PHIL 210

Applied Ethics

Please note: this is archived course information from 2020 for PHIL 210.


In this course we explore a range of real world ethical issues, and will focus on ethical issues concerning euthanasia, sex work, punishment and gene editing.

For each of the four sections of the course, we will look at what is happening in the world and in New Zealand in relation to this issue, survey and evaluate a selection of relevant ethical arguments and look at some deeper conceptual and ethical issues that underlie the topic.

Euthanasia: Advances in medicine enable us to stay alive much longer than was possible in the past, but for some this is not a matter for celebration, but for fear. Should people who are terminally ill and suffering have a “right to die” if they wish to? Should people be able to make "advance directives" to be euthanased after they are no longer competent? What alternatives are there to active euthanasia, and are they more morally acceptable? This is an especially relevant topic given the proposed legislation for New Zealand.

Sex Work/Prostitution: Sex work is now legal in New Zealand, but the ethical issues persist. Is sex just another exchange in a market driven economy, as the liberal view maintains? Is making sex work safer all that a government is required to do? Are there ethical objections to commercial sex that should inform our attitudes to this practice? What feminist objections can be raised? Should sex work be “normalised” in our society? 

Punishment:Why should we punish those who break the law? Should our justifications for punishment be forward looking (focused on the future benefits) or backward looking (focused on "paying back" the offender for their wrong)?  How exactly should we punish?

Gene Editing: Biotechnologies are rapidly advancing. New innovations in the twenty-first century include the ability to create new forms of life in the laboratory, and technology allowing scientists to edit the very genes that make us who we are. These sorts of innovations have the potential to have a profound impact on our society and our future, and raise deep ethical questions. 

The course will be presented in three hours per week- two hours of interactive lecture and one dedicated discussion hour.


Coursework + exam

Availability 2020

Semester 1


Coordinator(s) Dr Vanya Kovach


No prescribed texts

Please see Reading Lists for essential and further readings for each week of lectures. These may be added to as the course progresses

Recommended Reading



Coursework essays + two-hour exam


PHIL 210: 15 points


PHIL 102 or 104, or 30 points in Philosophy, or 30 points at Stage I in Social Science for Public Health


PHIL 313