The issue of abortion has dominated religious and political life in the United States since the passage of Roe v. Wade.  The issue cuts to the core of many philosophical, religious and personal concerns.  When does life begin?  What is our duty towards early stages of life?  What about our rights to autonomy over our own bodies?  Wrestling with this issue has altered American culture, the courts and political life.
The issue of abortion has dominated religious and political life in the United States since the passage of Roe v. Wade.  The issue cuts to the core of many philosophical, religious and personal concerns.  When does life begin?  What is our duty towards early stages of life?  What about our rights to autonomy over our own bodies?  How has prenatal and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis impacts decisions regarding abortion? Wrestling with this issue has altered American culture, the courts and political life.

Bev Gray
Ofri Leitner
Abortion: Moral and Legal Issues (AM only)

Abortion: We will discuss two separate (but often conflated) issues: 1. whether abortion is ever immoral, 2. whether abortion should be legally protected or restricted.  In 2013 the state of North Carolina has imposed new restrictions on when and how women can seek an abortion.  Are these kinds of restrictions justified? 

Jonathan Anomaly

1. Abortion -- Changes in North Carolina abortion laws:


Animal Research and Animal Rights

Dilip Barman - Topic description

What relationship do humans have with non-human animals? What kinds of relationships should we strive toward? What kinds of ethical considerations apply?  The session will include a half hour presentation about the philosophical background of animal rights, and

 include some material on animal welfare. We will consider the two short reading assignments and discuss how participants feel about animal issues raised in them. Do animals have "rights"? If so, who endowed them with these rights? Does providing or recognizing rights diminish human rights? Do non-humans serve at our pleasure and for our needs, or do they have an inherent value that goes beyond utility to humans?

Dilip Barman

Session Leader: Dilip Barman readings:

Readings from Tom Regan and Andrew Linzey's 2010 book "Other Nations" (ISBN 978-160258237-8). I would like students to read: > * pp. 117-124, "The Dead Body and the Living Brain" by Oriana Fallaci

Dilip's readings.pdf

Animal welfare vs. animal rights in research & Animal Rights

Animal welfare vs. animal rights in research
This session will address ethical concerns related to the care and use of laboratory animals in biomedical research. Students will be guided through a reality-based animal research case study that allows them to examine societal and personal factors that influence their opinions about animal research and the animal rights movement. 

Regina Williams
Chandra Williams
Suzanne Mounsey

Animal Research
          About Research

          Ignoring the Role of Animals in Medicine is Shortsighted
Animal Rights
                        Why Animal Rights?
                        Biomedical Research
Case Studies

Biomedical Enhancement: Transforming Human Nature (PM Session)

Enhancement: Biomedical technology already allows us to implant and select embryos on the basis of traits we wish our children to have.  Do people have a moral right, even an obligation, to use this technology to create children who are more likely to be happy, healthy, and productive?  If the costs and benefits of reproducing are shared by everyone who shares a common environment, and a gene pool, do people who choose to reproduce have an obligation to create children with the best chance of the best life? 

Jonathan Anomaly (PM Session)

2. Enhancement -- Allen Buchanan on Enhancement:

Crime & Punishment

Description: In this session we will explore significant questions related to crime and punishment, including: What is the point of punishment? When (if ever) is legal punishment justified? Is our criminal justice system just and effective?

Steven Swartzer

Readings: For this discussion, I would like students to read the attached article, by John Paul Wright, Francis T. Cullen, and Kevin M. Beaver, called "Does Punishment Work?" (SEE BELOW LINK) from, Hugh LaFollette's (ed) Ethics in Practice, 3rd Edition.  I would also like students to read a short piece by Michelle Alexander from the Huffington Post called "The New Jim Crow: How the War on Drugs Gave Birth to a Permanent American Undercaste" that can be found at this link:



Ethics & Emotion

Description: The way we feel about things often leads us to make moral judgments about them. Should we listen to those feelings? Can they reliably help us distinguish right from wrong or will they lead us astray? Do they work in conjunction with thought (reason) or are they in conflict? We will examine several cases to promote discussion about what emotion is and how it relates to moral deliberation. Examples include feelings about animals and vegetarianism, feelings for friends and family and judgments about the morality of actions, and investigating creatures who have undeveloped emotional capacity (e.g. fetuses, nonhuman animals, psychopaths).

Lauren Townsend (For this one reading the whole thing would be great, but since that might put me over the limit they really only need to read from "Of course, there is one glaring problem with sentimentalism.")

This is a last-minute addition on 10/31. Students are, of course, not required to read it but in case they find the session interesting I wanted them to be able to access it later:


Ethics & Genetics

 We will discuss current ethical issues in the field of human genetics

Heidi Cope
Allison Ashley-Koch
Ethics of Food - GMO Foods

Ethics of Food – GMO Foods
The debate over the health and safety of using genetically modified (GM) crops in the food industry is a contentious topic. Some argue that GM crops will promote ecological disaster, and that because no long term scientific studies have been performed, there is no telling how GM foods will impact human health. Proponents claim that anti-GM crusaders don’t have all of the facts and that GM crops are a safe and economically sound solution for the problem of world hunger. There are several key questions in this debate: 1) Should GMO foods be labeled so that the public is aware of status of the food they are purchasing? 2) Are GMO foods safe? 3) Who is really benefitting from the development of GM foods? 4) What is the potential impact of GMOs on the environment?

