Course Syllabus


PHIL 2.09 (Depolarizing) Ethics 

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion.
If one gives answer before hearing, it is folly and shame.
The one who first states a case seems right, until the other comes and cross-examines.
— Proverbs 18:2, 13 and 17


Mendocino 1005, MWF 11-11:50am


Kyle Swan | Department of Philosophy | California State University, Sacramento | Mendocino Hall 3030 | 6000 J Street | Sacramento, CA 95819-6033 |  Primary contact: Canvas messaging app

Office hours

I will be available for office hours on Mondays and Wednesdays 12-2pm in Mendocino 3030

Reasonable Accommodation

If your circumstances require accommodation or assistance in meeting the expectations of this course, please let me know as soon as possible. You may need to provide documentation to the University office of SSWD (in accordance with the University policy outlined here:

Course Description

From the catalogue: Examination of the concepts of morality, obligation, human rights and the good life. Competing theories about the foundations of morality will be investigated.

More! Depolarizing ethics


Debates about morality and issues concerning justice and public policy are increasingly polarized. A recent survey showed that many prefer an unclean roommate to one with whom they have substantial political disagreements. In this class, we will attempt to depolarize ethical issues. The goals are to encourage an understanding that those with whom we disagree are not (usually) simply stupid or evil, and to encourage more civil discourse about social issues.

Objectives and outcomes

You will learn to think about morally and politically controversial issues and improve your ability to think and write clearly, analytically, and critically about difficult and emotional issues, including some that involve dearly held values. You will be encouraged to develop the skills and virtues of open and intellectually honest inquiry. These include the charitable interpretation of others’ views; clarity and rigor in formulating, critically evaluating, and expressing your own beliefs (some about values you hold dear) as well as those of others; tolerance of complexity; and the willingness to suspend judgment until all sides of an issue have been examined. In short, you will learn about different views regarding difficult moral and political issues and you will learn to think about and discuss such issues civilly, respectfully, and most of all, rationally (that is, with reason and logic) —even when these issues concern dearly held values. 


There is no text to purchase. All required readings are pieces available as links or .pdf documents in Canvas. See the Modules section.

Class procedures and conduct

You must come to class each scheduled meeting prepared to discuss the assigned readings in an intelligent and informed way. This requires you to have read and thought about all materials assigned for that meeting. Moreover, you should expect to be required at each scheduled class meeting to put these preparations on display as an active participant in the lectures, discussions, assessments, and other classroom activities. In addition, you should always feel free to raise questions or make comments about the material or topic being considered. Finally, in the interest of civil discourse, please avoid disrupting class meetings and other ways of being rude. This means that you shouldn’t use electronic devices, carry on private conversations with people around you, sleep, read, arrive late or leave early.

More:  This class (and, frankly, a University) doesn't work without honest and unimpaired dialogue that is respectful (and hopefully even friendly) towards your conversation partners. But note that being respectful towards them does not require you to agree with, or perhaps even respect, views they hold. You should not pretend to think I am (or anyone else you respect, is) right when you don’t; I will extend you the same courtesy. To do otherwise, I think, is to fail to show respect. If you don’t indicate your disagreement with a view you think is wrong, it would seem that you think your interlocutor is not worth correcting — i.e., that you do not respect her. Because I come to the class assuming you are worthy of respect, I may indicate when I think something you say is questionable, or leaves you committed to something I reject, or even that you are simply wrong. I expect you to extend to me and the class the same courtesy. It is my hope that this will allow for a maximally tolerant, open, and honest, discussion.


Please do not cheat. If you do then at a minimum you will be marked with a zero on the assignment. Multiple and/or flagrant violations will lead to me assigning a failing grade for the course and initiating disciplinary action through the Office of Student Affairs. Familiarize yourselves with the University’s Academic Honesty Policies and Procedures document (here:

Your final grade is determined by how many total points you earn, with these grade thresholds: 93 points=A, 90 points=A-, 87 points=B+, 83 points=B, 80 points=B-, 77 points=C+, 73 points=C, 70 points=C-, 67 points=D+, 63 points=D, 60 points=D-, and F = all scores less than 60 points.

There are these ways of earning points:

1. Be an active and thoughtful participant in class meetings. (about 30 possible points)

Someone who earns all these points would:

  • Demonstrate understanding of the assigned readings;
  • Offer original and thoughtful ideas and perspectives;
  • Pose good questions; and
  • Take stands and defend them with references to readings and discussions.

I will assess this in a variety of ways in class throughout the semester. I may ask for a summary and/or response related to the assigned reading or some other activity or “thought question” that requires you to engage with the course material. These aren’t always announced ahead of time. You’re either in class to earn the points, or you aren’t.

2. Answer questions on a scheduled midterm exam based primarily on readings and classroom lectures/discussions in modules 1-4. (25 possible points)

Exam is TBA, but after module 4.

3. Submit Issue paper assignment. (15 possible points).

I will provide you with an essay generated by ChatGPT analyzing one of our targeted ethical issues that I would rate in the "D" to "C-" range. Your assignment is to submit an improved version of it. You may (but don't have to) use a text-bot (like ChatGPT) to generate the improved analysis.

An analysis of a philosophical issue should: a) introduce the issue and clearly state a direct, forceful thesis; b) summarize the argument that your thesis takes up in such a way that provides the necessary context for your reader to understand the debate; c) present the main argument for your thesis being clear about how your argument supports your thesis and interacts with the position summarized in (b) and clearly addresses likely ways someone who disagrees with you might object; and d) conclude, summarizing what you accomplished in the paper. These guides will be helpful: and

Due the week following the one we cover the selected issue.

4. Answer questions on a scheduled final exam based primarily on readings and classroom lectures/discussions in modules 5-11. (35 possible points)

Exam is TBA, according to the University final exam schedule.



Course Summary:

Date Details Due