Science, Law and Human Values

Fall 2008




Sample schedule with topics

Midterm questions

course Objectives

The purpose of this class is to study how science, law, and human values interact. Whether conducting biomedical research or developing technology applications, scientists cannot ignore the impact that new research and new products have on society. The course is meant to provide students with a conceptual framework to analyze how society affects and affected by science, by focusing in particular on current policy debates in bioethics and environmental ethics.

The class course contributes to students' development of critical thinking, ethical thinks and communication skills.

Throughout the semester, you will explore a selected number of current debates in science, law, and ethics, become familiar with its factual dimension, and develop the ability to analyze such debates. For the most part, the debates will be analyzed as case studies.

A major goal of the course is to offer a practical foundation in the critical assessment of arguments that are used in the debates as well as improving your ability to make arguments in writing and orally. The substantive materials are presented in a manner which encourages critical analysis.


The course is structured around three parts:

-          Part 1 - Introduction to Moral Philosophy and Ethical Thinking: This part introduces you to the basic concepts of moral philosophy, to the leading ethical theories, and to the relationship between law and morality.  The primary text is philosophical, but we will also use literary examples, films, newspapers and magazines as the basis for our discussions.

-          Part 2 - Bioethics: This part focuses on how law and ethics inform and shape a number of areas of science that are the subject of current debates in the policy arena, such as research ethics with human subjects; life, cloning and stem cells; genetic databases and genetic engineering; and the use of animals in scientific research.

-          Part 3 - Environmental Ethics: This part focuses on current policy discussion on environmental issues such as the protection of flora and fauna; sustainable development; climate change; and genetically modified crops.


Students will be asked to work in small groups (4 students) throughout the semester to analyze two case studies one in bioethics and one environmental ethics.

Each small group will:

-          discuss the legal and ethical issues raised in a current debate,

-          answer specific questions about each case

-          present and lead a class discussion on the case, and

-          act as a peer reviewer of a different group.

Each student will write:

-          a commentary paper (to be submitted before the case is discussed in class),

-          a research paper incorporating class discussion (to be submitted at the end of the semester).

In addition there will be a midterm, close book test at the end of Part 1.

Time Expectation

This is a three-hour course. The expectation is 9 hours of preparation outside class each week.

Attendance Policies

Class preparedness and participation are essential to success in this course. While there is no requirement to attend particular class, attendance is certainly an important course component. Students are expected to attend each class. There is no laptop policy.

Grading Policies

The student's final grade will be based upon written work and class participation as follows:

-          Class Participation and presentation: 15%

-          Commentary paper: 15%

-          Research paper: 40%

-          Midterm: 30%

Course Materials




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