Washington and Lee University, Fall 2001

Philosophy 101: Problems of Philosophy

101A: MWF, A hour (Newcomb 10B)

101C: MWF, C hour (Payne 3)

Ben Eggleston—EgglestonB@wlu.edu

office hours: M&F, 2–4, and T&Th, 9–11 (Newcomb 25)


Paper Assignment no. 1


The first part of our course is devoted to theories about the nature of moral judgments, including the following theories:

You will have noticed (or will soon notice, as you read further) that the author of our book, James Rachels, is not very sympathetic to any of the theories just listed. Partly because of this, your assignment is to write a paper in which you explain the meaning of one of the theories listed above, explain one of Rachels’s objections to it, and offer the most effective response to that objection that you can think of. Your paper should be about five pages long, double-spaced.

That’s the basic idea of the assignment; now here’s some advice for completing it:

  1. Clearly your paper is going to be a sort of a defense, or something that could be used as an ingredient in a defense, of one of the above theories. But this doesn’t mean that you should write about the theory that you like the best (or dislike the least). Rather, you might want to write about the theory against which you think Rachels makes the feeblest objection—even if it’s a theory that you join Rachels in rejecting—since your job is just to respond to an objection to a theory, not to defend a theory as a whole. And presumably you want to respond to that objection that you feel most capable of responding to.
  2. Think carefully about your use of space. Don’t spend too much space explaining the meaning of the theory, or explaining the objection to which you will be responding, or else you won’t have enough space in which to develop your response sufficiently. To avoid spending too much space on the “explaining” parts of the paper, you might want to write those extremely briefly at first, then write the third part of your paper (the “response” part), and then go back and fill in some of the earlier parts. Of course, how much space is sufficient for developing your response will depend on your own ideas and writing style, but a fairly safe rule of thumb to follow would be to spend about three pages explaining the theory in question and the objection that you’re going to be responding to, and about two pages actually responding to it.


For this paper there are two due dates: Monday, October 1, and Friday, October 5. On October 1 (a date for which, you will have noticed, there is no assigned reading), you are to bring to class two copies of a rough draft of your paper. Then you and two of your peers will form a small group and spend the class period reading each others’ papers and offering comments—hopefully some combination of praise and constructive criticism. You will not be graded on the quality of the rough draft you bring to class, because I will not read it: only your peers will. Then you will have four days in which to improve your paper in light of your peers’ comments, and on October 5 you will turn in to me one copy of the revised version of your paper. This is what I will read and grade.


To be more precise about what I’ve said so far, following is a detailed account of the criteria according to which I will grade.



points possible:

points earned:

1.      Your paper accurately explains the main idea of one of the theories listed above:



2.      Your paper accurately explains one of Rachels’s objections to that theory:



3.      Your paper offers an effective response to that objection:



4.      Your paper is well organized and clearly written, with good spelling and grammar:



5.      For October 5 (not October 1): your paper is approximately five pages in length and is double-spaced, and this sheet (with this side up) is stapled or paper-clipped to the front of your paper:



6.      For October 5 (not October 1): lateness penalty (if applicable):

(3 points off per unexcused day late, excluding weekends)



total score




Finally, a word about the honor system. As you know, all work turned in for credit at Washington and Lee is presumed to have been done without the giving or receiving of unacknowledged aid. This paper shall be no exception. But this does not mean that you cannot get help on this paper; on the contrary, you can get all sorts of help, but you must acknowledge it. That is, you must indicate—with footnotes, ideally—all of the ways in which you have gotten help, whether from other people (such as the staff of the Writing Center, which you are encouraged to take advantage of), or from books other than our textbook, or Web sites, and so on. Where possible, help that you have received should be noted in connection with the part of your paper to which it pertains. (For example, if someone helps you find a more persuasive way of expressing some thought of yours, then that should be noted with a footnote in that part of your paper.) But help whose effects extend throughout the paper (such as when someone reads your whole paper and gives you comments on many parts of it) can be noted as such in a single footnote at the beginning or end. In acknowledging aid, there is a balance to be struck between thoroughness and manageability; the key is to be as thorough as you need to be in order for the reader not to mistakenly attribute to you anything that you owe to someone or something else. So when in doubt, err on the side of thoroughness in acknowledging aid.