Fall 2021 - PHIL 120W D900

Moral and Legal Problems (3)

Class Number: 7523

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 8 – Dec 7, 2021: Fri, 2:30–5:20 p.m.

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Dec 13, 2021
    Mon, 7:00–10:00 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 is an introductory course in ethical theory; ethical reasoning; and moral problems. This course involves exposing students to some of the main ethical theories and moral issues. We will consider several ethical theories, including utilitarianism and deontology. We will also apply these theories and associated relevant moral concepts that they generate, to a host of ethical problems. This allows us to take the measure of the character and utility of these theories (and to see the limits of these theories!). But also students will get an opportunity to appreciate the moral challenges we face as a society and as human race. These include familiar issues as the morality of employment equity; the morality of punishment; the moral issues concerning our exploitation of the natural environment (in the form of climate change) and the moral issues concerning our treatment of non human animals. We will also discuss not so familiar moral issues in immigration (is Canada morally required to open its borders or required to keep those who reside without authorization?) and indigenous/settler relations. That is, the moral issues arising from the residence and citizenship of persons seeking to co-exist with Indigenous Nations seeking to realize their moral claims to land, self-determination, and justice. 

This is a writing-intensive course. Students will have the opportunity to improve their writing abilities and to develop effective communication skills. The ability to write clearly and persuasively is a skill that will serve students well in university and beyond.


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.


  • Recognizing and explaining key concepts, articulating their meaning and placing them in their appropriate context
  • Identifying key arguments placing them in their appropriate context with respect to authorship
  • Reconstructing and critically analyzing key arguments for soundness and validity
  • Articulating the key themes found within the class in a well structured essay
  • Critically comparing various theories showing their strengths and weaknesses and critically extending arguments to novel cases and problems not found within the text

Videos: Why Study Philosophy? and Meet Our Professors!


  • First paper 15%
  • Second paper 20%
  • Midterm exam 25%
  • Final exam 30%
  • Participation (measured via attendance and contributions to discussions in lecture) 10%



  1. Simon Blackburn, Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics, Oxford Press
  2. Selected readings that will be available through the university library website or 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

New elective grade policy : P/CR/NC, pilot project for Spring/Summer/Fall 2021. List of exclusions for the new policy. Specifically for Philosophy: 

  • Students can use a P or CR to satisfy any requirement for a major, joint major, honours, or minor in Philosophy (with the exception of Honours tutorials).
  • Students can use a P or CR to satisfy any prerequisite requirement for any PHIL course.
  • Students can use a P (but not a CR) to satisfy any requirement for the Ethics Certificate, or the Philosophy and Methodology of Science Certificate.
  • Philosophy Majors and Honours students can use a P (but not a CR) to satisfy any WQB requirement.

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 2021 will involve primarily in-person instruction, with approximately 70 to 80 per cent of classes in person/on campus, with safety plans in place.  Whether your course will be in-person or through remote methods will be clearly identified in the schedule of classes.  You will also know at enrollment whether remote course components will be “live” (synchronous) or at your own pace (asynchronous).

Enrolling in a course acknowledges that you are able to attend in whatever format is required.  You should not enroll in a course that is in-person if you are not able to return to campus, and should be aware 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.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who may need class or exam accommodations, including in the context of remote learning, are advised to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112) as early as possible in order to prepare for the fall 2021 term.