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Course materials 2015/16

Topic assessment questions

  1. Is torture ever morally permissible?
  2. What is our moral obligation to the world’s poor?
  3. Is abortion morally permissible?

Assessment deadlines

Oral presentations: weeks 9 and 10

Precis: at noon on Thursday, week 10

Report: at noon on Thursdsay, week 1 of the spring term


Each week, links to lecture slides will appear in the table below.



Weeks 1-2: Introduction to critical reasoning

Bowell, Tracy & Kemp, Gary, Critical Thinking, 2nd or 3rd Edition, Routledge. [There is a companion website for this book, which has practice exercises (and the answers).]

Lecture 1: chapters 1, 2 and 3.

Lecture 2: chapters 1 and 5.

Lecture 3: chapters 2, 5 and 7.


Week 3: Torture


  • What, if anything, does the ticking bomb scenario show?
  • Is torture lite really lite? And if so, is it justifiable?
  • Is torture always prohibited?
  • Should torture be legalised?

Core reading:

Miller, Seumas. (2011) ‘Torture’, Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy.

Shue, Henry. 1978. ‘Torture’, Philosophy & Public Affairs.7:2, pp. 124-143.

Further Reading:

Matthews, R. (2012). 'An Empirical Critique of “Interrogational” Torture'. Journal of Social Philosophy. 43, pp.457–470.

McMahan, J. (2006). 'Torture, Morality, and Law'. Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law. 37, pp. 241-48.

McMahan, Jeff. (2008). 'Torture in Principle and in Practice'. Public Affairs Quarterly. 22:2, pp.111-128.

Sussman, David. (2005). ‘What’s Wrong with Torture?’, Philosophy and Public Affairs 33:1, pp. 1-33.

Sussman, David. (2009). ‘“Torture Lite”: A Response’. Ethics & International Affairs. 23:1, pp. 63-67.

Wolfendale, Jessica. (2009). ‘The Myth of “Torture Lite”' Ethics & International Affairs 23:1 pp. 47-61


Week 4: World poverty

Guest lecturers: David Rowthorn and Joe Cunningham


  • Are we all morally required to give much of our income away to mitigate world hunger?
  • Are we required to give almost all of our income away to do this?
  • What is moral demandingness?
  • Does distance make a difference to our moral obligations?

Core reading:

Singer, P. (1972) 'Famine, Affluence, and Morality', Philosophy and Public Affairs 1, pp. 229-243.

Murphy, L. (1993) 'The Demands of Beneficence', Philosophy and Public Affairs 22:4, pp. 267-292.

Further reading:

Arneson, R. (2004) “Moral Limits and the Demands of Beneficence”, in D. K. Chatterjee (ed.), The Ethics of Assistance: Morality and the Distant Needy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 33-58.

Arneson, R. (2009) “What do we owe to distant needy strangers?”, in J. A. Schaler (ed.), Singer under Fire (Chicago: Open Court, 2009), pp. 267-293.

Cohen, L. Jonathan (1981) 'Who is starving whom?', Theoria 47:2, pp. 65-81.

Cottingham, J. (1983) 'Ethics and Impartiality', Philosophical Studies 43, pp. 83-99.

Horton, K. (2004) 'International Aid: The Fair Shares Factor', Social Theory and Practice 30, pp. 161-174.

Kamm, Frances M. (1999) “Famine Ethics: The Problem of Distance in Morality and Singer’s Ethical Theory,” in D. Jamieson (ed.), Singer and His Critics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell), pp. 162-208.

Miller, Richard W. (2004) 'Beneficence, Duty, and Distance' Philosophy and Public Affairs 32, pp. 357-383.

Narveson, J. (2003) “We Don’t Owe Them a Thing!” The Monist 86(3), pp. 419-433.

Pogge, T. (2002) World Poverty and Human Rights (Cambridge: Blackwell) [Introduction]

Scheffler, S. (2003) “Families, Nations and Strangers”, in his Boundaries and Allegiances (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Unger, P. (1996) Living High and Letting Die (New York: Oxford University Press)


Week 5: Abortion


  • Is abortion always justified, never justified, or sometimes justified? Why?
  • What does Thomson’s thought experiment show?
  • Are there some reasons for which it is (particularly) impermissible to have an abortion?

Core reading:

Marquis, Don. (1989) ‘Why Abortion is Immoral’, The Journal of Philosophy 86,4: pp. 183 -202.

Thomson, Judith Jarvis. (1971). ‘A Defense of Abortion’, Philosophy and Public Affairs. 36:4, pp. 359-374.

Further Reading:

Cudd, Ann E. (1990) ‘Sensationalized Philosophy: A Reply to Marquis’s “Why Abortion is Immoral”’, The Journal of Philosophy 87,5: pp. 268-277.

Davis, Nancy. (1984) ‘Abortion and Self-Defense’, Philosophy & Public Affairs 13,3: pp. 175-107.

Little, Margaret. ‘The Moral Permissibility of Abortion’ in Andrew Cohen and Christopher Wellman (eds.) Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics.

Norcross, Alastair (1990) ‘Killing, Abortion, and Contraception: A Reply to Marquis’, The Journal of Philosophy 87,5: pp. 268-277.

Tooley, Michael. (1972) ‘Abortion and Infanticide’, Philosophy & Public Affairs 2,1: pp.37-65.


Week 6: reading week

No lectures or seminars


Week 7: Philosophy in Practice workshop

The workshops are not compulsory, but are an opportunity for you to discuss your précis, oral presentation and report. You may also wish to discuss how to approach the material, general questions about reading articles and also questions about how to write on these topics.

David Rowthorn, L5, 10am-11am (Monday)

Joe Cunningham, L4, 1pm-2pm (Wednesday)


Week 8: Philosophy in Practic workshop

David Rowthorn, L5, 10am-11am (Monday)

Joe Cunningham, L4, 1pm-2pm (Wednesday)