Exploring Ethics Assignment

Writing Assignment (75 points)

  1. The Assignment: In Brief

Students are required to complete one paper of approximately 6 pages in length (in its final form). The paper may incorporate readings found in Exploring Ethics (hereafter, EE) and/or outside texts. The paper will be based on a topic of the student’s choice, and should be argumentative and philosophical in nature. Finally, this assignment is intended to emphasize the recursive nature of the writing process, as evinced by the required stages of the assignment (see section III below).

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  1. The Assignment: In Depth
  2. Nature of the Paper

To reiterate, the paper should be both (i) argumentative and (ii) philosophical in nature. Regarding (i), your aim is to clearly articulate an appropriate thesis and develop an argument for that thesis, using some philosophical literature as your starting point. I’m not looking for an overview of the philosophical literature on the morality of, say, euthanasia, nor am I looking for mere summaries of an article(s). Regarding (ii), the paper’s topic should be one in philosophical ethics. A paper describing the polygamy of Mormons would be anthropological/sociological in nature, not philosophical; similarly, a paper explaining the causes and effects of climate change would be scientific in nature, not philosophical.

  1. Topics, Readings and Research

The topics on which you can write fall under three general categories, corresponding to the three areas of ethics—viz., (i) meta-ethics, (ii) normative ethical theory and (iii) applied ethics. Thus, you could write a paper on, for example, (i) the meaningfulness of moral language, (ii) utilitarianism, or (iii) capital punishment. (Please note that the aforementioned examples are simply examples of issues/theories that fall under the three branches of ethics; each would be much too large a topic for a six page paper. See section C below.)

You are free to choose any topic that we will cover this semester; you may also choose to write on a topic that we will not cover this semester (e.g., the morality of torture), provided that the topic is philosophical in nature and approved by me before the outline is due.

If you are writing on a topic that is covered in EE, use the readings as your starting point. Also, take a look at the Suggested Readings at the end of each chapter. www.philpapers.org is a good place to visit if you want to do further research, though you won’t be able to download articles from that site. However, our library has a subscription to JSTOR, which will allow you to download many articles instantly. If you think you may need an article but cannot find a way to access it, try doing a Google search. Books and articles can also be obtained via STLCC’s Inter-Library loan process.

Since it is possible that your paper is primarily a criticism of a particular author’s argument, you may only need to cite one source, ultimately. On the other hand, if you aimed to distinguish different versions of utilitarianism in your paper, then multiple sources would probably be needed. The number of sources you need, in other words, will be dictated by the nature of the paper. It is also possible to have too many sources. A paper that cites twelve sources might not contain enough original thought, or might not be sufficiently argumentative in character.


  1. Appropriate Thesis/Scope of Paper

Suppose you want to write your paper on the moral issue of abortion. It may come as a surprise that the thesis of your essay may not be that abortion is right/wrong. It would be difficult, though perhaps not impossible, to offer a convincing argument for such a conclusion in a six-page paper. More appropriate thesis statements concerning abortion include: ‘Thomson’s violinist case fails to show that abortion is permissible in cases of rape’; ‘If abortion is wrong because it deprives the fetus of a valuable future, as Marquis suggests, then so too is using contraception’; ‘Self-awareness is not a necessary condition for personhood’. In a word, narrow your focus. When you think the scope of your paper is too narrow, narrow it again. For an approximately six-page paper, your focus probably cannot be too narrow. (Good) philosophy proceeds in baby steps; think and write accordingly.


  1. Structure of the Paper

Generally, philosophy papers—and argumentative essays in general—contain the elements below, though not necessarily in this order.


  1. Introduction (including thesis statement and plan for the paper)
  2. Body of Paper
  3. Main argument supporting thesis
  4. Supporting arguments
  5. Objections/Replies

III. Conclusion


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