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Unit outline_

PHIL2617: Practical Ethics

Intensive February, 2021 [Block mode] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

This unit draws on contemporary moral philosophy to shed light on some of the most pressing practical, ethical questions of our time, including euthanasia, abortion, surrogacy, censorship, animal rights, genetic testing and cloning and environmental ethics. By the end of the unit, students should have a good understanding of these practical ethical issues; and, more crucially, be equipped with the conceptual resources to think through new ethical questions and dilemmas as they arise in their personal and professional lives.

Unit details and rules

Academic unit Philosophy
Credit points 6
12 credit points at 1000 level
PHIL2517 or PHIL3617
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Adam Piovarchy,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Participation Participation
10% - N/A
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO4 LO3 LO2
Assignment Essay
2000wd essay
45% -
Due date: 07 Feb 2021 at 23:59
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Assignment Take home exam
Take home exam
45% -
Due date: 22 Feb 2021 at 23:59
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4

Assessment summary

Further details on assessments can be found on Canvas.

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a High distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a Distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100

Awarded when you demonstrate the learning outcomes for the unit at an exceptional standard, as defined by grade descriptors or exemplars outlined by your faculty or school.


75 - 84

Awarded when you demonstrate the learning outcomes for the unit at a very high standard, as defined by grade descriptors or exemplars outlined by your faculty or school.


65 - 74

Awarded when you demonstrate the learning outcomes for the unit at a good standard, as defined by grade descriptors or exemplars outlined by your faculty or school.


50 - 64

Awarded when you demonstrate the learning outcomes for the unit at an acceptable standard, as defined by grade descriptors or exemplars outlined by your faculty or school.


0 - 49

When you don’t meet the learning outcomes of the unit to a satisfactory standard.


For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

This unit has an exception to the standard University policy or supplementary information has been provided by the unit coordinator. This information is displayed below:

Further detail can be found on Canvas.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes

Attendance and class requirements

  • Attendance: According to Faculty Board Resolutions, students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences are expected to attend 90% of their classes. If you attend less than 50% of classes, regardless of the reasons, you may be referred to the Examiner’s Board. The Examiner’s Board will decide whether you should pass or fail the unit of study if your attendance falls below this threshold.
  • Lecture Recording: Most lectures (in recording-equipped venues) will be recorded and may be made available to students on the LMS. However, you should not rely on lecture recording to substitute your classroom learning experience.
  • Preparation: Students should commit to spend approximately three hours’ preparation time (reading, studying, homework, essays, etc.) for every hour of scheduled instruction.

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

Detailed Schedule of Reading and Lectures

All required readings are available either in the Library’s 2hr Reserve or via the Library’s E-reading system.

Week 1 Introduction

Background Reading

‘Reading Philosophy’ (read this if you haven’t studied philosophy before)

P. Vallentyne, ‘Consequentialism’

McNaughton & Rawling, ‘Deontology’

R. Hursthouse, ‘Virtue Theory’

All in Ethics†in†Practice, ed. Hugh LaFollette (Blackwell publishing, 3rd edition)

Week 2 Life, Death and the Ethics of Killing

Required Reading: D. Marquis ‘Why Abortion is Immoral’, Journal of Philosophy, LXXXVI, 4 (April 1989): 183202

Additional readings

M. Tooley ‘Abortion and Infanticide’¨, Philosophy andPublic Affairs, Vol. 2, No. 1 (1972): 3765

P. Singer, Practical Ethics 3rd edition, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), Ch. 4 “What’s Wrong with Killing?”

W. Sinnott-Armstrong, "You can't lose what you ain't never had: A reply to Marquis on abortion, Philosophical Studies 96(1) (1999): 5972.

P. McInerney, "Does a Fetus Already have a FutureLikeOurs?", The Journal of Philosophy 87(5) (1990): 264268.

A. Norcross, "Killing, Abortion, and Contraception: A Reply to Marquis", The†Journal†of†Philosophy†87(5) (1990): 268277.

Week 3 Abortion

Required reading∫†J. J. Thomson, “A Defence of Abortion,” Philosophy†and†Public†Affairs†1 1 (1971): 4766

Additional reading

M. Little, “The Moral Permissibility of Abortion,” in A Cohen and C Wellman (eds.) Contemporary†Debates†in†Applied†Ethics†(Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005)

Week 4 Euthanasia

Required Reading∫†J. Rachels, “Active and Passive Euthanasia,” The†End†of†Life∫†Euthanasia†and†Morality†(Oxford University Press, 1986), ch. 7

Additional reading

T. Beauchamp, ‘Justifying PhysicianAssisted Suicide’ in Ethics†in†Practice, edited by Hugh LaFollette (Blackwell publishing, 3rd edition)

J. D. Velleman, “Against the Right to Die,” New York Working Paper Series (August 13, 2007). Reprinted in Ethics†In†Practice

Week 5 Animal Ethics

Required†Reading: P. Singer, “All Animals Are Equal,” Animal†Liberation†(Avon Books, 1990)


C. Diamond, “Eating Meat and Eating People,” Philosophy, 53 206 (1978): 465479

R. Hursthouse, “Applying Virtue Ethics to Our Treatment of the Other Animals,” in Jennifer Welchman (ed.) The†Practice†of†Virtue¨

