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PHIL 1145: Technology and Human Values 01

Professor: Benjamin Yelle Email:
Office Class
Monday 3pm-5pm 9:50-11:30
Hours: Time:
Holmes Hall 364 Forsyth Building 151

Required Texts:

Required readings are posted on Blackboard

Course Description:
Emerging technologies offers us a host of opportunities which, only a few
years ago, sounded like science fiction. Soon science might offer us the
promise of healthier, smarter, and more athletic children, the ability to
enhance ourselves (biologically and technologically), and the opportunity to
create machines which are beginning to have the ability to harness more
processing power than our brains. While these technologies might offer us
the promise of a better life, they both force us to consider some deep ethical
questions and pose new serious challenges. While some of these ethical
questions and challenges are new (the ancient Greeks didnt exactly have
hyper-realistic violent video games), others relate to ethical debates which
we have been having for a long time, e.g. what is natural and human
nature. Ultimately then, this course considers several important emerging
technologies and the concerns they raise. Our task is to develop an
understanding of these concerns and develop the intellectual and
philosophical tools needed to begin answering them.

Learning Objectives and Course Goals

This course has two main learning goals. First, students will become
familiar with the ethical concerns associated with emerging technologies
and what some trained professionals and experts have had to say about
these issues. Second, students will develop certain philosophical skills
general purpose tools really that they can use to think through these
issues and many others. Put broadly, these are critical thinking skills
which you will apply to specific philosophical issues that arise when
considering new and emerging technologies. Importantly, however, this

course doesnt assume that you have some background studying philosophy.
My hope is that throughout the course of the semester you will develop the
intellectual tools central to the study of philosophy and add them to your
intellectual toolkit.

The Sorts of Knowledge Youll Develop

Knowing How
Have the ability to: summarize arguments, critique them (i.e. offer
objections), and anticipate responses to your objections.
Be able to clearly explain, in speech, discussion, and writing your
own well-defended position on a controversial issue in a cogent and
clear fashion (offer strong reasons and write clearly)
Learn how to critically analyze the strengths, weaknesses,
implications, and assumptions of specific arguments for consistency
and credibility

Knowing That
Be able to accurately summarize, describe, and distinguish
between a variety of central concepts and positions in moral
philosophy such as human enhancement, consequentialism, well-
being, etc.
Demonstrate in writing and in class your understanding of the
philosophical problems and questions in areas such as climate
change, genetic enhancement, and artificial intelligence

Learning Activities (What you need to do to accomplish the preceding

Carefully follow assignment instructions and pay attention to
the grading rubrics for all of the assignments.
Do all of the readings prior to class. What you get out of class is
proportionate to what you put into it (also you probably wont be able
to do well unless you do all the readings). Reading philosophy is
different from reading in almost any other discipline and it can be
hard. So, while each weeks reading assignments may be relatively
short, they can be difficult. You will get the most out of the class if you
read each reading carefully and more than once, both before and after

class. In order to assist with this, I will be posting David Concepcions
How to Read Philosophy with Metacognition- a guide that delves
into how to read philosophy - on Blackboard
Print out and bring reading assignments and any reading notes youve
taken to class each day.
Be in your seat ready to participate at the beginning of class and
remain until the end of class being late will take away from your
participation grade.
Participate in discussions and debatesask and answer questions,
participate in group activities, offer arguments and objections, and
share your views.
Refrain entirely from the use of cell phones, including texting
(just put them away for the class). I am not going to stop my lecture to
call you out on it, but I remember who uses their phones in class and
it will negatively affect your grade.

Ask questions when you are unclear about concepts; I LOVE

questions and will never ever treat any question as if it was not
worth asking.

What to Expect in Class

You can expect that each class meeting will have (roughly) three
1.) Administrative: Each meeting will begin with a discussion of any
administrative issues such as assignment due dates, what readings we
will be discussing that day and which readings are coming up, etc.
2.) Current Events: I will set aside time after dealing with administrative
tasks to discuss any news or events that are relevant to the course.
Students are encouraged to think about course materials in the
context of media outside of class and to report on any articles, news
segments, and events they see, read bout, etc. This counts towards
3.) Course material: the bulk of class will be spent covering course
materials and readings. The format of this will vary and include: mini-
lectures, discussion, in-class writing, argument reconstructions, etc.

