Topic Name Description
Course Syllabus Page Course Syllabus
1.1: What Does Ethics Mean? Page Moral Dilemmas, Moral Truth, and Moral Knowledge

Watch this video which examines how our understanding of ethics affects our everyday decision-making. Our ethical beliefs affect how we establish moral truths, recognize moral knowledge, and approach a moral dilemma.

Page The Good Life: Virtue and Well-Being

Read this discussion of Aristotle's theory of moral goodness, virtue, reason, and happiness. The writer relates Aristotle's beliefs to those of the Greek philosophers, Socrates and Plato. We revisit this article in Unit 2.

Page Mores, Laws, Morality, and Ethics

Read this exploration of Aristotle's understanding of how societies (the state or governments) translate their ethical beliefs to create a legal framework for their citizens to follow.

1.2: Ethical Oversight in Domestic Politics Page Government Accountability Office

This resource gives you a guide to the Government Accountability Office, which is the primary government-run watchdog group regarding ethics and federal government spending.

Page Government and the Private Sector

Read this resource which provides a glimpse into the ethical dynamic of the relationship between government and the private sector, where many ethical dilemmas relate to money, influence, fairness, and transparency.

1.3: Ethical Oversight in International Politics Page Overview of the Human Rights Framework

Read this document which provides a brief look at the basic nature of human rights, as construed in the western world from the 1940s to today. Understanding this framework will make it much easier to analyze what journalists, activists, or diplomats mean when they discuss human rights.

Page Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the cornerstone document for outlining human rights in the world today. It was adopted by the United Nations and has been influential in the decisions of many specific countries and institutions regarding human rights since its original drafting.

Page A Theory of Justice

Read this short study guide to one of the definitive works about human rights from the 20th century. John Rawls was a political theorist who has been influential in many democracies since he wrote this work in the 1970s. Understanding some basic points of the work will enable the student to better understand democratic development.

2.1: Ethical Decision-Making Frameworks Page Moral Foundations Theory

Moral foundations theory is a way of understanding the way ethics works in the day-to-day world. Watch this video which introduces this theory.

Page Ethical Principles and Responsible Decision-Making

Read this chapter which helps match broad principles with examples of decision-making, where applying the principles may be tougher than it first seems.

2.2: Virtue Ethics Page Aristotle's Virtue Ethics

Watch this video which focuses on Aristotle's virtue ethics.

Page The Good Life: Virtue and Well-Being

Re-read this article we explored in Unit 1 which also summarizes Aristotle's notion of the good.

Page On Virtue Ethics

Some describe Aristotle's concept of virtue as the "golden mean." The virtuous person "hits the mark," by knowing what to do, when to do it, where to do it, how to do it, why it is done, and to whom it is done. This is no easy feat – the bullseye is hard to hit. It takes practice. Read this article which discusses the Golden Mean.

2.3: Deontology Page Kant's Ethics

Watch this lecture which offers an overview of Kant's ethics, the most well known deontological ethical theory.

Page Kant's Categorical Imperative

The categorical imperative is the formal articulation of our duty, a universal obligation. In other words, it is what we must do (or refrain from doing) in all circumstances. Kant provides four formulations of the categorical imperative:

  • Act only on that maxim (rule for acting) that you can will at the same time to become a universal law. 
  • Never act in such a way as to treat humanity (oneself included) as a mere means, but also always an end in itself.
  • Act so that, through your maxims (rules for acting), you could be a legislator of universal laws.
  • Act in accordance with the maxims of a member giving universal laws for a merely possible kingdom of ends.

Watch this video which describes the categorical imperative and why Kant thinks it is important.

Page The Duties of the Categorical Imperative

Our duty is obligatory, necessitates our action, and is something we must do. How do we know what our duty is? Read this article to further explore Kant's concept of duty. It discusses how human beings can choose to be vicious or virtuous due to free will and the ability to choose your actions.

2.4: The Utilitarian Approach Page Classical Utilitarianism and Distributive Justice

Watch this video lecture on distributive justice, an idea that fairness is based on who gets what, and when and why they get it. Think about resources such as money, land, and healthcare being doled out according to what would provide the largest benefit to the highest number of people.

Page Utilitarian Ethics

Utilitarian ethics argues that the "greatest good for the greatest number" should be prioritized over all other ethical concerns. This ethical scheme has been influential in the democratic world and appeals to many people today. Read this overview to better understand contemporary political debates.

3.1: Individual Liberty Page Democracy and Majority Rule

Watch these two videos which analyze the relationship between majority rule and democratic governance. The lectures provide a good introduction to exploring the benefits and drawbacks of majority-decided policies.

