The Ethics Unit

Without getting too far ahead of myself, I will remind you of some end-of-unit responsibilities so you can earn the best grade possible.

  1. This will be the last unit with substantial work involved.  Don’t blow it off.
  2. There will be a unit test on May 24th.
  3. Your Ethics Journal with all readings and daily assignments will be due by the end of class on the day you take the unit test.
  4. You will have homework during the IB testing window – you will need to view Minority Report.  It is a film that lasts 145 minutes.

REGARDLESS OF YOUR ATTENDANCE, you will need to submit a journal on Tuesday, May 24th if you wish your Journal to be considered on-time.

The most significant submissions remaining are your Ethics Journal, the Ethics test (both on May 24 in class), and your Art Project Presentation (at school on June 3rd) as well as the reflection writing (due on the day of your final – June 7th (5th period) or June 8th (3rd/4th)).  I have moved the Ethics test to Tuesday to allow additional time for you to finish your packet and to accommodate those who may be absent Monday.  IF you are not in attendance Tuesday (but have an excused absence), the makeup for the Ethics test is at 8:45 am on Wednesday morning May 25th in the IB History room.  

Your Ethics Journal is significant for several reasons:

  • You will need to submit a quality Ethics Journal for the final journal of the year.  There will be only daily assignments and the Art Project after the submission of the Ethics Journal.
  • You will need to review and understand this material for the Final Exam.  The Final Exam will cover this material and ask you to make comparisons between these thinkers, the assigned readings, the film Minority Report, and material you’ve learned throughout the year.  It is likely that your final exam asks you to read excerpts from these texts and then:
    • identify the author
    • specify the main point
    • recognize the philosophy
    • compare this ideology to others you’ve learned

A sample author we will consider is John Stuart Mill.  Read and consider a brief excerpt from John Stuart Mill’s text titled “Utilitarianism”.  When you’ve printed the texts for your ethics journal, be sure to do all the things good critical thinkers do when they analyze and react to a text:

  • identify important passages
  • paraphrase relevant/main points
  • react in the margin
  • identify the author’s assumptions
  • consider and address the implications of the argument

Master List of Ethics Authors:  [there were choices made when you were testing.  Assignments you are NOT required to do have strike through.  These will be considered extra credit.  Required work for the final Ethics Journal you need to do on your own is in green.  All Required work has the word Required after it.

  1.  4/18 David Brooks – What is inspirationRequired.
  2. 4/20 Mill – Utilitarianism Required.
  3. 4/21  Bentham – Hedonistic Calculus and related questions Required.
  4. 4/25  Kant – Categorical Imperative Required.
  5. Aristotle – Virtue Theory Required.
  6. 4/29 Thoreau – Civil Disobedience Required.
  7. Nietzsche – Will to Power Part Nine: 257  258  259  260  261
  8. Sartre – Existentialist Ethics Read pages 1-7 of this text
  9. Exodus – Divine Command Theory Required.
  10. Leopold – Environmental Ethics Required.
  11. The ToK Course Companion textbook- pages 262-265 one two three four Required.
  12. 4/28 Machiavelli – The Prince Required.
  13. Your own selection (and written justification) Required.
  14. Your own selection (and written justification) Required.

What sorts of applications will Mr. Braman encourage you to think about on the test? What about human genomes?  Or the Death Penalty?  Or an apology for the bombing at Hiroshima?  How would Robert McNamara respond regarding Hiroshima?

IF additional sources are added to this list, they will also be provided as links.

In addition to the above critical readings, please add written responses to the following into the Ethics Journal.

1. What makes us human?  [From class 4/18] Is it our ability to reason?  To feel emotions?  To care about others? To do something selfless?

2. How do we know right from wrong?  [From class 4/19, 4/20] What is the source of your certainty?  Is it a person?  Your self?  A process?  A text?  What are the challenges to knowing what is morally right in this manner?

2a.  How would Bentham consider right and wrong?  How do we figure it out? [in class 4/21]

3. Is it ever right for a few to suffer for the greater good?  [in-class (4th and 5th periods) 4/27] What if we had to make a few suffer?  Would it be right to do so if the society benefited?

4. Is cheating ever right?  (from in-class 4/21) Please justify your answer.  And then interview/discuss the subtleties of your viewpoint with a willing adversary (if you missed class, record snippets of that conversation).  What are the essential questions that must be asked?  List them.

5. Do the ends (ever) justify the means?  (Required) Explain your rationale.  Quality responses will consider both the premise of Minority Report and Machiavelli’s The Prince.

6. [in-class 4/29]  When, if ever, is it acceptable to break a law?  Critically read Civil Disobedience.

[yet-to-be-assigned] When finished, write your answer to the question: How would Thoreau give advice to a modern historical figure? Use quotes and examples in your lengthy paragraph expository response.

7.  [yet-to-be-assigned] In an expository essay format (not a full-blown essay)

How should an action be judged?

  • By the purity of the intent of the actor?
  • By some universal standard?
  • By comparison to others?
  • By the consequences of their actions?