Method of Student Assessment:

How to read Philosophy Reflection Assignment.5%
Three Philosophy in Daily Life....15%
Three Reading Pop Quizzes....10%
Three Short Writing Assignments worth 15% each..45%
Final Paper25%
*Course Participation will decide borderline grades

Philosophy in Daily Life Assignments

In these papers you are to reflect on how any of the course materials relate
to some element of your life outside the classroom. These papers are very
open-ended and can take many forms. You might compare and contrast how
two theories would bear on some important decision you have to make, how
you think your co-op raises particular issues, or you can write about and
evaluate a story in the news. These papers can be a paragraph, a page or
anything in between. They will be graded Pass/Fail. Three passing grades
are worth 100%; Two passing grades are worth 85%; One passing grade is
worth 70%.

- These papers will be assigned on a surprise basis and you will be

given at least 48 hour notice of one being due via an announcement
on Blackboard (you should therefore plan to check Blackboard

Pop Quizzes

Reading pop quizzes which ask students questions about the day/weeks
reading will occur without announcement and can only be made up if you
have a documented absence. These will be given out at the end of class
and cannot be made up if you are late (if an emergency arises and you will
be late to class let me know as soon as possible)

Short Writing Assignments

You will be required to submit three short writing assignments. Each is

weighted equally. Each is to be a maximum of 500 (the first two
assignments) to 750 (the final assignment) words. For each assignment you

1. Choose and explain a philosophical claim from the readings.Philosophical

claims can be distinguished from empirical claims. If the claim you choose
can be answered by taking a survey or using the senses, it is not a

philosophical claim.

2. Explain at least one argument put forth in favor of the claim by the
author. Reconstruct the argument by giving the main claims and examples
used to support the authors claim. Be sure to explain how the supporting
claims and examples provide support for the claim.

3. Evaluate the argument. To evaluate an argument is to raise a challenge

for some component of the argument. There are several ways that an
argument might be bad. It may be that the premises offered in support of
the conclusion dont actually lend support to the conclusion (e.g., because
they support a different, incompatible, conclusion) or it may be that some of
the premises offered in support of the conclusion are false. It may be that
you think the claim is true but that arguments given in favor of it are not
the best. It may be that the authors justification of a key premise is
inconsistent with the rest of the view.

Unless otherwise noted, writing assignments are due by the start of class on
the date indicated in the assignment schedule.


Students may choose to co-author their second and third short paper
assignments with co-author teams, totaling at most three people.

Final Paper

Details about your final paper will be delivered near the end of the
semester. It will be on a topic of your choosing.

*I do not grade on a curve.

Course Conduct:
Attendance: Class in where the course readings will be discussed
and made sense out of. So, you should really come to class. If you
must miss class, contact you email buddies and make sure you get
caught up.

Computer, Tablet, and Phone Policy: Laptops, tablets, and phones
are not allowed in class. Class will often be run as a discussion, and it
is just rude to be checking your phone, laptop, etc., during a
conversation. Again, I wont interrupt class if I see you using your
phone or a laptop, but it will hurt your grade. If for some reason you
require the use of them email me and we will discuss accommodation.
All of our classroom discussions will be conducted with the utmost
respect for one another. That means: no interrupting one another,
raising your hands to participate in ongoing conversations,
maintaining respectful eye contact and body language with our peers,
and using respectful language.

Important announcements and assignments will be communicated to you
via email, in class, or via Blackboard. It is your responsibility to make sure
you are up to date with the latest news. So check your email often and dont
miss class. If you do, check with your email buddies: three people in the
class whose emails youve acquired for this purpose. Write their names and
contact information here:

1. ______________________________________________________

2. ______________________________________________________

3. ______________________________________________________

Of course, you are always welcome to email me. But please keep in mind:
- I do not check my email after business hours (i.e. outside 9 am 5pm)
this includes weekends).
- I respond promptly, but not always on the same day.
- I do not answer questions that are clearly answered by the
syllabus or assignment instructions. I just delete those emails. If
youre not hearing back from me, that may be a hint to double-check
the relevant materials. That said, after youve carefully examined the
assignment and checked with your email buddies, you shouldnt
hesitate to ask me to clarify anything.