3.2: Freedom of Speech and the Press Page Freedom of Speech and the Press

Read this report which reviews some major exceptions to the First Amendment – the ways the Supreme Court has limited or eliminated protections for freedom of speech and the press.

Page What is the Point of Free Speech?

Watch this short video which analyzes the democratic and legal arguments for free speech in American society. Since free speech often lacks an obvious utility, this resource makes the case for why it is important and what is lost without it.

Page Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989)

Read this U.S. Supreme Court case which held that flag burning is an act of political speech and, therefore, protected under the First Amendment. Many cite this case to argue that political speech has broad legal protection in the United States.

3.3: Punishment of Criminal Offenders and the Criminal Justice System Page The Ethics of Power and Authority

Review this resource which examines the intersection of ethics and the state's use of power to enforce laws. The ethics of how to exercise law enforcement is one of the thorniest and most basic ethical questions society faces.

Page What Exposes African Americans to Police Violence?

This resource examines some reasons why Black Americans face police violence at a far higher rate than Americans of other races. Understanding this issue will help you grasp the imperfect way justice is administered in the United States.

Page The Case of Correctional Institutions

Read this resource which examines the way prisons and other "correctional institutions" operate in the United States. While these institutions support justice in society in theory, the practical reality is often far more complicated.

3.4: The Second Amendment Page The Path to Gun Control in America Goes through Political Philosophy

Read this resource which examines the philosophical basis behind the gun control debate in the United States with advice for gun control advocates.

Page The Public's Health and the Social Meaning of Guns

This resource examines gun ownership and shootings as a public health issue. While this is only one way to look at guns in the United States, the article provides a helpful lens since this country has the highest rate of gun violence deaths in the world.

3.5: Illegal Immigration Page Unauthorized Aliens in the United States

Read this 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service, a publicly-owned, non-profit think tank that analyzes key issues of the day. The report examines common beliefs about illegal immigration, to sort out what is true and what is false.

Page International Migration at a Time of Crisis

Watch this video, where the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for International Migration examines the story of international refugees in the early 21st century. Moving outside of the American context on this issue provides a deeper understanding of how and why people move in mass numbers from one country to another.

Unit 3 Assessment Page Draft a Policy Memo: Individual Liberty, Public Safety, and Immigration

Follow the instructions to draft a 1 to 2-page memo based on the given prompts. Once you have finished the assignment, grade yourself according to the grading rubric that follows the instructions.

4.1: Income Equality Page Financing Government

Read this chapter which examines different ways to structure modern tax systems. Pay attention to the difference between those who are most affected by progressive, proportional and regressive taxes. Is it fair for policy makers to impose the same amount of taxes on wealthy individuals, as those who struggle or cannot afford to pay the amount due?

Page Income Inequality

Read this chapter which explores the issue of income inequality, a facet of live that helps shape the world of individual citizens who live in a given society. When arguing about the justice or injustice of specific tax schemes, policy makers often point to inequality as a reason to tax some earners more and others less.

4.2: Equal Employment Opportunity Page Employment Discrimination

Read this chapter which discusses how employment discrimination can negatively impact specific groups at the macro level. It is important to understand these impacts to contextualize the way discrimination harms individuals and entire communities.

Page The Americans with Disabilities Act

Read this article which examines the origins and history of the foundational law for anti-discrimination of the disabled in the United States. Reading this will help you understand how far this movement has come and where it hopes to go next.

4.3: Affirmative Action Page Affirmative Action

Read this overview of the definition, history, and ethical controversies that surround the policy of Affirmative Action.

Page Cheryl J. Hopwood v. State of Texas

Read the following segments from the US Court of Appeals' decision in the case of Hopwood v. Texas: sections I, II, and III (A.) on pages 1-34. Then, skip ahead and read part VI on pages 67-70.

Page Grutter v. Bollinger

Read the syllabus of Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decision handed down in Hopwood.

Unit 4 Assessment Page Draft a Policy Memo: Income Equality, Equal Employment, and Affirmative Action

Follow the instructions to draft a 1 to 2-page memo based on the given prompts. Once you have finished the assignment, grade yourself according to the grading rubric that follows the instructions.

5.1: Social Security and Health Insurance Page Historical Background and Development of Social Security

Read this overview of the history the ethical rational policy makers used for implementing a social security safety net in the United States. As you read, consider how the rational policy makers used compares with the different ethical frameworks we discussed in Unit 2.

Page Health Disparities

Read this research report which looks at the ways that health disparities exist between groups and in different countries. Additionally, it provides some guidance on how these disparities might be improved over time. This will help students to better understand the global state of health and why it matters for all communities.

