University of Kansas, Fall 2004
Philosophy 160: Introduction to Ethics
Writing assignment on normative ethics
The second part of our course is devoted to an examination of the following normative-ethical theories:
- ethical egoism
- the ethics of care
Your assignment is select two of these theories and to write a paper, not
more than five pages long,
contrasting them by subjecting each of them to the standard method for
evaluating normative-ethical theories—that is, the method of testing theories’
implications for particular cases against the judgments of common-sense
morality. To be more precise, your paper should include the following parts, in the following order:
- an introductory paragraph indicating (a) which two theories you are going
to contrast (see items 2 and 3 below) and (b) the kind of
particular cases you will use in order to contrast them (see item 4 below),
and (c) which theory you will claim is superior
- a paragraph or two explaining the main idea of one of the two theories
your paper is about
- Here it is sufficient to explain the central principle of the first
theory you’re talking about (the principle that says what the right thing to
do is); you do not need to explain arguments for or against that principle.
But in explaining the main principle of the theory, it would almost
certainly be a good idea to provide an example or two. (So, don’t just end a
paragraph on Kant’s moral theory by saying, “So, Kant’s theory says you must
not make an exception of yourself.” Give an example of the kind of thing
that injunction prohibits, in practice.)
- a paragraph or two explaining the main idea of the other of the two
theories your paper is about
- Again, it is sufficient to explain the theory’s main principle, probably
with an example or two; don’t worry about the arguments for and against it.
- After this step, you should be somewhere on p. 2 of your paper, perhaps near the
end of p. 2.
- a paragraph explaining a particular case to focus on
- Some examples of such cases are the trolley problem, the transplant
case, and the case of the inquiring murderer.
- Do not use any theory-case pair that can be found in the Rachels
book, or any theory-case pair that was discussed in lecture. That is,
- if one of the two theories you’re discussing is utilitarianism, you
cannot use the trolley problem or the transplant case; otherwise, you can
- if one of the two theories you’re discussing is Kant’s moral theory,
you cannot use the case of the inquiring murderer; otherwise, you can
- if one of the two theories you’re discussing is utilitarianism or
contractarianism, you cannot use the issue of animal
rights; otherwise, you can
- Do not use any theory-case pair that is too close to any theory-case
pair that can be found in our textbook, or any theory-case pair that was
discussed in lecture. For example, Rachels discusses a case in which
utilitarianism would imply that a person should give false testimony in
order to get an innocent person convicted of a crime in order to prevent
harmful rioting. An example of a theory-case pair too close to this one
would be an examination, from the point of view of utilitarianism, of a case
in which a person plants false evidence in order to get an innocent person
convicted of a crime in order to prevent harmful rioting. As a general rule,
if the theory-case pair you choose would remind someone knowledgeable about
the material for this class of some case that has been discussed in the book
or in class in connection with the theory in question, then it is not
- You are encouraged to make up your own case, or introduce an issue that
Rachels does not discuss and that has not been discussed in lecture. You
might, for example, present some case that you have faced in your life or
heard about in someone else’s life; or you might discuss some issue that has
been in the news.
- Be sure that you choose a case or issue about which the two theories
you’re discussing provide contrary judgments—don’t pick a case or issue
on which they agree.
- Be sure that, when you explain your case or issue, you specify the act
whose morality (or immorality) is to be considered. For example, if you are
considering the issue of same-sex marriage, you need to specify whether the
act you will be considering is (a) a citizen applying for a license to
marry someone of the same sex in a state where such marriage is currently
illegal, (b) a government official deciding whether to grant or deny such an
application in such a state, (c) a legislator voting in favor of a law
allowing same-sex marriage in such a state, or some other particular act.
- In specifying the act to be performed (or omitted), specify the
circumstances of the act so that there is no uncertainty about any of the
facts of the situation. For example, do not describe a situation in which
the act might have good consequences or might have bad consequences,
depending on things not specified in your description of the case. To apply
theories to cases, the cases need to be definite (albeit, in most cases,
- Don’t take up too much space describing something too elaborate—you
should keep this to half a page or so, and when you’re done you should be
around the top or middle of p. 3 of your paper.
