Spring 2020 - PHIL 120W D100

Moral and Legal Problems (3)

Class Number: 7748

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 6 – Apr 9, 2020: Tue, Thu, 9:30–10:20 a.m.

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Apr 16, 2020
    Thu, 3:30–6:30 p.m.



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 offers an introduction to contemporary moral problems. Questions to be addressed include:

  • Is abortion morally permissible?
  • Is morality objective or relative?
  • Is it wrong to eat meat?
  • Is it ever morally permissible to sacrifice the lives of a few for the sake of the many?
  • Do we have any obligation to future generations?
  • How many people should there be?
For some of these questions, the focus will be on discussing and developing reasoned positions. For others, the focus will be more on exploring some of the philosophical puzzles that undermine seemingly obvious answers.


By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Identify and reconstruct arguments in favour and against controversial views in moral philosophy
  • Come to reasoned positions on some of these issues
  • Express their views and positions, both orally and in writing
  • Engage in respectful philosophical debates with their peers

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

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.


  • 2 short papers with revisions (750 words each) 15% each 30%
  • Final paper with no revision (1500 words) 30%
  • Final exam (multiple choice and short answers) - see note below 30%
  • Participation (in lecture via Socrative, and in tutorial) 10%


NOTE: Due to Covid-19 pandemic, final exam is switched to take-home exam (short answer questions only, and no multiple choice)

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.



Course readings will be made available 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