Philosophy 108: Moral and Social Problems

Spring 2017




Course Description

In this course, we will investigate six social and moral problems that are of pressing contemporary relevance:

  1. 1.The College Student Debt Crisis and the Crisis at UMB

  1. 2.Apple, Foxconn, and Chinese Workers

  1. 3.Fast Food, Retail, and the Minimum Wage

  2. 4.The Relation Between Religion and Politics (including controversies over gay marriage, capital punishment, and Darwinian evolution vs. creationism)

  3. 5.The Expansion of Suveillance

  4. 6.One Child Policy in China

We will consider each of these problems under the guidance of a major philosopher:

  1. 1.Marx

        Student Debt Crisis and  and the Crisis at UMB
        Apple, Foxconn, and Chinese Workers

         Fast Food, Retail, and the Minimum Wage

  1. 2.Spinoza 

        Gay Marriage

        Capital Punishment

        Evolution vs. Creationism

  1. 3.Foucault

        Expansion of Surveillance

        One Child Policy in China

None of these philosophers lived in the 21st Century. Foucault died in the 20th Century, Marx in the 19th, and Spinoza in the 17th. Nevertheless, these  three figures developed powerful systems of thought, systems that are crucial to understanding our current situation, provided that we are able to interpret them with both imagination and fidelity to the philosophers’ work. That is what we will try to do in this course.


Instructor Information

Gary Zabel, Ph.D.

Department of Philosophy, UMB

Office: Wheatley 5/040

Office Hours: Mon 5:30 PM - 6:30 PM and by appointment




1. Each week students will come to class, keep up with the readings, and participate in discussions.

2. Each student will prepare and give one class presentation on the readings as part of a three-person panel.

3. Students will write a midterm essay (approximately 6 typed, double-spaced pages) based on the lectures, discussions, and readings.

4. Students will produce a final paper (10 to 15 double-spaced pages) developing a philosophical analysis of one of the issues we discuss in the course.


The course requirements have the following weight in determining the final grade for the course:

Attendance, presentations, and participation in discussions = 30%

Midterm exam = 30%

Final paper = 40%

Plagiarism Policy

Plagiarism is the presentation of someone else’s work as your own. It is possible to buy papers from other students or from internet sites, to copy passages or entire papers verbatim from the internet or other sources, or to paraphrase external sources at length without attributing them to their real author or authors through textual citations. Any of these offenses will result in a grade of F for this course. You are welcome to work on your final paper with another student or students in the course, provided you clear this with me first; in other words, you are allowed to hand in a single paper that is the combined effort of the students involved. Plagiarism is an attempt at receiving a positive grade through an act of deception, and that is why a failuring grade in the course is an appropriate penalty. On the other hand, open and honest collaborative work with others can be a valuable  learing experience. So, zero tolerance for plagiaristic deception, and encouragement of honest collective effort.