Summer 2019 - PHIL 421W E100

Advanced Topics in Ethical Theory (4)


Class Number: 3265

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu, Th 4:30 PM – 6:20 PM
    WMC 3251, 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: Rights

[Note: this course is to be taught concurrently with PHIL 825.]  

This course will focus on contemporary philosophical work on rights.  Questions discussed will include:  

  • What are rights?
  • What might give rights their distinctive moral force, and why have some authored doubted that this is possible?
  • Are there moral rights, independent of our political structures, or do we only have the rights that we develop via our political institutions?
  • What is the relationship between negative rights (rights that others refrain from treating you in particular ways – e.g., a right not to be murdered) and positive rights (rights to be provided with something – e.g., a right to housing)?  Does one type of right take priority?
  • When someone has a right, does this mean that someone else has a corresponding duty to ensure that right is fulfilled?  Can someone have a right if it’s unclear who has a duty to ensure the right is fulfilled (as with some positive rights)?
  • What sets human rights apart from other types of rights?
  • Can we have human rights that are universal, without engaging in cultural imperialism?  


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

The course is excellent preparation for: graduate school in philosophy, public policy degrees, law school, business school. 


  • Short Reading Response Assignments and Quality of Participation 15%
  • Presentation 15%
  • Final paper, including a paper proposal and a first draft (3,000-5,000 words) 70%



All readings will be available on the course website.

Department Undergraduate Notes:

Thinking of a Philosophy Major or Minor? The Concentration in Law and Philosophy? The Certificate in Ethics? The Philosophy and Methodology of Science Certificate?
Contact the PHIL Advisor at   More details on our website: SFU Philosophy

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site 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.