Page Federal Investments to Eliminate Racial/Ethnic Health-Care Disparities

This research report is similar to the previous one, except its analysis takes place in the American context.

5.2: Poverty in America File Dynamics of Economic Well-Being: Poverty, 2009–2011

Read this census-based analysis which provides detailed research on the harms of poverty to the contemporary American citizen. Going beyond the raw numbers, this document helps the average citizen to better understand what poverty looks like in the real world today.

Page Growing Economic Inequality and Its (Partially) Political Roots

Read this resource which explores the relationship between inequality and politics. Since politics involves decision making by voters and policy makers there are many opportunities for ethical action in this sphere.

5.3: Dilemmas Involving Illness and Infirmity Page Involuntary Treatment in Psychiatry Around the World

Read this narrative review which examines ethical issues surrounding involuntary psychiatric treatment. This is an ethically-fraught issue, because some adults may need this type of treatment, but not realize it, which makes traditional notions of patient rights difficult to implement.

Page Ethical Concerns in End-of-Life Care

Read this page, which was written for nursing professionals concerning the ethical issues surrounding end-of-life decisions.

Page The Terri Schiavo Debacle: What Have We Learned?

Read this case study which involves a terminally ill American and the legal battle that ensued between her family and the hospital where she was housed. Understanding specific examples helps to better illustrate the larger dilemmas in health care.

Unit 5 Assessment Page Draft a Policy Memo: Care for the Poor, Sick, Elderly, and Infirm

Follow the instructions to draft a 1 to 2-page memo based on the given prompts. Once you have finished the assignment, grade yourself according to the grading rubric that follows the instructions.

6.1: Marriage and Other Consensual Adult Relationships Page Family Law

Read this overview of family law in the United States. It provides defintions for several aspects of this legal discipline whose ethical ramifications we explore in more detail below.

Page Loving v. Virginia (1967)

Read Justice Warren's opinion of the Loving v. Virginia case about granting marriages based on racial classifications. This is the historic supreme court case that protected interracial marriage in the United States. It would later be cited as a precedent for the protection of same sex marriage.

Page Same-Sex Marriage and Other Moral Taboos: Cultural Acceptances, Change in American Public Opinion and the Evidence from the Opinion Polls

Read this article which discusses Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark civil rights case where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantee the fundamental right to marry to same-sex couples. The author examines how public attitudes have changed on this sensitive issue over the years.

6.2: Parent/Child Relationships Page Applying Ethical Decision Making to Child Abuse Reporting

Watch this video which discusses the ethical standards physicians should follow when reporting instances of child abuse. Notice the speaker recommends giving careful consideration to the rights of parents, the rights of minors to live a healthy and productive life, societal rights and values, and the legal rights to confidentiality.

Page The Case for Vaccinating Children in School and Day Care by Default

Read this article which examines the ethics of requiring some level of vaccines for school children, even if their parents object. The author is attempting to weigh individual liberty with the common good of public health.

6.3: Contraception and Abortion Page Griswold v. Connecticut

Read this summary of the U.S. Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, which established the legal right to contraception and would later be cited as part of the right to privacy that the court argued ensured the right to legal abortions in the United States.

7.1: Combat and Intelligence Operation Tactics Page The Ethics of War

Read this essay by Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), the English philosopher, who discusses the broad intersection of ethics and war.

Page The Study of Torture: Why It Persists, Why Perceptions of It are Malleable, and Why It is Difficult to Eradicate

Read this research study which looks at the practice of torture in the context of war and examines why leaders continue to employ it, even after most democratic countries have rendered it illegal.

7.2: Ethics and Foreign Relations Page The U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

Read this research study which examines how the United Nations attempted to eliminate discrimination against women worldwide with this proposed treaty.

Page Ethics and Good Leadership in Foreign Policy

Watch this video in which Joseph Nye, a political science professor at Harvard University, examines the role of specific individuals in developing more or less just policies in the international arena.

7.3: Foreign Trade and Economic Development Page Ethical Challenges in the Global Environment

Read this text which explores the difficulties of ensuring fair treatment for all parties in the economic sphere.

Page The Role of International Conventions and Covenants in Achieving Economic and Environmental Justice

Read this document which examines the role multilateral conferences play in shaping the behavior of states in the international trade sphere.

7.4: Military Intervention Page Humanitarian Intervention

Watch this video which examines the pros and cons of humanitarian military intervention by one country’s forces into another country’s territory.

Unit 7 Assessment Page Write a Policy Memo: National Security and Foreign Relations

Follow the instructions to draft a 1 to 2-page memo based on the given prompts. Once you have finished the assignment, grade yourself according to the grading rubric that follows the instructions.

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