Office hours
If you have class during my office hours, let me know and well work out an
alternative time to meet. Otherwise, just show up. If I am in with someone

or my door is close, knock and let me know youve arrived. No need to email
me to make an appointment.

This being a philosophy class, a major goal of this course is to improve your
writing skills. Now, there is a good chance that you havent written papers
which require you to be as precise, careful, and concise as you will need to
be for the papers in this course. That being said, I believe that if you put a
lot of effort into this course you will emerge as a stronger writer capable of
producing clear and convincing prose and arguments (which, while that
might not sound fancy, is really important).

Further, writing philosophy is NOT a talent. That is, it is not something that
some people happen to be good at while others simply lack the natural
ability. It is a skill and, like any still, it can be improved. That being said, it
requires a lot of practice and patience and acquiring it is difficult and
requires a lot of writing and rewriting. I, however, am here to help you
develop this skill and I thoroughly believe that you have the ability to think
critically and express your ideas in clear crisp prose that will serve you well
in life.

Borrowing from another philosopher (who borrowed it from a famous

writer) when it comes to my expectations, David Foster Wallace said it
best in his own syllabus:

If you want to improve your academic writing and are willing to put extra
time and effort into it, I am a good teacher to have. But if youre used to
whipping off papers the night before theyre due, running them quickly
through the computers spellchecker, handing them in full of high-school
errors and sentences that make no sense, and having the professor accept
them because the ideas are good or something, please be informed that I
draw no distinction between the quality of ones ideas and the quality of
those ideas verbal expression, and that I will not accept sloppy, rough-
draftish, or semiliterate college writing. Again, I am absolutely not kidding.
If you wont or cant devote significant time and attention to your written
work, I urge you to drop... and save us both a lot of grief._

I agree and I will not accept sloppy work. On that note...

Presentation and Formatting. Presenting your assignments in a

professional manner is important. It demonstrates respect for yourself and
for your audience. Dont waste your readers time with easy to fix mistakes,
like typos, and dont distract them with crazy fonts or weird formatting.
Please use the following guidelines.

1. Word count at end of paper (exclude bibliography, etc. when

2. Double space (except block quotes which should be single spaced and
3. Standard margins (1 inch), font size (12pt), style (Times New Roman),
4. Cite sources in a clear, consistent way. MLA, Chicago Style, I dont
care. Just be consistent._
5. Electronic copies should be in PDF format and named as follows:
assignment_MMDDYY.pdf for example: paper01_022814.pdf

Why PDFs? PDFs are more professional than docs and allow you to
control how your work looks to your audience. If you dont know how to
convert a document into PDF format, figure it out: ask Google, the help
desk, or your email buddies. I am not tech support.

Late Policy. Papers will be penalized by one letter grade for every day
late. Of course, things happen. Hence: the get out of jail free policy. You
get one get out of jail free card. They arent real cards, but you really can
use them. Each is good for a five-day extension (from the original due date).
The only constraints are: (1) you must submit the card on or before the
assignment due date, (2) you can only use one per assignment, and (3)
extensions be used on the last assignment. To use a card: log into
Blackboard. Find the assignment youd like to use the card on. Open it as if
youre going to submit it. Write JAILCARD in your file name. Thats it!

Absence Because of Religious Beliefs

Any student who is unable, because of his or her religious beliefs, to attend
classes or to participate in any examination, study, or work requirement will
be provided with an opportunity to make up such examination, study, or
work requirement that he or she may have missed because of such absence
on any particular day; provided, however, that such make-up examination or
work should not create an unreasonable burden upon such school. Students
should make appropriate arrangements with me in advance of the absence,

preferably at least two weeks before the religious observance.

