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Course Description :

Morality and law often overlap. When this intersection occurs, a class of law targeting "vice" is created. This course examines at a variety of philosophical concepts and issues focused on the connection of morality to American law. Theoretical questions include:  What is the relationship between law and morality? What is the nature, scope, and limits of the law? What is a vice? What constitutes a crime? These theoretical questions in turn aid a survey of issues in American law including: gambling, prostitution, drug use, hate speech, pornography and gay marriage. Each issue will involve a historical, legal, and ethical component. After considering these issues, we conclude the course by looking at society's justifications for punishment and the death penalty. 

Course Objectives :

This course aims to prepare students to meet three objectives. First, students will gain a clearer understanding of many concepts which are used in conversation but rarely explained. Second, students will gain a historical and legal understanding of many controversial issues relating to American law. Third, students will develop an ethical basis to make critical evaluations of these issues and offer compelling support for their evaluations. Less formally, this course seeks to enable students to understand the sources of these controversies, evaluate the claims made by each side in the disagreement, and to enable students to articulate and defend their own solution to the problem.

Course Requirements:

Participation :

Participation is vitally important.  There is no set time that you need to access the course, but I recommend checking in at least 4 days each week. Students are to complete all assigned readings prior to the discussion deadlines listed on the course calendar. Discussion are always ongoing. The discussion deadlines mark the last day to post on a topic for credit before moving on to the next module. 

Readings :

All readings for this course are contained on the course website. The course is divided into eight modules. The modules contain material from my own lectures, my summaries of other authors, and web-links to other authors articles. In some cases I have summarized another author whom you are not asked to read. This occurs anytime you see an author/article headlined without a link to that article. In other cases I have provided you a web-link to read the source article as well. Required web-linked articles are listed in the chart below. Those web links you run across which are not listed in the chart below are optional (but interesting). The schedule of readings corresponds to the schedule of discussion exercise due dates as listed on the calendar. You should have completed the entire module reading before that date (ideally several days before). 

Module Module Title Web-linked Readings
One Vice, Crime, and American Law: Concepts and Relationships Lysander Spooner, "Vices Are Not Crimes"
Two Greed: Gambling and "Sin Taxes" Gerald Dworkin, "Paternalism"
Robert A. Sirico, "The Sin Tax: Economic and Moral Considerations"
Roger Dunstan, "History of Gambling in the United States"
Three Anger: Hate Speech and Fighting Words U.S. Supreme Court, Cohen v. California
U.S. Supreme Court, Texas v. Johnson
U.S. Supreme Court, R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul
U.S. Supreme Court, Collin v. Smith
U.S. Supreme Court, Virginia v. Black
U.S. Supreme Court, Wisconsin v. Mitchell
Four Lust: Prostitution and Pornography U.S. Supreme Court, Miller v. California
U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, American Booksellers Association v. Hudnut
Five Sex, Sodomy, & Gay Marriage U.S. Supreme Court, Bowers v. Hardwick
U.S. Supreme Court, Lawrence v. Texas
Mass Supreme Court, Goodridge v. Dept. of Health
Six Gluttony: Illegal Drug Use and the War on Drugs Milton Friedman, "An Open Letter to Bill Bennett"
William J. Bennett, "A Response to Milton Friedman"
Ethan A. Nadelmann, "The Case for Legalization"
Duke Law summary of Ashcroft v. Raich
Seven Punishment: Retribution, Rehabilitation, and Deterrence Jeremy Bentham, "The Utilitarian Theory of Punishment"
U.S. Supreme Court, Bennis v. Michigan
Eight Capital Punishment U.S. Supreme Court, McCleskey v. Kemp
DPIC Supreme Court Summary - Roper v. Simmons

NOTE : Several of the web-linked readings are court rulings. These readings are quite long and difficult to follow. Your goal when reading the court rulings is to gain a grasp of the issues in the case and the arguments offered by the Justices which lead to their decisions. This may be best accomplished by skimming the decision. Still, I have provided the full text for those who take an interest in the case.

