Fall 2023 - PHIL 120W D900

Moral and Legal Problems (3)

Class Number: 7660

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 6 – Dec 5, 2023: Wed, 2:30–5:20 p.m.

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Dec 8, 2023
    Fri, 12:00–3:00 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 incarceration; the moral issues concerning our exploitation of the natural environment (in the form of climate change) and the morality of sex work. 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.


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

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 canvas


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

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

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website 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


Students with a faith background who may need accommodations during the semester are encouraged to assess their needs as soon as possible and review the Multifaith religious accommodations website. The page outlines ways they begin working toward an accommodation and ensure solutions can be reached in a timely fashion.