PHI110: Medical Ethics

Currently taught by Dr. Ken Casey

This is an introductory course in philosophical ethics; it will focus on practical issues faced in the medical profession. My father was a physician, my mother was a nurse, and I have worked in several medical contexts as a chaplain. I find the field to be a fascinating one; I hope you will too.  As I see it, the course is immensely practical because ethics is about how we live our lives.  Sometimes students complain that philosophy is very abstract, but ethics is by its nature very concrete and down to earth because it is about how we decide and act.  You can refuse to decide about your view of reality, but it is not possible to refuse to decide how to live it.  To be sure, we will study general theories about the nature of right action; this will be general and “abstract;” but this theoretical aspect will always need to be balanced with the practical aspect. Thus, we will attempt to forge a bridge from broad general principles to the specifics of a situation.

Some of the issues we cover in this class are controversial and will probably generate controversy in the classroom.  This is expected and good, so long as we also learn to argue and disagree in a civil and humane fashion.  On the whole, my experience with disagreements has been positive; however, in all my more than twenty years, I have had only one discussion that could be described as a full-blown culture war; however, even in that class, we patched things up.  Part of the course discussion will be about process and ask, “how do we respectfully disagree with others?”  Since a primary part of ethics is respecting other people, it is no good to win an argument if we do so unethically and in a way that berates others.  I hope that you will be open to challenges to your beliefs and will engage with each other as we explore the reasons behind our ethical beliefs.  Who knows? We may find some common ground. 

Some people approach ethics with the idea that the disagreements that it deals with are irresolvable.  Perhaps some are; however, I don’t think that we are entitled to maintain that they are until we have spent at least a year or two trying to work them out.  So, for the duration of the semester, I hope that together we can try to hammer out a responsible effort in thinking through some difficulties.

Students will have tasks broken into multiple sections



Alasdair MacIntyre, Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need Virtues. Open Court (May 13, 1999)

ISBN-10: 0812693973

ISBN-13: 978-0812693973


Lewis Vaughn, Bioethics, Issues and Cases. Oxford University Press (2020)

ISBN-10: 0190903260

ISBN-13: 978-0190903268