Quizzes :

quiz There are five total quizzes in the course. Each quiz is worth 10 points. The first quiz is the FAQ quiz which tests your knowledge of the syllabus and the course FAQ. If you read these documents you should pick up an easy 10 points. The remaining four quizzes are designed to ensure that you are keeping up with the reading assignments. These quizzes occur at the end of every even numbered module (2, 4, 6 and 8).  The first quiz covers only modules 1 and 2. The second quiz covers only modules 3 and 4. The third quiz covers only modules 5 and 6. The fourth quiz covers only modules 7 and 8. Quiz questions are drawn from a random test bank, so it is unlikely any two students will encounter the same set of questions. You are free to use any materials you wish to aid you during the quiz however, quizzes are timed so you have only 20 minutes to complete and submit the quizzes. Quizzes are available 3 days prior to the due date, giving you a total of 4 days in which to take the quiz.

Discussion Exercises :

analyzingAt the end of each course module you will be directed to take part in a discussion exercise on the course discussion forum. After reading the exercise materials, you should compose and post your response to the course discussion forum. You should not use attachments on the discussion forum. Further instructions may be contained in each exercise. Each module exercise has its own discussion board for postings. Please ensure that you post your response to the correct board as postings to the wrong board will not receive credit. Grading for discussion exercises is based upon the quality of your answer and the quality and frequency of responses to other students' postings. Discussion points are assigned at the end of term. 

Paper assignments:

There are two paper assignments in this course. Specific assignments for each paper are provided in the assignments links. Due dates for each paper are listed in the calendar. General requirements for both papers are as follows: All Papers should be written in a standard 12pt. font, double spaced, and with 1 inch margins. You should have a title page which includes your name and a title for your paper. You may also include any other information you wish on your title page, but this information must not be on any other page (i.e. having your name, my name, and course title in a header atop each page of your paper is not acceptable). You should cite any quotations using any consistent style you wish so long as you provide the article, author, and page number. There is no need to cite any ideas drawn from the modules and under no circumstances should you quote  them (use your own words). Papers are to be submitted through the "assignments" link on the left blackboard menu. Due dates for both papers are found in the calendar. The due dates are the last day to turn them in not the suggested day to do so. Late papers are generally not accepted at all or at a significant penalty.

Paper Grades:

A common student misconception is that everyone starts with full points and is marked down for errors or deficiencies. Papers that meet the standard requirements are C papers (75% of total points). Papers with errors or that leave out major arguments or objections are graded down from there. Papers that exceed the standard requirements and are superior to the average paper will receive a B. Only papers that are error free, meet all requirements, and demonstrate outstanding work for this course will receive an A. Creative, solid, fair argumentation is especially important as is the ability to anticipate counter-arguments and respond to them.

Grading :  

My Grades

Quizzes (5 @ 10 pts each)   50 pts
Discussion Questions   10pts
Paper #1   15 pts
Paper #2   25 pts
      Total  100 pts

All grades are determined by your earned point totals. No other factors will be considered when determining your final grade. Anyone asking for special grading consideration will be referred to this policy. The final grading breakdown will be as follows:

100 - 93 A
92 - 90 A-
89 - 87 B+
86 - 83 B
82 - 80 B-
79 - 77 C+
76 - 73 C
72 - 70 C-
69 - 67 D+
66 - 63 D
62 - 60 D-
Below 60 F

Technical problem policy :

Students are responsible for obtaining and maintaining reliable internet access. Internet access is available at libraries, schools, hotels, and coffee shops worldwide. Therefore, no extensions will be granted due to lack of internet access. If you have a technical problem such as a crash or lockup during the first three days of a quiz you should send me an email requesting a quiz reset. I will reset your quiz within 24 hours. NOTE: If you wait until the last day of a quiz run you have assumed responsibility that a technical problem may preclude you from completing the quiz and no reset/extension will be granted. Those who ask for an extension will be referred to this policy.

Deadline & Student Responsibility policy :

Students are responsible for meeting all course deadlines. A deadline is the last day something is due, not the day you should wait until to do it. All deadlines can be found on the course calendar. If you are unable to meet a deadline you may make arrangements in advance of a deadline for an extension. Any student who misses a deadline and did not make prior arrangements will not receive an extension (i.e. receives a zero for missed work). The only exception is if you can provide documentation demonstrating why a deadline could not be met given that you knew all deadlines in advance and had 4 days for quizzes and why you could not possibly contact me in prior to the deadline. Remember, responsible students plan ahead, complete work early, and contact me right away when a deadline cannot be met. All students are held to this policy, including those who ask for special exceptions.

Academic Integrity :

All students must be familiar with and abide by the academic integrity policy. This policy can be found at .


All policies subject to instructor discretion. I look forward to working with you in the upcoming weeks and hope that you find the learning experience both educationally enlightening and enjoyable.