University of Kansas, Spring 2005
Philosophy 674: Philosophy of Law

Paper assignment no. 2

For this paper, first choose one of the following topics (or propose your own to me, and I might approve it—but do not write on a topic other than any of these, or on a variant of any of these, without getting my approval first).

  1. In Griswold v. Connecticut, Justice Douglas uses the concept of a penumbra in order to argue that the Connecticut law prohibiting the use of contraception is unconstitutional. Many people think, however, that the concept of a penumbra—at least in the way Douglas uses it—is so vague (or otherwise problematic) that Douglas’s argument is seriously flawed. Write a paper offering the most sympathetic reconstruction of Douglas’s argument that you can. In other words, what should we see Douglas as trying to say with the concept of a penumbra, even if he does not quite say it? (Writing a paper on this topic is essentially an exercise in interpretation, as Dworkin explains that concept: it requires that you improve upon Douglas’s argument as much as you can, as long as what you propose that we see Douglas as trying to say fits with what he actually did say. Remember, you are reconstructing Douglas’s argument, not replacing it. (You do not have to talk about Dworkin in your paper. I just mention this Dworkinian aspect of this assignment in order to clarify the nature of your task.))
  2. In “The Philosophers’ Brief,” Dworkin et al. argue that the Supreme Court’s decision in the Casey case implies that the liberty interest at stake in Washington v. Glucksberg is protected by the Constitution. Rehnquist disagrees. Write a paper that explains and evaluates this disagreement by answering the following questions. On what basis do Dworkin et al. claim what they claim, and on what basis does Rehnquist disagree? (That is, what does Rehnquist say is the correct interpretation of the Casey decision, instead of the interpretation asserted by Dworkin et al.?) And what is your own view of how the Casey decision bears on the physician-assisted suicide case? (You should, of course, give an argument in support of your view.)
  3. In his 1859 essay On Liberty, John Stuart Mill asserted what has come to be known as the harm principle. Write a paper that evaluates the harm principle by answering the following questions. What does the harm principle say or imply about when punishment is legitimate? Is the constraint that the harm principle places on punishment justified? (That is, should we make sure we don’t punish people for any sorts of actions besides the ones the harm principle says it’s legitimate to punish people for? Why or why not?)

Following is a protocol for preparing your paper, turning it in, and further tasks. (As before, I require strict compliance; deviations will be penalized.)

Your paper should be formatted just as your first paper should have been formatted (mutatis mutandis). Here are the main guidelines:

  1. page
    1. Use one side each of up to three sheets of business-sized (8.5” x 11”) paper.
    2. Use margins of at least one inch on all four sides.
    3. Staple the pages together.
  2. type
    1. Use the font Times New Roman, or (if not available) the nearest available equivalent.
    2. Use a type size of at least 12 points.
    3. Use the same font and type size throughout your whole document.
    4. Double-space all the lines.
    5. Make the lines flush-left—that is, don’t right-justify them.
    6. Number each page at the bottom, in the center. (This can be in the bottom margin, rather than above it.)
  3. On the first line of the first page (not every page), list the following items, separated by commas:
    1. Philosophy of Law
    2. 4/13/05
    3. paper 2
    4. topic X (where Y is the number of the topic, from above, being answered)
    5. answer Y (where Y is the three-digit code that will be used for this sheet and no other)
  4. Start each paragraph of your paper with a half-inch indentation.

On Wednesday, April 13, bring three copies of your paper to class. On that day, you will get comments on your paper from some of your classmates, and you will read and comment on their papers. Two copies are for this purpose; the third copy is to turn in to me. But I will not look at it until I grade the paper you turn in on Friday, April 15 (see below), and then only to make sure you really had your paper substantially finished on Wednesday.

On Friday, April 15—after you have had a couple of days to revise your paper in response to your classmates’ comments—bring a hard copy of your paper to class to turn in. (Remember to change the date to 4/15/05.) When you are printing the hard copy you are going to turn in, print a second hard copy for yourself. You will be required, later, to have a duplicate of what you turn in on Friday.

Before going on, let me answer a few frequently asked questions.

  1. “Will you read rough drafts?” No, for three reasons. First, I have too often have the experience of giving comments on a rough draft, judging the final draft to be something short of perfect, being told something along the lines of “I thought I made all the changes you asked for,” and ending up mired in a discussion about what did or did not get said in the previous conversation about the rough draft rather than about what is good or bad about the paper itself. Second, I am setting aside a day in class for you to get feedback from your classmates. Since they are capable of catching much of what I usually end up catching—typographical errors, grammatical errors, lack of clarity, structural problems, etc., as well more specifically “philosophical” problems—their feedback should be a good partial substitute for mine. Third, I am perfectly willing to meet with you to talk about your ideas.
  2. “Oh, so you will meet with us in advance?” Absolutely. I would be glad to talk to you about the material, or help you think through the ideas in your paper, if you’d like. You can even write a draft of your paper and bring it to your meeting with me, and describe what you do in your paper, and I will tell you whether it sounds like you are on the right track. This might compromise the anonymity of your paper, but I believe that cost should be borne in order to help you get as sound an understanding of the material as you can.
  3. “Can we e-mail you with questions, too?” Only if it is a simple procedural question. If it’s a substantive question, please find some time to let me give you my answer in person.

O.k., back to the assignment. At any time before or after you turn in your paper (e.g., as soon as you read this would be fine), and definitely by the end of Friday, April 15, send me an e-mail message letting me know of some times when you are available to meet during the week of April 18. (Don’t tell me your paper’s code! I will read and grade all the papers, maintaining their anonymity, by April 18.) At our agreed time, we will meet, and I will give you comments on your paper that you should take into account in revising it. To meet individually with each of you will be logistically challenging for me, so I am setting up the following rules to try to minimize unnecessary inefficiencies:

After we meet, you will have until Monday, April 25, to revise your paper, with a length limit of up to four pages. This version of your paper should be prepared in the same way as your previous versions, except that the date should say 4/25/05. (Use the same answer code as on the previous versions.)

For general advice about writing a philosophy paper, see my “Guidelines for Writing a Philosophy Paper” ( which contains not only general advice, but also information about additional, more extensive, sources of advice.