PHIL-111 Ethics: Beginning/Ending Life
Spring for 2009-2010
No faculty information available
It’s a truism that we all die. And that we’ve all been born, too. In that sense, the beginnings and endings of human life, it is well known, are inescapable. But even if we assume Bob Dylan was wrong, and that it’s possible for us to be neither busy being born nor busy dying, this won’t be of much help in escaping. For it is precisely in that case that we are most likely to find ourselves in the position of creating life or watching it fade from others we care for. This class is organized around the many moral problems at the bookends of life, which, I conclude, if not constitutive of the entirety of life, are at least in close and constant contact with the rest of it.
Whether terminating a pregnancy by removing and discarding a fetus is permissible is a worthy and difficult question, but it is far from the only moral issue haunting the beginning of life. In this portion of the course, we’ll start from the very beginning and ask whether conception is itself an unjustifiable act, under certain conditions or under any conditions at all. We’ll confront the puzzles surrounding harm in a context where the imposition of harm determines the identity of those who suffer it, and thus creates none of the usual grounds for complaint, but seems problematic nonetheless. After that but before abortion, we’ll also look at the possibility of modifying and enhancing rather than excising an embryo.
Difficult as things are at the outset of life, easy conclusions are also not generally available at the other end of life. We’ll begin the course by taking up philosophical issues raised by death. Problems here range from the definition of death, the permissibility of assisted suicide, euthanasia, viability of advance directives in the case of the severely demented, and questions of resource allocation.
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