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. 3


If you recall the first two paper assignments, you will not be surprised by this one. The general idea is to identify a statement in something we’ve read in the third part of the course that you find objectionable, and to present as strong an objection to that statement as you can. So, you have considerable latitude in regard to the specific moral issue that you choose to discuss. But there are some restrictions:

  1. The statement that you object to should be an important one. That is, it should be the central claim of a chapter, or an important premise in an important argument for such a central claim, or an important consequence of such a central claim. To take a very obvious example: you would not want to devote a paper to claiming that the British support for famine relief was not 14,750,000 pounds (as Singer claims), but rather 15,000,000 pounds. In other words, your objection must be one that, if successful, would substantially undermine the author’s position.
  2. The objection you offer should not be the same as, repetitive or, or plainly derivable from the views of another author we’ve read or are reading. So, for example, you should not object to the views of Mary Ann Warren by presenting objections that may be found in the paper by Don Marquis.
  3. Now that we are into the part of the course dealing with concrete moral issues, it is easy to get overly caught up in the specific facts of various issues, such as what degree of consciousness fetuses of certain ages have, or what would be the actual consequences of sending (or trying to send) a certain amount of food to a certain group of starving people. But it is important to distinguish these “non-moral” facts from the moral facts or principles that ethics is concerned with. So in your paper, you should take care to ensure that your objection focuses on a question of ethics, not a question of developmental biology or demography or nutrition or other parts of the natural or social sciences. For example, you should not object to Singer by dwelling on the fact that direct famine relief may not be as effective as, say, certain kinds of political reform or economic development. For even if that is true, it doesn’t affect his claim that we have much more extensive duties to distant needy people than most affluent people acknowledge. Another way of putting what I’ve been getting at in this paragraph is like this: what you say in your paper should be something that would be informative even to someone who is as thoroughly informed, sophisticated, and savvy as one could possibly be about all of the subtle facts of politics, international diplomacy, development economics, developmental biology, public-health practices, and so on. That, as I said, is another way of putting the requirement that your paper focuses on an issue of ethics rather than the non-moral facts of a particular issue.
  4. Also on the subject of non-moral facts: Your paper should consist mostly of an explanation and defense of your objection to whatever it is that you’re objecting to. Do not spend a lot of space summarizing what others have said, or what the non-moral facts are that give rise to the particular issue that you’re concerned with. To encourage you not to dwell on such material, I am setting the length limit for this paper at five pages, not (as stated on the syllabus) at seven pages. (This, I hope, will remove the temptation to fill some pages with factual explanation, and impel you to be succinct in whatever stage-setting you choose to do before embarking on your particular objection.)

So that’s the assignment. As I said, your paper should not be longer than five pages long, and it will be due in class on Monday, December 3. If you have a lot of things due then or find that date inconvenient for some other reason, let me know in advance and we may be able to agree on a reduction in the lateness penalty or a penalty-free extension. But be aware that I am going to be stingy about granting extensions, due to how near the end of the term we will be.

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 a statement in the assigned reading that you find objectionable:



2.      Your paper explains your objection to that statement:



3.      Your paper offers an effective argument for that objection (presumably by meeting requirement 4 above), and also meets requirements 1–3 above:



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



5.      Your paper is not more than 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.      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. 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.