Nicole Baker
Ethics of Sustainability

Multiple indicators tell us that the global resource boom is now reaching a breaking point. The simple ethos of economic growth—“more is better”—is not sustainable in a world of complex food, water and energy systems that are simultaneously suffering decline. The grand challenge of sustainability is to integrate our decision-making and consumption patterns—along with the need for economic viability— within a sustainable worldview. This will not happen by dumb luck. It will require, first and foremost, proper education. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, universal literacy—reading and writing—was the catch-cry of education reformers. In the twenty-first century, a new global literacy campaign is needed, this time systems literacy, to promote a basic understanding of the complex interdependency of human and natural systems.  But are the ethics of sustainability so clear?  In this session we will explore a few case studies where the ethical and the technical comingle in interesting and perhaps, confusing ways.

Linda Schmalbeck
Ethics of War

Ethics in War: Just War Theory Should countries respect certain boundaries in warfare? Do countries respect any restrictions or is war a state of unlimited violence where anything goes? This session will explore questions such as these along with possible answers arising from the “just war” tradition. We will talk about various limitations states might place on themselves (target selection, collateral damage likelihoods, weapons employed, and even the decision to go to war.) We will also consider recent developments related to drone warfare.

Mark DuBois

Assigned Reading: . Students read all of the links under the heading “Doctrine of the Just War.” Students should also read about the usage of drones (or unmanned aerial vehicles) in warfare. This link to related stories in the New York Times provides useful reading on the subject.

Euthanasia ( CANCELLED)

Is there a time when it is acceptable and ethical to kill another human being to keep them from suffering particularly when they suffer with little or no hope of recovery? These sessions will explore the ethics dimensions of these issues from the point of view of patient and health care provider.

Cris Clarke
Genetic Testing

 We will discuss the main kinds of genetic testing - diagnostic, carrier, and predictive.  Then, we will discuss scenarios where genetic testing may be advantageous or more harmful than helpful.  Lastly, we will look at 2 case studies to further understand the complexities of genetic testing and why these decisions often raise serious ethical and moral questions.

Leanna Gentry
Google Cars and the New Trolley Problem

The Trolley Problem is one of the most famous thought experiments in moral philosophy. An out-of-control trolley is bearing down on several innocent people. What is the right thing to do, allow them to die or divert the trolley so that it hits and kills only one person? Most people say that the right thing to do is to divert the trolley, but there are a number of interesting puzzles about this case. In this session, after briefly discussing the original puzzle, we will consider a new twist: Suppose we not dealing with a trolley, but with a Google Car. And suppose we are not making a decision at the time of the accident, but rather anticipating the possibility of trolley-problem-like accidents whileprogramming the Google Car. What should we program it to do? What if the choice is not between several lives and a live outside the car, but between several lives and life of the driver?

David Faraci

watch video:
YouTube video on the Trolley Problem:

Government secrecy and responsible citizenship: some moral and epistemological considerations

Due to unprecedented leaks of state secrets by Edward Snowden (to The Guardian and The Washington Post) and Bradley Manning (to Wikileaks), a public debate has raged over the importance of secrecy for security and the rights of citizens to know about government policy, especially when it affects their privacy. In this discussion we'll explore some less-discussed moral and epistemological issues raised by this debate. These include but are not limited to: (i) how much should citizens know about the actions of their government in general?; (ii) should a responsible citizen ever support policies of which s/he is unaware and, if so, when and why?; and (iii) to what extent should we defer political judgments to policymakers as experts, like we would a medical doctor or an automobile mechanic?

Joshua Blanchard

Readings: Here is an opinionated but thoughtful (and fairly long) blog post, by NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, that raises some of the issues we'll discuss. Note: the post contains numerous other links and video, but it is not at all necessary for students to look at those, though they are free to do so if particular links or video strike them as interesting or essential to evaluating Rosen's post. For students who want some more background on some of the recent events surrounding the NSA leaks, here is a helpful interactive timeline from Al Jazeera America.

Is it ever ethical to buy and sell organs?

When it comes to organ donation, one thing is certain: the demand far exceeds the supply. On average, 18 people die every day while waiting on the organ donation list.
In response to this pressing need, some people have suggested that we ought to legalize the buying and selling of organs. The legalization of organ selling could drastically lower the number of people who die waiting for transplants. 
This idea has been met with a great deal of resistance. There are, of course, clear welfare concerns that need to be addressed. The people who would be willing to sell organs are most likely very poor and vulnerable to exploitation. However, even if we were able to ensure that organ selling was not exploitative, many people still feel that there is something wrong with selling a part of one’s body.
Is it morally permissible to buy and sell organs? Do we have good moral reason to resist the legalization of this practice? Or are we just being irrationally squeamish?

