Fall 2020 - PHIL 120W D100

Moral and Legal Problems (3)

Class Number: 3995

Delivery Method: Remote


  • Course Times + Location:


  • Exam Times + Location:

    Dec 18, 2020
    3:30 PM – 6:30 PM



A critical examination of a range of moral and legal issues we confront in our dealings with the state and our fellow human beings, such as: Is it wrong to break the law? Should pornography and recreational drugs be illegal? Do animals have rights? Is there a duty to admit immigrants? Are there duties to the world's poor? Are indigenous peoples owed reparations? Students with credit for PHIL 120 may not take this course for further credit. Writing/Breadth-Humanities.


This course provides an introduction to moral philosophy through an examination of various moral, legal, and political problems and puzzles. We will be particularly interested in examining the kinds of moral principles that ought to guide public policy and decision-making. Topics may include:

  • Is it ever permissible to sacrifice the good of the few for the sake of the many?
  • How ought we weigh the value of a human life?
  • Under what circumstances, if ever, it is permissible to infringe on certain rights and liberties, such as the right to privacy?
  • Is there a moral right to abortion?
  • Is there a moral duty to alleviate the suffering of distant people?
  • Can we be blamed for the unintended consequences of our actions, even when those consequences are outside of our control?

See a course presentation on YouTube: PHIL 120W Fall 2020


PHIL 120W may be applied towards the Certificate in Liberal Arts, the Writing Requirement, and the Breadth-Humanities Requirement.

The aim of this course is for students to be able to:

  • Identify an author’s main thesis and the supporting argument for that thesis;
  • Engage with those arguments in a critical and respectful manner, both in writing and in discussion with peers;
  • Construct arguments in support one’s own view;
  • Appreciate and reflect on the moral foundations of the law.

This course is excellent preparation for law school, public policy degrees, business school, or for anyone intending to participate in public policy debates.

The course is strongly recommended for students intending to pursue a Philosophy Major or Minor (especially with the Law and Philosophy concentration), or the Certificate in Ethics.


  • Tutorial participation 10%
  • Levels system (scaffolded series of short assignments) 50%
  • Final project 20%
  • Final Exam 20%


Lecture delivery: remote, asynchronous. The “lecture” will consist primarily of a series of short videos that will be posted weekly and available online. 
Tutorial delivery: remote, synchronous.  Online presence is required during scheduled tutorial time (via Zoom).   

I will also host weekly discussion sessions Tuesdays 12:30-2:20 which are intended to provide an opportunity for “live” Question-and-Answer regarding the content of the videos. Each week, students will be invited to submit questions via online polls and have an opportunity to “vote-up” questions they are particularly interested in. I will also use these meetings to discuss the assignments.



Written work for this course will be submitted via Turnitin, a third party service licensed for use by SFU. Turnitin is used for originality checking to help detect plagiarism. Students will be required to create an account with Turnitin, and to submit their work via that account, on the terms stipulated in the agreement between the student and Turnitin. This agreement includes the retention of your submitted work as part of the Turnitin database. Any student with a concern about using the Turnitin service may opt to use an anonymous identity in their interactions with Turnitin. Students who do not intend to use Turnitin in the standard manner must notify the instructor at least two weeks in advance of any submission deadline. In particular, it is the responsibility of any student using the anonymous option (i.e. false name and temporary e-mail address created for the purpose) to inform the instructor such that the instructor can match up the anonymous identity with the student.



Remote learning for this course requires a computer (or tablet with sufficient computing power and screen size) and reliable high-speed internet access. Please do not try to take the entire course on a phone. Anyone who does not have access to these should inform their instructor and contact the IT desk to see if a loaner computer can be arranged; there is one computer lab on campus with limited access. A microphone is highly recommended for tutorial participation, though it will be possible to participate by typing in the comment section. A webcam (either internal or external) is also recommended for tutorial participation in order to create a more “connected” environment, but no one will be required to use a camera.

Both the weekly Q&A sessions and tutorials will take place over Zoom. Zoom is free to use, with or without an account. You should have this downloaded and ready to use by the start of the semester.


Articles will be posted on Canvas.

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 philmgr@sfu.ca   More details on our website: SFU Philosophy

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/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


Teaching at SFU in fall 2020 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).