Special Needs: I will make every effort to accommodate students with

disabilities or special needs that may affect learning or performance. Any
student who requires special arrangements for attending class or doing
assignments please speak with me as soon as possible. Please visit the
Northeastern University Disability Centers website for information
regarding requests for academic accommodations:

Support Services: If you or someone you know would like to discuss

confidential information about health or mental health care, please contact
Northeastern University Health and Counseling Services
( or We Care

Academic Honesty: Failing to indicate when material is taken from

someone else is academically dishonest and intolerable. All work you hand
in must be your own and the proper attribution of ideas and language must
be done with care. If your discussions of class topics with your friends,
dogs, parents, etc., are helpful, cite them. Credit all sources appropriately,
even your Googling bounty. A copy of Northeastern Universitys Academic
Honesty and Integrity Policy can be found at Any instance
of plagiarism, cheating, or the like, could result in the perpetrators
receiving a failing grade for the course and will be reported to the Office of
Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution. I will make use of the plagiarism
detection services available through Blackboard, and your papers will be
archived in the Blackboard database. If you have any questions about this
policy please come talk to me. Accidental plagiarism is still plagiarism. If in
doubt, cite, cite, cite. In short, do not plagiarize. I will fail you.

All assignments should be submitted online. My advice: dont wait until five
minutes before the due time. I wont accommodate Blackboard-messed-up
excuses. Its your responsibility to get your assignment in on time.
Occasionally, I will also ask you to submit a hard copy of the assignment as
well. In those instances, your assignment is late until it has been submitted
in both ways.

Grades are non-negotiable, but Im always happy to talk about how you did
on your assignment. If you ever find yourself confused about the feedback
you receive on your assignments, come see me as soon as possible.
Whatever small points I note, I will aim to also show you three ways in
which your work could improve. Keep those in mind when you prepare your
next assignment.

Besides myself, there are many resources to help you succeed in this class.
1. In order to receive reasonable accommodations for a disability, illness,
or etc., you must register with the Disability Resource Center. This
office will provide a letter describing the appropriate
accommodations. Once you have this letter, set up an appointment
with me and we will discuss it. _

2. You should go to the Writing Center for help on your assignments.

Well-trained peers are there to look over your drafts, help you plan
your arguments, etc. There are drop-in hours, and you may go as
many times as you want. This is a great resource. Use it. NU Writing
Center: For assistance with your writing, please access services at the
NU Writing Center:

Course Reading Schedule1

Date Topic Reading Assignment

1/10 Course introduction None

1/13 How to Read Philosophy Concepcion & Nozick

1/17 Designing our Children de Melo-Martin

1/20 Designing our Children Kass

1/24 Designing our Children Savulescu

1/27 Designing our Children McDougall

1 Unless otherwise indicated assignments are due by class on the date indicated

1/31 Designing our Children None

Posthumanism 1st Short Paper

2/3 Kurzweil; Bostrom

2/7 Posthumanism Garcia and Sandler

2/10 Posthumanism 1st Short Paper Due Agar

2/14 Posthumanism Temkin

2/17 Posthumanism None

2/21 Technology and The Climate Crisis Cafaro

2/24 Technology and the Climate Crisis Betz

2/28 Technology and the Climate Crisis Persson and Savulescu

3/3 Technology and the Climate Crisis Harris

Technology and the Climate Crisis 2nd

3/14 Liao
Short Paper Assigned

3/17 Autonmous Vehicle Ethics Lin; Hevelke and Nida-Rumelin

Autonmous Vehicle Ethics 2nd Short

3/21 Gogoll and Muller
Paper Due

3/24 Video Game Ethics Luck

3/28 Video Game Ethics Mildenberger

3/31 Advanced AI Ethics Bostrom

Advanced AI Ethics 3rd Short Paper

4/4 Basl; Singer

Autonomous Killing Machines Zenko & Wolf (FP Magazine)

Drone Warfare NYT (Debate)

Autonomous Killing Machines

4/11 Drone Warfare 3rd Short Paper Peterson (The Atlantic)

4/14 Love and Sex with Robots Levy and Sullins

Last Day of Class / In Class Paper
Writing Workshop