- a paragraph explaining what the first of the two theories you’re examining
would say about this case or issue
- In writing this paragraph you should be sure to take advantage of the
explanation of the theory that you have provided in part 2 of your paper. In
practice, this means making sure that you write part 2 in such a way as to
set up what you will say in this part.
- a paragraph explaining what the second of the two theories you’re
examining would say about this case or issue
- Analogously to what I said about part 5, you should be sure that this
part of your paper builds naturally on what you said in part 3—which means
writing part 3 with this part in mind.
- After this step, you should be around the top or middle of p. 4 of your
- a paragraph indicating which theory would be judged better according to
the standard method for evaluating normative-ethical theories
- This will require you to say what, in your view, the opinion of
common-sense morality is on the case or issue in question.
- This should take you to the bottom of p. 4 or the top of p. 5 or so.
- a paragraph indicating your opinion as to whether common-sense morality is
right, or whether you have a contrary opinion
- If you think that common-sense morality is right, give reasons in
support of your (and common-sense morality’s) opinion.
- If you think that common-sense morality is wrong and needs to be
revised, give reasons in support of your opinion.
- In this paragraph, you should be talking only about your judgment of
common-sense morality’s verdict in this particular case, not about whether
you think common-sense morality is right or wrong in general.
- This should take you to the middle or end of p. 5 or so.
You would be well-advised to pick your two theories, and the case or issue
you want to discuss, with the later tasks—7 and 8—in mind. Some combinations of
theories and cases are easier to work with, and to comment on, than others.
No paragraph should be involved in more than one of the eight tasks listed
above, though some tasks may require more than one paragraph to execute.
Whenever a paragraph break is also the beginning of the execution of one of the
tasks on this list, begin the next paragraph with the number of the task you’re
beginning, like this. (That will help keep you on track and aid your
teaching assistant in seeing what you’re up to at any point in your paper.)
1. In this paper, I will
contrast ethical egoism and utilitarianism by examining their differing
responses to the issue of whether it is morally permissible to . . .
Your paper should have the same header information as specified for the
Stevenson writing assignment. The other remarks on formatting, style, and content
apply here as well, except where obviously inapplicable due the different nature
of this assignment. The rules regarding academic misconduct are also the same as before: you
are free to get all sorts of help on this assignment, as long as you (1) do all
the writing yourself and (2) cite whatever help you get. This means, among other
things, the following:
- When formulating your ideas, you are free to consult whatever sources
you want to consult. You must, however, indicate all of the sources
(books, journal articles, World Wide Web pages, television programs, other
people, or whatever) that helped you to develop your ideas for the paper.
You will not be penalized for borrowing others’ good ideas instead of
thinking of your own; the ideas in your paper will be judged on their
quality and how well you adapt them to the purpose of your paper, not on
whether they are original with you.
- When writing your paper, do the writing yourself. Any language not
your own—whether a sentence from a published source or just a clever
phrase or metaphor suggested by another person in conversation—must be
attributed to its source. Again, you will not be penalized for borrowing
others’ good ways of expressing certain ideas, unless you borrow so much
that the paper ceases to be legitimately yours. But as long as the paper
is not flooded with quotations (i.e., as long as it’s plainly a piece of
your writing), the writing will be judged on its quality (especially its
clarity), and not on whether it’s all original with you.
- To cite a source of ideas or language you are borrowing, use a clear
system of citations, such as footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical
references like those recommended in the MLA Handbook for Writers of
Research Papers or Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term
Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. There is no particular format for
citations to which it is necessary to conform exactly, as long as your
citations are clear and exhibit a consistent form throughout your paper.
So those are some comments about what is expected on this assignment. Grading
will be based on these considerations; each of the eight parts of your paper
listed above will determine 10 percent of your grade, leaving 10 percent to be
determined by whether your paper is written in a clear, straightforward,
grammatically correct style and 10 percent to be determined by whether your
paper is properly formatted.
Your paper will be due in class at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 28, and
will determine 9 percent, or possibly 13 percent, of your overall course grade.
(See the syllabus for a reminder of how assignments’ weights will be