HUM 400: Ethics, Spring 2022

A tale from The Decameron, by John William Waterhouse

Why did I post this painting? Read about how the wealthy passed the time during the Black Death pandemic, in early 14th century Italy. (Link)


Link to Sign-Up Sheet for Student-Led Discussion Days (Groups of 3)

Open Access Textbook: Introduction to Philosophy: Ethics 

created by Frank Aragbonfoh Abumere, Douglas Giles, Ya-Yun (Sherry) Kao, Michael Klenk, Joseph Kranak, Kathryn MacKay, George Matthews, Jeffrey Morgan, and Paul Rezkalla; it is edited by George Matthews and Christina Hendricks, and produced with support from the Rebus Community. The original is freely available under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license at

Online Textbook (requires login): Ethical Issues in Six Religious Traditions, by Peggy Morgan and Clive Lawton, Edinburgh University Press, 2007

Online Textbook via CSUMA Library (requires login): Striking a Balance: A Primer in Traditional Asian Values, by Michael C. Brannigan, Lexington Books, 2010

Online Textbook via CSUMA Library (requires login): Politics: Made Simple, by J.R. Thackrah, Heinemann, 1987

Online Textbook via CSUMA Library: Ethics & Capitalism, by John Douglas Bishop, University of Toronto, 2000

Online Textbook via CSUMA Library: Global Ethics: An Introduction, by Heather Widdows, Acumen, 2011

Glossary of Terms Used in This Course

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Course Home

  • Wednesday, January 19: Dilemma Day!

    “Congratulations!” To see this and many more trolley problem memes, go here.

    Homework for Friday:

    Read Chapter 1 of Introduction to Philosophy: Ethics (ItPE). “Aren’t Right & Wrong Just Matters of Opinion?  On Moral Relativism and Subjectivism.” Take Quiz 2 

    What’s an ethical dilemma and what are its characteristics?

    Today, we’ll look at one of the most famous and studied ethical dilemma: “The Trolley Problem”:

    There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two (and only two) options:

    1. Do nothing, in which case the trolley will kill the five people on the main track.
    2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

    What is the right thing to do?

    Take a poll.

    What is/are the ethical situation(s)? Why is this a dilemma?

    What stands to be gained or lost in the situation presented? And who are the potential “winners” and “losers”–aka “stakeholders”?

    What if:

    1. The one person on the tracks is your child?
    2. There’s no switch, but you can push a car onto the tracks with a lone driver inside?
  • Friday, January 14: Discussion about Discussions

    Homework: Read Chapter 1 of Introduction to Philosophy: Ethics (ItPE). “Aren’t Right & Wrong Just Matters of Opinion?  On Moral Relativism and Subjectivism.” Take Quiz 2  before class on Thursday

    Review Quiz #1

    Semester topic pick–vote here

    The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University has a handy infographic for “Ethical Decision Making,” and today we looked at just the first two steps: first, we must be able to recognize the ethical issue(s) in any situation. We should ask ourselves two questions: What stands to be gained or lost in the situation presented? And who, according to the author, are the potential “winners” and “losers”–aka “stakeholders”? The next step is to gather and verify as much evidence as we can to support claims from the different viewpoints involved (a good piece of writing always will provide sources). Only then can we most effectively consider what actions and outcomes might be right or wrong, and for whom.

    Let’s talk about a close reading strategy for our discussion days:

    1. Read once for basic comprehension. Write a one-paragraph summary on the back of the paper. I’ll check in when you’re done.
    2. Number the paragraphs for easy reference during discussion.
    3. Read it again, marking the text as you go: underline key words/ideas, mark things you do or don’t understand, anything that seems to have an ethical or moral dimension.
    4. Let’s discuss. I have questions!

    Today’s article: “Why is Ca. Gov. Newsom Facing Recall? Frustration with Covid Orders Led to Election,” Associated Press, 9/13/21

    My Questions:

    1. Is the recall process ethical in a democracy? If the majority of voters approve a law that allows minority groups the opportunity to replace a majority-elected politician, is that ok? Should election laws be tweaked to prevent this Machiavellian loophole from being exploited?
    2. Should elites (the powerful, rich, super-smart, etc.) be allowed to violate rules that the rest of us have to follow?
    3. (Is it worse when elites violate rules that they themselves made up?)
    4. Was Newsom’s forcing people to lock down in the spring of 2020 an abuse of power, or an appropriate use of it?