(Hackett, 2006)

T. McPherson, “Why I am a vegan (and you should be one too).” Forthcomng in Philosophy†Comes†to†Dinner†(Eds.Andrew Chignell,Terence Cuneo, and Matthew Halteman). Manuscript available at

Week 6 Environmental Ethics and Climate Change

Required†Reading: W. SinnottArmstrong,“It’s Not My Fault: Global Warming and Individual Moral Obligations,” in SinnottArmstrong and Howarth (eds.), Perspectives†on†Climate†Change∫†Science¨†Economics¨†Politics¨†Ethics, Vol. 5 (2005)


‘S. Caney, ‘Climate Change and The Future: Discounting for Time, Wealth and Risk’, Journal†of†Social†Philosophy†40 (2009): 163186

Kagan, S. "Do I make a difference?" Philosophy†and†Public†Affairs†39 2 (2011): 105–141.

Gardiner, Caney, Jamieson & Shue, (eds).: Climate†Ethics∫†Essential†Readings. (Oxford University Press, 2010).

Week 7 Ethics and World Poverty

Required†Reading: P. Singer, ‘Famine, “Famine, Affluence and Morality,” Philosophy†and†Public†Affairs†1 (1972): 229–243


G. Cullity “International Aid and the Scope of Kindness.” Ethics†105 (1994): 99–127

J. Carens, ‘Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders,’ Review†of†Politics†49 (1987): 251273

Week 8 Genetic Engineering

Required†Reading: M. Sandel, “The case against perfection,” The Atlantic Monthly 293 (3): 5162


N. Agar, “Liberal Eugenics,” Public†Affairs†Quarterly†12 2 (1998): 137 155)

F. Kamm, “Is There a Problem with Enhancement?” American†Journal†of†Bioethics†5 3 (2005): 5 14

J. Savluescu & G. Kahane, “Procreative Beneficence and Disability: Is There a Moral Obligation to Create Children with the Best Chance of the Best Life,” Bioethics†23 5 (2009): 274 – 290

Week 9 Consent to Sex

Required†reading: Sarah Conly, “Seduction, Rape and Coercion,” Ethics†115 (2004): 96121


Robin West, “Sex, Law and Consent,” in Alan Wertheimer & William Miller (eds.) The†Ethics†of†Consent∫†Theory†and†Practice, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)


Onora O’Neill, “Between Consenting Adults,” Philosophy†and†Public†Affairs¨†14 3 (1985): 251277

Alan Wertheimer, “Consent to Sexual

Relations,” in Franklin Miller & Alan Wertheimer (eds.) The†Ethics†of†Consent¨†(2010), electronic version in library ecollection

Week 10 Commercial Surrogacy

Required†Reading∫†E. Anderson, “Why Commercial Surrogate Motherhood Unethically Commodifies Women and Children: Reply to McLachlan and Swales,” Health†Care†Analysis†8 (2000): 1926


M. Sandel, “Commodification, Commercialization, and Privatization,” in What†Money†Can’t†Buy∫†The†Moral†Limits†of†Markets, The Tanner Lectures on Human Values (1998)

H. McLachlan and J. K. Swales, “Babies, Child Bearers and Commodification,” Health†Care†Analysis†8 (2000)

Week 11 Pornography, Free Speech & Censorship

Required Reading: R. Dworkin, MacKinnon’s Words’ in Ethics†in†Practice, edited by Hugh LaFollette (Blackwell publishing, 3rd edition)

Recommended Reading

S. Brison, ‘The Price We Pay’ in Ethics†in†Practice, edited by Hugh LeFollette (Blackwell)

Additional Reading

A.W. Eaton, “A Sensible Antiporn Feminism,” Ethics†117 4 (2007): 674715

Rae Langton, ‘Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts,’ Philosophy†&†Public†Affairs†22 (4) 1993: 293330

N. Bauer, ‘Pornutopis,’ n†´†1†(2007): 6373

Week 12 Artificial intelligence ethics

Required reading: Clinton Castro, “What’s Wrong with Machine Bias?” Ergo, Vol. 6, No. 15, 2019.

Additional Reading

Solon Barocas and Helen Nissenbaum, “Big Data’s End Run around Anonymity and Consent” in eds. J. Lane, V. Stodden, S. Bender, H. Nissenbaum, Privacy, Big Data and the Public Good (Cambridge: CUP, 2014).

Week 13 Moral ignorance

Required Reading: C. Calhoun, “Responsibility and Reproach,” Ethics, 99 2 (1989): 389406


M. MoodyAdams,

“Culture, Responsibility, and Affected Ignorance,” Ethics 104 2 (1994): 291 309

T. Isaacs, “Cultural Context and Moral Responsibility,” Ethics, 107 4 (1997): 670684

G. Rosen, “Culpability and Ignorance,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 103 1 (2004)



Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. develop analytical and critical thinking skills, communication skills, research skills, lateral thinking skills and independent thinking skills
  • LO2. develop capacity to engage openmindedly with different viewpoints, analyse and evaluate arguments and to develop and communicate new perspectives clearly
  • LO3. reflect on, and appreciate personal, civic and professional ethical obligations
  • LO4. demonstrate attributes of philosophical scholarship, including understanding the methods of philosophical analysis and argument.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

No changes have been made since this unit was last offered


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