University of Kansas, Spring 2003
Philosophy 161: Introduction to Ethics, Honors

Paper Assignment no. 1

Your assignment is to write a paper of about 5 pages (double-spaced, 12-point type) on either (1) one of the following topics or (2) some other topic that you would like to propose to me (in which case, just let me know, and we can discuss it).

  1. At the end of section 3.5, and in sections 3.6 and 3.7, Rachels describes and provides an extended example of an approach to moral judgment that, he says, has the great virtue of showing how there can be proofs of ethical truths. He offers this approach as a response to the emotivist view of ethics, and to subjectivist views generally; but he does not indicate how an emotivist would reply to this approach. Write a paper in which you (1) explain the approach to moral judgment that Rachels proposes and (2) reply to it on behalf of an emotivist. In replying to it from the perspective of the emotivist position, you should make clear both (a) what the view of emotivism is and (b) how a proponent of that view would react to, and criticize, the approach to moral judgment that Rachels proposes.
  2. In “The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms,” Charles Stevenson provides an extended statement of the emotivist position. Write a paper in which you critically evaluate this view. To get started on such a project, you might want to reflect on how the emotivist understanding of moral judgment is not compatible, or seems somehow to clash, with your own intuitive understanding of what is going on when people (1) make moral judgments, (2) have moral disagreements, (3) try to change others’ minds about moral matters, and/or (4) try to make up their own minds about moral matters. (I say ‘and/or’ because just some of these may be sufficient to make you concerned about the adequacy of emotivism.) And once certain aspects of the emotivist account of moral judgment strike you are problematic, you should try to write about these, explaining how, in your view, there is something in the phenomenon of moral judgment that emotivism leaves out, or gets wrong. Emotivism, although very influential, still strikes most people as very counter-intuitive, so there is a lot to work with here.

As you choose your topic and write your paper, note that a large part of your grade will be determined by the extent to which what you say in your paper goes beyond what’s in the book, and does not merely repeat or rephrase what’s in the book. In doing this you are welcome to use other resources (including the optional readings mentioned on the syllabus), but you certainly do not need to do so, and you should not feel any pressure or expectation to do so. You should, though, as I said, feel obliged to write a paper that pursues whatever topic you choose to write about further and in more depth than that topic is developed in the book. (As I said on the syllabus, while the tests will mainly test your knowledge of what you’ve read, the two papers will manifest your ability to articulate, and to present arguments for, your own views.) For additional suggestions about writing philosophy papers generally, see my “Guidelines for Writing a Philosophy Paper.”

For this paper there are two due dates:

  1. The first due date is for peer reading of (and commenting on) papers. You are to bring to class on Friday, February 14, two copies of your paper. Then you and two of your classmates will form a group of three and will read and comment on each other’s papers. You should bring to class two copies of as final and polished a version of your paper as you can manage, so that your peers will have the opportunity to read and comment on your best work.
  2. The second due date is for turning in the final version of your paper to me. Final copies of papers will be due in class on Wednesday, February 19.