Short Essay Assignment

on a Contemporary Moral Issue

(PHIL 320, Spring 2010)

Revised: January 15, 2010

Due: Friday, February 12, class time

Length: 600-750 words (Please give me a word count of non-quoted material.)

Format: 10-12 point Times New Roman, 1" margins, double-spaced, no more than ten lines
     per paragraph. Name, class, and date-submitted information should be placed in
     the upper right corner of the first page.

Points: 15 points (of 200 for the semester)

Questions? Contact Dr. Jan Garrett

For a sample essay whose format follows the basic instructions below (although the topic is outside the areas you are asked to consider), see Why We Must Reduce Fossil Fuel Consumption.

Main task: discuss a moral thesis regarding stem cell research, euthanasia, sexuality, motherhood and the workplace, and meat consumption (or consumption of fast food whose components are produced on factory farms).

The first four of these issues are discussed in Boss chapters 3, 4, 7, and 8, and chapter 12 provides ideas that can help you formulate an essay on the fifth issue. Read Boss Intro. 19-36 and the introductory material in the chapter corresponding to the general topic you choose. (Note on the Consumption topic.) Remember. Whatever topic you choose at this point will not be available for you when composing your major papers (due later).
The paper should have three main parts.

I. The formulation of a specific moral thesis (or claim).

A moral thesis or claim takes a stand on a disputed moral issue or question. Grammatically, it is a type of declarative sentence. A moral thesis is one that contains or can be meaningfully rewritten as a statement containing moral terms like "obligation," "should," "ought," "morally permissible, and "right (or appropriate) that."

For instance, chapter 7 raises the issue of whether "sex outside marriage is morally permissible." Chapter 4 raises the issue of whether "Sometimes human beings have a duty to die." Chapter 8 raises the issue of whether motherhood is a moral obligation. A specific moral thesis related to chapter 8, therefore, is: "Motherhood (specified as becoming a mother and staying home to raise one's biological children) is a moral obligation." Another moral thesis related to the same issue is "motherhood is not a moral obligation." (It's OK to embed qualifications in moral theses, e.g., "motherhood is a moral obligation for all women who are physically able.") Qualified moral theses are often easier to defend than unqualified ones. (Note: Chapter 8 is not directly related to abortion.)

You are not being asked to summarize the chapter, or the introduction to the chapter, or to discuss several of the loosely related issues raised in the introduction. Introduce other topics into your paper only as they relate to supporting or opposing the thesis on which you are focusing.

Part I should be the shortest part of your paper. The moral thesis at its heart should be one sentence. It may not be necessary to elaborate. On the other hand, you may want to define one or two key terms to ensure that they are not misunderstood. Suppose your thesis concerns motherhood. You might say, by way of clarification, "By mother I mean the female role in biological parenting plus the role of a primary caregiver for the offspring produced." (This particular definition would exclude surrogate mothers, foster mothers, and stepmothers from concept of motherhood under discussion.)

II. The presentation of arguments for the thesis.
What are the best non-religious reasons you can find for this thesis? These reasons should include one or more moral premises or moral norms. (These will likely be more general than the moral thesis one is defending.) They will also include descriptive premises ("facts"), which may be more or less general.

Ideally, moral premises should be widely shared, compatible with the "best," most responsible, most humane traditions, and able to survive under reasonable criticisms.

Ideally, descriptive premises will be true and supportable by the weight of evidence. (Obviously, in a short paper one cannot present much evidence. Still, bear in mind that one cannot invent "facts" and that factually false statements tend to weaken arguments.)

The premises should be related to the thesis you are trying to support in such a way that, if true, they actually do support the thesis. Otherwise the argument will be weak.

III. The presentation of arguments against the thesis.
What are the best non-religious arguments you can find against the thesis? (Same considerations apply as in II.) This part should be between 25 percent and 40 percent of the paper.)

General Cautions and Suggestions

1. Avoid plagiarism of all kinds. Practice the art of accurate paraphrase. Borrowing more than four or five words in a sequence (without proper quoting and attribution) from another source may be plagiarism. Quote and attribute directly borrowed material. For this assignment, if you quote material in Boss, you may use a simplified version of the author-page format, e.g., (Boss, 19) or (Battin in Boss, 196). The key is: I should be able to locate the quoted material in its source. Be familiar with the English Department's FAQ document regarding plagiarism. I shall assume that you have read this document.

2. Write complete sentences. Check for spelling and for good grammar generally. Use paragraphs reasonably, for instance, one for presenting the thesis, one for each argument for the thesis (unless they are very short), one for each argument against the thesis. The paper should be coherent and have a kind of flow from the beginning to the end. Every part of it should play a meaningful role like organs in a healthy body or brushstrokes in a well-done painting.

3. Read your first (second, third, etc.) draft. Make improvements as needed.

Note on Consumption topic. Pp. 641-43 are fairly directly related to the ethical consumption issue, as are several of the philosophical perspectives discussed in chapter 12. You may also use as a premise the general moral duty to care for one's own physical and mental health, which, of course, does not always override other-regarding duties central to most of the moral positions discussed in Boss.

Note on "non-religious." It is best if your reasoning in the paper avoids appeal to your understanding of the will of God/the gods or to a book you regard as holy. For some explanation of this, see Religious and Nonreligious Premises. Remember, this course assumes its context: a public or non-religious university.