  1. State your answer to the question above with a strong, precise thesis statement
  2. Consider the four possible elements: intent, universal standard, cultural comparison, consequence.
  3. Identify a predicament/decision from a fictional character from one of the films we viewed.
    1. Clarify a/the central ethical knowledge issue inherent in the predicament
  4. Explain whether or not the character made the appropriate choice [was it morally right?] according to the ethical viewpoints that are relevant to the decision
  5. Support your argument/analysis by including an additional example from your personal experience in order to clarify how the philosophy would be applied in this situation


When finished, research, identify, print out and critically read additional documents for the Ethics Journal. AT LEAST TWO additional unique expert sources of your choosing must be included in your ethics journal.  In a brief paragraph, justify their inclusion as research into your own personal philosophy.


A history of Skyline

Your job today, Friday, April 24th, is to plan out a history of Skyline High School.  Here are the instructions:

The Issaquah School Board has empowered you and your classmates to create a proposal for a soon-to-be-produced history of Skyline High School.  The Board wants a history that will help both incoming Freshmen and families moving into the district be successful as students at Skyline High School.  With this in mind, you will need to consider several things:

  • What should the purpose of the history be?
  • What should be presented?  What will the content be?
  • What central theme (if any) should be included?  Why is that theme significant?
  • What are the needs of the target audience(s) above?
  • What medium will be best?  What format should this history take?
  • What scope should the history include?  Skyline opened in the fall of ’97…
  • What sequence should be used?  Chronological?  Thematic?
  • All the while, please note (write down in your notes) what the challenges are?
    • (What are the problems of knowledge associated with this challenge?)

The product of your efforts today – both your answers to the questions above – will go into your journal in this handwritten form.  You also have homework.  On Monday, you should arrive at class with.

  • your journal assembled, all items dated, completed, and in chronological order
  • your updated/more polished draft of the “Challenges of the Historian” printed out and uploaded to
  • an improved written proposal for what a history of Skyline should look like [<800 words]
  • a sampling of your history – with the appropriate narration – in your journal [<400 words] your narration should be consistent with your philosophy.

As a preparation for discussions on an ideal history…

we will be thinking through some of the challenges a historian faces.  In class on Thursday, April 23rd, you will be crafting an expository essay that includes both a Main Thesis and a concluding paragraph.  In addition, students should consider the items on the linked assignment.  The best work will not read like a list of things to consider; instead, it will read like a cohesive, insightful argument.  Good Luck.

Thursday, February 26th – Views on the economy

You are responsible for working today to track your own progress.  Please open up the document that you started yesterday and return to the website at the Pew research center.  Consider your results.  Write responses to the following questions into the same document that your results are in.

  1. What seems most shocking about your results?  Did the test confirm what you already believed?  Why is that?
  2. When you read the description of the profile for your political views, what seems most accurate?  What seems most off-base?
  3. Read the descriptions for other groups.  Are you in the group that is ‘right’ for you?  Are you in the group you hope(d) to be in?  Explain.
  4. Read the more elaborate explanation – “Beyond Red vs. Blue…”- comparing people’s responses to the questions.  What did you learn?  Write and elaborate – use examples where appropriate.
  5. Compare the typology groups on the various issues.  What seems most interesting? How does this data alter your view about the political landscape?
  6. Compare the data in the responses to the questions.  Does the explanation validate the findings?  Does data give them merit?  Is this an accurate way to know someone’s political views?

Now that you’ve done some initial research into the political assumptions you have, read and consider the breakdown of responses regarding government, write a thoughtful response to this question:

7.  Given what you’ve now know about paradigms (thanks to Kuhn), what impact will an individual’s political views have when they consider a question like: What fiscal policy would you promote (regarding taxes) if you were a presidential candidate for the 2016 presidential election?  To what degree should we work to change individual’s values before we tackle the simpler question of ‘what should we do about taxes?’

8.  Let’s look now at the ways the area of knowledge History will play in this exploration.  Consider your views and the views of others about Trust in Government. What could be done to change these views?  What should be done?  Why is that necessary?  Read this article from 2013 regarding a decline in Trust in government.  Link to and explore the interactive on Public Trust in Government.  What do you learn?  What are the implications of what you’re learning?  What does it suggest about recent presidents?  About the role of historical events as factors that influence individual perspectives?

9.   As you get deeper into the interactive, consider the presentation of the data itself.  What is significant about this particular tool as a way to know something about individual attitudes about government?  How does the presentation of data influence its interpretation?  Its value? Its interpretation?

Hopefully, you can do a thoughtful job today in class.  Hopefully, too, you are productive.  I would expect thoughtful, productive, and focused learners to complete questions 1-6 and begin a written explanation of question 7 by the end of the period today, Thursday, February 26th.  While there is no homework, you will need to save your written progress and be prepared to submit it in written form if asked to do so.  In the meantime, keep it in digital form and work diligently to explore the issues.  Tomorrow, we will continue from where you left off.

Final Exam reminders

Final exams are coming – but should not increase your stress dramatically.  Finals in ToK are 5% of your semester grade and will likely have a minimal effect on your semester grade unless you fail to take the test.  The test will have three main parts: a 50-60 question multiple choice section, a written portion (think paragraph), and a puzzle/challenge.

The content for the final exam will be material covered this semester.  The material in our math unit will take greatest priority – 20-30 questions will come from the math unit, so start your review there.  If you’d like to start studying now, you should generate a list of concepts and authors that are most important.  Show the list to Mr. Braman and he will tell you if you’re on the right track.