PHI 3601 Ethics  Dr. Hauptli  Fall 2013


Second Paper Topics

You are to critically respond to one of the following topics.  Such a critical examination should: (1) indicate the nature of the position being examined; (2) clarify the argument for and/or against the position; (3) examine the strength of the argument by considering possible responses, counter-arguments, or counter-examples; and (4) offer your own critical assessment of where the arguments for and against the position being considered leave us—should we accept, reject, or remain neutral regarding this orientation, view, or position? 

     As the first paper assignment indicated, one of my purposes in requiring you to write these papers is to offer you the opportunity to continue to develop your ability to describe carefully a complex position and argument to others.  Another of my purposes is to provide you with the opportunity to push beyond the level of reading and mastering the required material for the course.  It is also my goal is to provide you with an opportunity to engage in critical reflection upon the readings (or upon related readings and issues), and to provide you with feedback on your critical scrutinies. 

     One of my vehicles for accomplishing these goals is to require that you write more than one paper.  While your second paper will be on a topic differing from your first one, many of the comments I made on your first paper could be helpful to you in perfecting your compositional, expository, and critical skills.  These comments will only be useful if you give them some serious scrutiny however.  I strongly encourage you to look over both the typed comments and the marginal comments throughout your first paper.  Few students have such an exceptional ability that they can not benefit from such an examination.  To encourage you to take the comments seriously, I want you to know that before I read your next paper, I will be reviewing my computer file with these comments on your first paper.  I expect that your editing of your drafts of your next paper will be done in light of these comments.  You should seriously endeavor to avoid any of the sorts of compositional errors I have identified, and to the extent that it is called for, I also encourage you to work to make your next exposition and critique yet clearer and more forceful. 

1. Critically evaluate and assess Kant’s ethical theory in light of the criticisms offered by

Fred Feldman in his Introductory Ethics (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1978)—on Reserve in the Green Library. 

James Rachels in his The Elements of Moral Philosophy (N.Y.: Random House, 1986)—on Reserve in the Green Library.  

W.D. Ross in his “What Makes Acts Right?” (in our text)

Thomas Nagel in his “Moral Luck” (in our text)

Philippa Foot in her “Morality As A System of Hypothetical Imperatives” (in our text)

Note that attempting to discuss several of these critics within a single paper would require that you to cover quite a lot of ground, and breadth sometimes precludes depth.  Broad discussions rarely provide the sort of detailed exposition or criticism which these papers are supposed to provide, however, and so you should not simply try and briefly characterize a number of critic’s views—instead, endeavor to fully clarify both the criticism and clearly identify how, and how seriously, it affects Kant’s theory.  In other words, show how the criticism relates to central tenets of Kant’s theory or points to serious problems with it.   

2. Critically assess the merits and problems encountered by both utilitarian and Kantian moral theories as they confront the problems posed by the phenomenon of world hunger in light of the discussion of Onora O’Neill in her “Kant’s Formula of the End in Itself and World Hunger” (in our text). 

3. Critically evaluate and assess Aristotle’s ethical theory in light of the criticisms offered by William Frankena in his “A Critique of Virtue-Based Ethical Systems” (in our text). 

4. Critically assess William Frankena’s critique of virtue-based ethical systems in light of the criticism of his criticism offered by Walter Schaller in his “Are Virtues No More Than Dispositions To Obey Moral Rules?” (in our text). 

5. Critically evaluate and assess Susan Wolf’s argument in her “Moral Saints” (in our text) in light of the criticisms offered by Louis Pojman in his “In Defense of Moral Saints” (also in our text).  You may find Bernard Mayo’s “Virtue and the Moral Life” helpful here (also in our text)—he discusses the role of saints and heroes in understanding the relative strengths and weaknesses of utilitarian, deontological and virtue-oriented moral theories.  

6. Critically consider Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “Killing, Letting Die, and the Trolley Problem” (in our text).  How does her argument bear upon the moral theories of Kant and Mill? 

7. Critically assess and evaluate J.L. Mackie’s argument for moral skepticism in his “The Subjectivity of Values” (in our text).   

8. Critically assess and evaluate moral relativism by examining the arguments of Gilbert Harman in his “Moral Relativism Defended” (in our text) and Louis Pojman in his “A Critique of Ethical Relativism (in our text). 

9. You may write on any of the first paper topics which do not overlap on the topic you wrote your first paper on (link to the first topics).

     Your papers should be approximately 2000 words long (eight double-spaced typewritten pages of 250 words per page).  This indication of length is meant as a guide to the student—papers much shorter than the indicated length are unlikely to have adequately addressed one of the assigned topics.  Papers may, of course, be longer than the indicated length.  I will be happy to read rough drafts and to discuss your ideas for your papers with you provided you give them prior to 3:30 on Friday, November 22.  The papers should be typed and are due in my office by 4:15 P.M. on Monday, November 25.  I am giving you the paper topics now so that you have two weekends to work on the paper.  If you plan to wait till the last moment to write your paper, I recommend you review the Course Syllabus regarding penalties for late papers.  Please review my policy on extensions, late papers, and plagiarism (contained in the course syllabus).  Please also review my supplement Guide to Writing Philosophy Papers which is available on the class web-site. 

As was the case with the first papers, these papers should:

address an assigned topic in a manner that clearly explains the problem, makes the comparison, addresses the topic, or displays its controlling ideas,

clarify the relevant elements of the philosopher’s theory so that they can be understood by other students taking such philosophy courses,

show sustained analysis and critical thought,

support your overall thesis with adequate reasons and evidence,

be organized clearly and logically, and, of course,

conform to the conventions of standard written English. 

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Last revised on: 11/19/2013