  • Wednesday, January 12: Choosing a Topic for the Semester

    Homework: none

    Recordings of our Zoom classes are being stored on BrightSpace (for privacy), on the Calendar page, for those who are absent.

    Is your news biased? Here are two well-known media bias charts, which I’ll employ in presenting the most “centric” of articles for our discussions. Some of you may ask, “But couldn’t these interpretations of bias be biased themselves?” Of course they could! Bias is natural, and in small doses it doesn’t significally distort the evidence presented. It’s like dressing on a salad: it shouldn’t be the main ingredient of what you’re reading, but can add a lot of flavor to the experience.
    (Our library has a handy page about avoiding bias when you are reading or conducting research. It’s actually a companion guide for EGL 220: Critical Thinking, but it’s useful for this course, too. Thanks, Margot!)

    Did you know that you have a free educational subscription to the New York Times? Let’s get you set up with that.

    Google News is also good.

    Here are some topics from past classes: Drones, The Melting Arctic, E-Cigarettes, The Deepwater Horizon Disaster, Concussions in the NFL, Covid.

    Let’s crowdsource a topic here.

                                        • Monday, January 10: Welcome!

                                          Homework: Please review the syllabus and this website and take Quiz 1 on its contents by the start of class on Friday (1/14).

                                          I’m Dr. Chisholm (pronounced CHIZZ-um). You can call me “Dr. C.” Here’s a short video in which I introduce myself:

                                          We’ve had the rampant virus/no known vaccination/totally online semester. We’ve had the delta/vax/booster/in-person semester. Now we’re about to experience the omicron/vax/booster/everyone gets sick b/c it’s so darn contagious/start online and finish in-person semester. Can we please catch a break?

                                          We will be holding live, synchronous class via Zoom until February 1 (recorded and posted on BrightSpace for those who get sick). After Feb. 1, we’ll go back into the classroom for real face-to-face class!

                                          Regardless of the course modality, won’t be spending our time together in the traditional lecture–>take notes format. Instead, we will discuss and debate articles that I’ve collected on the topic of the semester (TBD by you)–and you will read and be quizzed on the lecture material outside of class. This is called a “flipped classroom,” and the format allows us to treat our thrice weekly meetings more like a forum of sorts. Bring your coffee and get ready to engage in discourse!

                                          Please make sure to subscribe to this site so you get an reminder email every time I update (usually, once or twice a week):

                                          Important links are listed in the left margin of this page, including all major assignments and their due dates.

                                          First is a permanent link to our Zoom room, which will also be where I hold my office hours.

                                          Under these two buttons is the course syllabus, which is obviously full of important information. There is also a sign-up link for Student-Led Discussions, which I’ll talk more about in class.

                                          Under the syllabus/discussion sign-ups are links to the textbooks for this course. These are all online, open source or library e-books (read: FREE) texts. All other reading or viewing materials will be linked within each weekly module. Links to each module’s lecture/readings/assignments will be posted on this page as we move through the semester. For each reading, there will be a multiple choice quiz using Google Forms (links will be posted each week). These quizzes are open-note, and you can take them as many times as you like. Only your highest score will be counted.

                                          Under the recorded Zooms is a link to a glossary of mostly philosophical terms. I’ll be throwing these around a lot; plus, they’re pretty great words to know, in general. When these words appear on this site, I will highlight them

                                          Under the glossary is a link to the rubric I’ll use to evaluate your essay exams. I’ll talk about my expectations for these exams later.

                                          For your first assignment for the class, please review the syllabus and this website and take Quiz 1 on its contents.

                                          There’s a lot there! Don’t get left behind!

                                        “Let this grisly beginning be none other to you than is to wayfarers a rugged and steep mountain.”
                                        ― Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron

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