CCHU9009 Arts and Humanities
Moral Controversies in Contemporary Society

[This course is under the thematic clusters of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’ and ‘The Quest for a Meaningful Life’ / ‘The Universe and the Question of Meaning’.]


Course Description

This course critically examines some moral controversies in contemporary society. It aims to help students develop their ability to think in intellectually sophisticated ways about difficult issues of personal and public morality. The course focuses on controversial moral topics: euthanasia, assisted suicide, abortion, organ sales and donation, human enhancement through biomedical technologies, prostitution, and the use of animals. These topics concern not only personal morality but also social or public morality. Students will be asked to discuss not only whether the above practices are moral or immoral, but also whether they should be prohibited, regulated, recognized, or supported by law. It is hoped that students will be better equipped to evaluate opposing arguments about the proper use of law in regulating personal conduct and social interaction. In the course of discussing these topics, students will be introduced to major moral approaches, such as consequentialism, and deontology, as well as methods of critical thinking in moral reasoning.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Open-mindedly consider different viewpoints in moral controversies.
  2. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of different philosophical and popular arguments in the four topic areas of the course.
  3. Demonstrate understanding of the major moral philosophical approaches and techniques in moral reasoning.
  4. Formulate and critically assess personal positions/convictions.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

First semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 10
Reading / Self-study 60
Assessment: Essay writing 50
Assessment: In-class test (incl preparation) 2
Total: 146

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Tutorial participation 20
Tutorial presentation 15
Mid-term essay 25
Final essay 40
In-class assessments 10

Required Reading

  • Douglas, T. (2008). Moral Enhancement. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 25(3), 228-245.
  • Ericsson, L. (1980). Charges against Prostitution: An Attempt at a Philosophical Assessment. Ethics, 90(3), 335-66. 
  • Fabre, C. (2003). Justice and the Compulsory Taking of Live Body Parts. Utilitas, 15(2).
  • Kuhse, H., & Singer, P. (Eds.). (2015). Bioethics: An Anthology. Blackwell.
    • Harris, J. The Survival Lottery.
    • Singer, P. All Animals are Equal.
    • Tooley, M. Abortion and Infanticide.
    • Marquis, D. Why Abortion is Immoral.
  • Pence, G. (1997). Why Physicians Should Aid the Dying. In H. LaFollete (Ed.), Ethics in Practice: An Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Savulescu, J., & Kahane, G. (2009). The Moral Obligation to Create Children with the Best Chance of the Best Life. Bioethics, 23(5), 274–290. [Parts One and Two only]
  • Velleman, J, D. (1999). A Right of Self‐Termination? Ethics, 109(3), 606-628.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr D. Birks
Department of Politics and Public Administration, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 4666
Email: birks@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr D. Birks
Department of Politics and Public Administration, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 4666
Email: birks@hku.hk