular-plural mismatch

4 Run-on sentence

5 Sentence fragment

6 Spelling error

7 Use parallel construction

8 Sentence or paragraph too long

9 Referent of pronoun or pointer not clear

10 Wordy, "fat," redundant

11 Capitalization error

12 Word order confusing

13 Punctuation error

14 Quote marks beginning and end

15 Avoid dictionary definitions; philosophical usage is often different from ordinary language. If you feel you must use a dictionary to define a philosophy term, at least use a specialized philosophical dictionary.

16 Underline or italicize book titles.

17 No space before punctuation; space after.

18 Bad word break

19 Must have a space before an open quote, but no space after one.

20 Direct quotes require quotation marks and citations.

21 This is an odd (and perhaps unintentionally humorous) choice of words, evoking irrelevant associations or mental images.

22 Active voice would be clearer and more vigorous here.

23 Don't say someone "feels" when you mean "thinks" or "believes" or "argues."

24 I know what you mean, but this is not a standard English word or idiom.

25 Sloppy imprecise word choice


Problems in presentation of content

30 Biographical information about the author is usually not relevant to evaluation of philosophical argument. Students often include it as "padding." But soundness of argument depends only on correct logic and facts.

31 Speculations about psychological influence of author's childhood, background, etc., are usually not relevant to evaluation of philosophical argument.

32 HUH? Vague. This is either "word salad" (I haven't a clue), or I can think of more than one thing this could mean. Ask me if you can't imagine why I found it unclear.

33 It is more respectable among scholars to cite from the original text if available, rather than a commentator's introduction or paraphrase. Also, citing a commentator's paraphrase or introduction does not demonstrate the required familiarity with assigned reading.

34 This quote does not seem related to what comes before or after it.

35 Quote is out of context. The author is arguing against this view. (Did you read all the pages?)

36 You need to explain this more fully.

37 So? I don't see the relevance of this to the paper.

38 To a philosopher this would be a perfectly reasonable question!

39 For maximum clarity, use grammatical statements — not questions — to state premises and conclusion of an argument.

40 This seems a great deal of fuss over nothing much. No one disputes your claim.

41 A claim isn't more true just because it's strongly felt or believed.

42 You don't need to be so tentative here.

43 Watch the weasel words.

44 Your account of this argument is oversimplified and/or distorted. (Perhaps you do not yet fully understand it.) Remember the principle of charity.

45 This reads like a first draft. Organization needs work.

46 I don't see the analogy here.

47 I don't see how this follows.

48 I see alternatives besides the ones mentioned.

49 This seems overstated.

50 Why? This is a conclusion. You need to support it.

51 Avoid vague relational claims. More specific statement of the connection is needed here.

52 This seems simply untrue.


Extremely serious problems

60 Your words? Please be prepared to show me your sources.

61 Your paper does not demonstrate sufficient familiarity with lecture content and/or the assigned reading.

62 Your paper doesn’t show sufficient argument and counter-argument.

63 A paper must be more than a string of quotes or a "quote-quilt."




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