Jordan MacKenzie

no assigned readings

News and The Daily Show: Are Leaders Obligated to Create Objectivity?

The North Carolina General Assembly Long Session 2013:
Appearance, Reality, and Leaders’ Responsibility to Understand the Issues
            The North Carolina General Assembly met this past winter and spring for the first time since the end of Reconstruction in 1876 with super Republican majorities in both houses and in the Governor’s Mansion.  Many bills were proposed and passed that charted a new direction for the government and for the people in this state.  One reaction to the work done by the General Assembly saw many Democratic citizens come to Raleigh to engage in “Moral Mondays,” a weekly protest in front of the capital to call attention to their displeasure with the work of these elected officials.
In this session we will examine whether LEADERS have an obligation to separate the rhetoric of the protesters from what the laws and legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor really were.  We will use copies of the actual legislation that passed as well as published summaries of what was accomplished published by legislative leaders and by North Carolina journalists.  Success of this session rests students coming in with an open mind and a willingness to look at some of the new laws from multiple perspectives in order form opinions based on reason and rationality and not emotion and misinformation.

Dave Thaden

no reading assisignments

Protection of Human Research Subjects

Are you familiar with the Belmont Report? Did you know it was developed a
result of unethical processes that occurred during the Tuskegee Syphilis
study (1932-1972)? Ever wonder why you have to submit an application to an
Institutional Review Board before you can start your research study
involving human research subjects? Or have you even been a research
subject and wondered why you have to sign a consent form prior to your
participation? These questions and more will be answered during this

Ershela Sims
Puzzles in Animal Ethics

How should humans treat non-human animals? Do non-human animals have rights? Can we justify living with and protecting some animals while killing and consuming others? Is it morally permissible to keep some animals in zoos? Is it wrong to test medicines on animals? This discussion of the ethics of human interaction with animals will address these and other questions.

Lindsay Brainard
Religion in Public Schools - AM Only

Religion in the Public Schools

Religion in the Public Schools

The place of religion in American society continues to be a robust discussion with ever-changing dimensions.  This session will explore religion in the public schools.  Is prayer in public school permissible?  How does the Supreme Court look at student prayer, religious topics in the classroom, student clubs, and other school activities?  How should the interests of parents, students, administrators and teachers be balanced?

Natasha Nazareth-Phelps
Religious Tolerance in Schools

Recently a judge dismissed a lawsuit from a high-school student against his history teacher for poking fun of creationism and religious fundamentalism.  Attorney Robert Tyler responds, "This case is about establishing legal precedent concerning the rights of children to be able to sit in a public school classroom without having their religion attacked,"   However the court disagrees, stating  "teachers must also be given leeway to challenge students to develop their critical thinking skills."  This is a complex issue.  Should an instructor be allowed to express her/his own religious views?  Wear religious garb or pray with students?  Ridicule others' beliefs?  What is the balance between personal religious beliefs and constitutional neutrality? 

Todd Spiering
Same Sex Adoption

Our country is slowly recognizing same sex marriage.  What about same sex adoption?  Should same-sex couples be allowed to adopt children?  Some states forbid it.  Other states are silent on the issue.  A few states expressly allow it. Many states (including North Carolina) forbid second parent adoptions for unmarried parents which includes many same sex couples who are not allowed to marry in their states.  What are the ethical considerations in making policy decisions about same sex couples adopting children? Should the non-biological parent in a couple be allowed to adopt a partner's child?

Marion Hirsch
Starting a Sustainability Project in Your School.

In this session NCSSM students share what they did to design and implement a year-long, school-wide project to enhance the community’s knowledge of how to live more sustainably, reduce the school’s environmental footprint and have fun doing it.
Presented by the Sustainability Project Leaders @ NCSSM 

NCSSM Students

no readings

The Rational vs. the Righteous Mind

Ethical philosophers and social psychologists have different views of how we make morally laden decisions.  Ethical philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol Gilligan have championed a rational mechanism of decision-making in which a person develops the ability as she/he matures to consciously weigh choices against her/his personal values and comes to a rational conclusion about what to choose.  More recently social psychologists such as Jonathan Haidt and Joshua Greene have used experimental evidence from psychology and neuroscience to describe a different model:  when confronted with a decision that has moral implications, we have an immediate emotional response that dictates our “choice.”  We use rational argument after the fact to justify decisions already made, either to ourselves or to others.  In this session we examine then evidence for these two views and practice using them with some scenarios.

Steve Warshaw
The Trolley Problem: The Many vs The Few

When do the rights and interests of the many outweigh the rights and interests of the few?  The Trolley Problem is a famous philosophical thought experiment that allows us to sharpen our thinking on this difficult question.  The Trolley Problem presents a pair of cases in which we have to choose between the interests of the many and the interests of the few.  Many people respond to the two cases differently; in one case, they think, we ought to act to protect the interests of the many, and in the other case, they think, we ought to protect the interests of the few.  If that's right, then the question arises: What is the philosophically relevant difference between the two cases?  The Trolley Problem is the problem of articulating and explaining that difference.

Matthew Kotzen