PHIL 350: Major Paper #2 on Ethical Theory

Instructor: Dr. Jan Garrett

Last revised date: November 15, 2010

Note the addition about the outline.

This is a chance to develop, and to show, understanding of at least one moral philosopher after Hume or one topical article by a contemporary philosopher included in the Cahn-Markie anthology.

The paper is due Monday, November 29, 2010.

Late papers received after December 8 may not be graded before the end of the semester and may result in an incomplete for the course.

Approximate length: 1300 words. (Going beyond this limit is OK, especially if your writing is clear and well-organized.)


Please give me an accurate word count. Citations, drawings, notes and/or bibliographical data may be appropriate or even necessary, but they do not contribute toward the word count asked for.

For the semester you need a total of 3500 words on the shorter paper, the first major paper, and this paper. If there is a take-home part to the final exam, the word count on that part is not included.

Choose as your focus one of the works from Cahn and Markie:

Modern and 20th Century Theorists

Bentham and Mill

   Topical Articles

Feinberg on Egoism (#27)
Rachels on Relativism (#39)
Feinberg on Rights (#33)
Held on Feminism (#41)
Sober on Environmentalism (#54)

As soon as you have generally decided which theorist or topical article you would like to focus on, please check with me. I want to avoid having a large number of students writing their papers on the same debates and to encourage the development of a diversity of expertise in the class, so I'm limiting the number who can write on a single theorist or topic to three. There are two exceptions, Marx (where the limit is now six) and Kant (see next paragraph).

We will not be discussing Kant much in class and we may not have time to discuss all the topic articles. I will allow up to two students to write on Kant (provided that Dr. Switzer's course is not covering The Groundwork, the text by Kant excerpted in Cahn and Markie, or The Critique of Practical Reason and they are not duplicating a paper written for that course or another course they have had).

The same stipulation about not duplicating applies to papers on other authors as well, including but not limited to Marx, Nietzsche, and Sartre.

As of this moment (11-15, 10:20 a.m., there are two more slots for papers on Marx. Marx is a thinker whose views have been much misrepresented and whose significance has been underrated over the last 20-30 years but whose relevance is today greater than ever because of the crisis of the capital system. He is also of great interest philosophically because of the way in which his thought challenges unexamined assumptions many academics, including academic philosophers, are prone to make. I want to strongly encourage you to read works by Marx or Marx interpreters today other than the Communist Manifesto, the "common" Marx text for this course. (I can make suggestions.)

I recommend that you first work through the study questions corresponding to the primary material from which you will be drawing in writing your paper (Study Questions), if they are available. If such study questions are not available, then apply the Questions Concerning the Elements of Thought to the article to help yourself determine what is at stake in the article.

A. If you are focussing on a theorist (Kant . . . Rawls), things to explain:

  • The key ethical questions discussed by the author (plus any other important questions raised in trying to answer the key questions)

  • The answers offered by the author to these questions, plus the reasons the author provides these answers

  • Assumptions being made that are necessary to make sense out of the questions, the answers, and the reasons.

  • The contrasting answers to these questions offered by other authors. (You may refer to a pre-Kantian position at this point.)

  • The reasons offered by those authors for their answers.

  • [Not absolutely required but recommended if you feel fairly confident in your grasp of the main subject-philosopher(s) of your paper.] Evaluate the philosopher's or philosophers' positions or reasons from an independent philosophical perspective.
  • B. If focusing on a topical article:
  • Summarize, largely in your own words, the author's argument concerning the topic under discussion. (In some cases, it may be enough to summarize a major more or less complete and interesting subargument, if it can be done in a coherent manner.)

  • Support or critique the author's argument, say, by relating the argument to other philosophical material such as the writers we have studied earlier in the course. For instance you might relate Feinberg on Egoism to Hobbes, or Held on feminist critiques of male philosophers on gender, emotion, and reason to what male philosophers have actually held.
  • C. After you have drafted your paper,
  • Review your draft essay, bearing in mind the Universal Intellectual Standards you have in your possession.

  • Revise/polish your essay in light of those standards.
  • Demonstrate that you have paid careful attention to the primary material by accurate paraphrase and embedded documentation as appropriate, e.g.
    Hobbes describes the natural condition of mankind as "a war . . . of every man, against every man" (220.1).
    The parenthesized number indicates that this point is based on page 220, column 1. Of course, more information, such as author and year, may be required if you are referring to some work other than the Cahn and Markie anthology.

    If you supplement the texts in Cahn and Markie with references to other primary material by our authors, be sure to document the source precisely enough that I can locate the original passage.

    While you may use secondary sources to orient yourself toward the philosophers on the Modern Theorists list (and help yourself to avoid common errors of interpretation), I would like to discourage direct reliance on secondary sources in the actual writing of the paper.

    If this assignment is in any way unclear to you, please ask for clarification right away.

    Doing an Outline (added 11-15-10)

    I want to encourage you to develop an outline for your paper and let me provide feedback to you about it. You may assign up to 10 of the 40 semester points allocated to the second major paper to the outline, and I will grade the outline. Of course, the more detailed and well thought out the outline, the more likely you'd be to receive close to the full ten points (supposing you chose to allocate ten points to the outline). In this way, you can increase the chances of writing a paper that is truly excellent.

    Given that the paper is due November 29, I would need to receive the outline by Friday the 19th and you'd need to collect the feedback on the 22nd since we do not meet on the 24th. If you'd like to provide a few sentence initial summary of your topic and subtopics a bit earlier, the 17th at the latest, I shall try to provide a brief initial feedback by email.

    Of course, taking advantage of this offer requires selecting a topic sooner rather than later. I will increase the maximum that may choose Marx to six. (This overrides the limit set on the original MP2 Instructions.) Be thinking of a second option in case the Marx option is fully subscribed and you are interested in writing on Marx. You may email me to let me know your preferred topic/subject..

    My plan is to start our discussion of Nietzsche in class on the 19th.