Philosophy 320 Contemporary Moral Issues

Philosophy 320 Contemporary Moral Issues

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Philosophy 320, Contemporary Moral Issues

Please answer either the questions about bioethics OR the questions about distributive justice. (Don’t answer both sets of questions!)

Use this Word document and type your answers into it. Please leave the questions in your answer, and leave them in bold, just as they are. Please don’t change the order of the questions or their parts. Your total should be at least 5-6 pages typed, double-spaced, but can be longer.

The amount of blank space under each question is merely a suggestion; if you need more space for your answer, feel free to use it.


This is adapted from a real case, with a few facts changed here and there.

Ms. Wang is a 21-year-old hospital patient. She is permanently unconscious due to a stroke, HIV-positive, and 18 weeks pregnant. (The fetus cannot survive outside the womb until at least 22 weeks, and 25 weeks to be safe.) There is an over 80% chance that this fetus is also HIV-positive and will be severely and chronically ill, putting a heavy financial burden on her husband and surviving son.


1. What is a person (as defined in this class)? (5 points)

2. What is full moral standing, and what is partial moral standing? (5 points)

3. What is the quality of life view? (5 points)

4. What is the sanctity of life view? (5 points)
5. What is the problem of the subject? (5 points)

6. What is the asymmetry problem? (5 points)

7. What is the deprivation solution to the two problems about the harm of death? (5 points)

8. What is the nonidentity problem? (5 points)


9. What is the moral standing of Ms. Wang? (10 points)

10. What is the moral standing of this fetus at its current stage of development? (10 points)

11. According to Thomson’s view on the morality of abortion, is it morally permissible to abort this fetus? Why? (10 points)

12. According to Marquis’ view on the morality of abortion, is it morally permissible to abort this fetus? Why? (10 points)

13. Is death bad for this fetus at its current stage of development? (In other words, would death be bad for this fetus if it were aborted right now?) (10 points)

14. If this fetus is not aborted, it will probably be HIV-positive, chronically and seriously ill, and grow up without a mother (assume the father does not remarry). Is it wrong to create that child? Why/why not? (10 points)


The distribution of wealth and income in the United States has grown increasingly unequal over the last forty years. This may soon get worse, for engineers and programmers are now developing new forms of automation, including robots and artificial intelligence, which will replace human labor and eliminate some jobs. You can already find devices on the table in some restaurants that take the place of a server to come get your order; there are still servers, but fewer of them, for part of their job has been automated. Travel agencies have largely disappeared; their work is now handled mostly by websites run primarily by computer. Self-driving cars and trucks threaten to throw huge numbers of taxi drivers and truck drivers out of work. Factories require fewer workers than ever before, and this trend is continuing. To sum things up, a new report from Oxford University concludes that nearly half of all jobs in America may disappear due to automation in the next 20 years (though the authors suggest that some of those people may find new work elsewhere in the economy—like a former factory worker who gets a job at Walmart.)

In the past, new industries arrived to employ people who lost their jobs due to mechanization. Factories, for example, employed people who no longer worked on farms or made craft goods by hand. However, some experts believe we might not be so lucky this time, for the new industries that are coming along use relatively few workers. (For example, Google has roughly 74,000 workers and dominates the web browser market, while General Motors, which shares the auto market with several other huge companies, has 180,000 workers.)

For purposes of this part of the exam, we’re going to imagine that, 20 years from now, 3 out of 10 working Americans are permanently unemployed due to automation. That may or may not happen, but for the sake of discussion let’s imagine a world where it does.

Many people have proposed to deal with such a situation by giving people a “universal basic income.” Here is one common version of this idea: you get $1700 a month if you have no income or assets, and progressively less the more you make, with nothing at all for people making more than $30,000. (In other words, if you made $20,000 a year, you would get something in addition to that, but less than $1700 a month.) Imagine that this would be funded from the profits of businesses who have automated and laid off workers (so that part of what they used to pay workers is now paid in taxes to fund the basic income payments).

For purposes of your discussion, assume that we are considering instituting a universal basic income just like the one described above, paying for it in the way described above, and that this will go to the 3 out of 10 Americans who are permanently unemployed due to automation.

15. Discuss this issue using the Utilitarian theory of distributive justice. (33 points)

16. Discuss this issue using Nozick’s version of the Libertarian theory of distributive justice.(33 points)

17. Discuss this issue using Rawls’ version of the Egalitarian theory of distributive justice. (34 points)

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