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Unit outline_

PHIL2617: Practical Ethics

Semester 1, 2023 [Normal day] - Remote

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 Caroline West,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Participation Tutorial participation
Tutorial Participation
10% Ongoing Continuous
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3 LO2
Skills-based evaluation Take-home assignment
2 x 1250 word short essay on topics covered in weeks 7-13.
50% Please select a valid week from the list below
Due date: 05 Jun 2023 at 23:00
2500 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO4 LO3 LO2
Assignment Essay
1 x 2000 word essay on a topic covered in weeks 1-6.
40% Week 07
Due date: 05 Apr 2023 at 23:00
2000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO4 LO2

Assessment summary

  • 1. Essay (2,000 words) worth 40% of final grade
  • 2. Take-home assignment (2,500 words) worth 50% of final grade
  • 3. Tutorial participation worth 10% of final grade
  • Detailed information for each assessment 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:

5% per calendar day

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
Week 01 Introduction Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2
Week 02 Life, Death and the Ethics of Killing Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2
Week 03 Abortion Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2
Week 04 Euthanasia Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 05 Animal ethics Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 06 Environmental ethics and climate change Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 07 Ethics and world poverty Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 08 Genetic engineering Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 09 AI Ethics Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
Week 10 Consent to sex Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 11 Commercial surrogacy Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 12 Pornography, free speech and censorship Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 13 Moral ignorance Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4

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

PHIL2617 Detailed Schedule of Lectures and Tutorials
All required readings are available either in the library’s 2hr Reserve or via the library’s E-reading system.

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)

Lecture 1: Introduction
No tutorial this week.

Lecture 2: Life, Death and the Ethics of Killing

Tutorial 2: Abortion (Marquis)

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.

Lecture 3: Abortion

Tutorial 3: Abortion (Thomson)
Required Reading:
J. J. Thomson, “A Defence of Abortion,” Philosophy†and†Public†Affairs†1 1 (1971): 4766

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

Lecture 4: Euthanasia

Tutorial 4: Euthanasia (Rachels)

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

Additional Readings:
T. Beauchamp, ‘Justifying Physician Assisted 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

Lecture 5: Animal Ethics

Tutorial 5: Animal Ethics
Required Reading:
P. Singer, “All Animals Are Equal,” Animal†Liberation†(Avon Books, 1990)

Additional Readings:
C. Diamond, “Eating Meat and Eating People,” Philosophy, 53 206 (1978): 465479
C. Korsgaard, Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to Other Animals. Oxford University Press, 2018, esp. ch. 4, 8 & 9.
R. Hursthouse, “Applying Virtue Ethics to Our Treatment of the Other Animals,” in Jennifer Welchman (ed.) The Practice of Virtue (Hackett, 2006)

Lecture 6: Environmental Ethics and Climate Change

Tutorial 6: Environmental Ethics and Climate Change
Required Reading:
W. Sinnott-Armstrong,“It’s Not My Fault: Global Warming and Individual Moral Obligations,” in Sinnott-Armstrong and Howarth (eds.), Perspectives on Climate Change, Ethics, Vol. 5 (2005)

Additional Readings:
‘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).

Lecture 7: Ethics and World Poverty

Tutorial 7: Ethics and World Poverty
Required Reading:
P. Singer, ‘Famine, “Famine, Affluence and Morality,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (1972): 229–243

Additional Readings:
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

Lecture 8: Genetic Engineering

Tutorial 8: Genetic Engineering
Required Reading:
M. Sandel, “The case against perfection,” The Atlantic Monthly 293 (3): 5162

Additional Readings:
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

Lecture 9: AI Ethics

Tutorial 9: AI Ethics

Required Reading
Müller, Vincent C., "Ethics of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .

Week 10: Consent

Tutorial 10: Consent
Required Reading:
Sarah Conly, “Seduction, Rape and Coercion,” Ethics, 115 (2004): 96121

Recommended Readings:
Robin West, “Sex, Law and Consent,” in Alan Wertheimer & William Miller (eds.) The Ethics of Consent: Theory and Practice, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)
Additional Readings:
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 e-collection

Lecture 11: Commercial Surrogacy

Tutorial 11: Commercial Surrogacy
Required Reading:
Anderson, “Why Commercial Surrogate Motherhood Unethically Commodifies Women and Children: Reply to McLachlan and Swales,” Health Care Analysis 8 (2000): 1926

Additional Readings:
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)

Lecture 12: Pornography and Censorship

Tutorial 12: Pornography and Censorship
Required Reading:
R. Dworkin, MacKinnon’s Words’ in Ethics in Practice, edited by Hugh LaFollette (Blackwell publishing, 3rd edition)
Recommended Readings:
S. Brison, ‘The Price We Pay’ in Ethics in Practice, edited by Hugh LaFollette (Blackwell)

Additional Readings:
A.W. Eaton, “A Sensible Antiporn Feminism,” Ethics, 117 4 (2007): 674715
Rae Langton, ‘Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts,’ Philosophy and Public Affairs, 22 (4) 1993: 293330
N. Bauer, ‘Pornutopia,’ N +1, (2007): 6373

Lecture 13: Moral Ignorance

Tutorial 13: Moral Ignorance

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

Additional Readings

M. Moody Adams, “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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