Spring 2018 - PHIL 421W D100

Advanced Topics in Ethical Theory (4)

Ownership:Self and World

Class Number: 12333

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    We 1:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    AQ 5025, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    two 300 level PHIL courses; it is strongly recommended that students have taken some prior course in moral theory.



A highly focused, advanced examination of a selection of topics in normative or meta-ethics. May be repeated for credit. Writing.


Selected Topics: Ownership: Self and World 

[Note: this course is to be taught concurrently with PHIL 822.]

This is a senior undergraduate and graduate level course in normative ethics. It examines the moral justification for rights of ownership. We focus primarily on a person’s right over intra-personal resources including: their body and its organs, as well as their talents and the benefits that flow from their use. These are commonly referred to as rights of self-ownership.

Why are rights of self-ownership a concept of philosophical interest? There is a long tradition, associated with Locke, according to which people have exclusive rights over all the resources located inside their skin. This is the starting point for many political libertarian arguments claiming that people have no moral duty to use their talents for the good of others, and every right to keep the market returns on their talents. Rights of self-ownership are also the starting point for arguments on issues that include: the right to abortion, the requirement for consent to sex, the right to retain inessential body parts (e.g. a spare kidney), as well as opposition to all forms of paternalism. These issues, where appeals to rights of self-ownership often figure prominently (if not always explicitly), are often analyzed in isolation. In this course, our approach is more holistic. We begin by examining several attempts to provide a unified account of the moral justification for rights of self-ownership. We proceed to cover some of the issues where philosophers have put those rights to work. Your instructor believes that this holistic approach is the best way to grapple with the very idea that a person owns him or herself.

Students are expected to contribute to class discussion, and read 2-3 papers each week. They will need to synthesize these readings to complete their final research paper.


Important note: Students who have taken PHIL 421W in Spring 2017 may not take this course for further credit. 

This course may be applied towards the Writing Requirement (and the upper division Writing Requirement for Philosophy Majors).

The general aim of the course is for students to learn how to:

  • Identify a thesis and its supporting arguments in philosophical materials and other relevant sources 
  • Engage with those arguments in respectful discussion with peers 
  • Construct written arguments
  • Conduct independent research
  • Engage with the moral foundations of the law and policy using philosophical arguments and methods 

The course is excellent preparation for: graduate school in philosophy, public policy degrees, law school, or business school, or for anyone intending to participate in public debates on domestic and foreign policy.


  • Three short assignments (from a total of four, max 1 per week, due prior to class; the first due no later than week 4 and the last due no later than week 12, 600 words max) 15%
  • One short research paper (1200 words, due at Lecture Week 8, which can be a polished and shortened draft of your final paper) 25%
  • One longer research paper (4000 words, due at Lecture Week 13) 50%
  • Participation (comprising both attendance and contribution to class discussion or office hour discussion) 10%


No Nonsense Paper Policy: In the interest of preserving a level playing field students submitting late papers without prior arrangement or a doctor's note will be penalized. Students caught plagiarizing or otherwise cheating will normally be recommended for suspension from the university.



All materials will be available from the Library. There is no course reader or text.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://students.sfu.ca/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html