PHIL 1100 -- Ethics
Fall 2015
Prof. Chris Heathwood

T.A. Bodhi Melnitzer
University of Colorado Boulder


First Paper Assignment: Two Short Essays

50 points


Write the following two essays.  Your typewritten, double-spaced paper is due in class on Friday, September 25.  Do not submit your paper by email.  Be sure that your name is on each page, page numbers are on each page, and the pages are stapled together.  If you fail to follow these simple formatting requirements, you'll lose points.

Late papers lose 1/3 of a letter grade for each day (not each school day, each day) that they are late.  The first late day begins right when the class in which the papers are due ends.  The second late day starts 24 hours after that, and so on. The exception to the no-email-submissions rule is late papers.  Because you lose 1/3 of a letter grade for each day the paper is late, you can and should submit late papers by email.  Attach your paper to the email -- do not copy it into the body of the email.  Attach it as a .pdf or .docx file.  Email late papers to both the professor and the TA.  If we don't receive the email, if you forget to attach the paper, or if the attached file is unreadable, that does not count as having submitted the paper.  In your email, ask us to acknowledge receipt of your paper.  

Here are the two essay questions.  Again, you must do both.


Essay 1 (15 points). In "The Challenge of Cultural Relativism," James Rachels lays out six "claims, all of which have been made by cultural relativists" (pp. 18-19).  As it turns out, this collection of theses is internally inconsistent: something said in one of the six theses contradicts something said in another of them.  Write a very short essay (150-300 words) in which you identify and explain an inconsistency in these six claims.

There may be more than one inconsistency.  You need only discuss one.

Make sure to clearly identify and state which two of the six claims you are saying are inconsistent.  When you state these claims, you'll be quoting from the Rachels.  You therefore need to put quotation marks around the claims and cite Rachels.  Failure to do so is plagiarism, which is a form of cheating.

The best way to demonstrate an inconsistency in some set of claims is to show that one member of the set entails the negation of something that is entailed by another member of the set.  In other words, one member of the set implies that some claim, P, is true, and another member of the set implies that that same claim P is not true.  The best sort of essay will clearly identify a P that is implied to be true by one of theses and untrue by another.

If it helps to get you started, the first two sentences of your essay can be the first two sentences after 'Essay 1 (15 points)' above.  (If you use those two sentences to start off your essay, you do not need to put quotations marks around them and cite this document.  This is the one exception to the general rule against using other people's words without citation.)

In your essay, focus on expressing yourself as clearly and explicitly as possible.  Pretend that the person you are writing for has absolutely no knowledge of our class and is easily confused.  It is your job to get this person to see the inconsistency that you believe is there.

Recall that we already discussed the topic of this essay in class and even did an exercise on it.  Thus, this is a sort of "warm up essay" for you.  Essay 2 below is more involved.

Essay 2 (35 points). In giving the reason why they think some practice (e.g., cloning, physician-assisted suicide, genetically modifying food, genetic manipulation of embryos, donating Baby Theresa's organs) to be wrong, some people sometimes appeal to the following principle:

PGP: It is morally wrong to play God.

Write a short essay (300-600 words) that does the following:

a. Interprets PGP.  It's not clear what it means to "play God."  Provide a reasonable interpretation of this obscure slogan.  That is, specify exactly what conditions an act must satisfy in order for it count as an act of playing God.

Your definition can be of the form, "To play God is to _________" or "A person plays God when he or she _________ ."  Be sure to use simple, literal language – your definition can't be as obscure as what you're trying to define.  Your interpretation must be reasonable – it can't be million miles away from what at least some people typically have in mind when they talk about "playing God."

b. Illustrates PGP so interpreted.  Illustrate what you mean with some examples.  Your illustration should include an example of an act that both (i) is an act of playing God according to your interpretation and (ii) about which PGP (so interpreted) generates a plausible result.  Thus, this example should be an act that counts as playing God according to your definition and that would seem wrong to most people.  Your illustration should also include an example of an act that is not an act of playing God according to your interpretation (if there are any -- if there aren't, explain why that is).

c. Refutes PGP so interpreted.  Give a counterexample to the principle so interpreted.  To do this, describe some case, real or imaginary, in which someone performs some act that most all of us would agree has a certain moral status (e.g., morally right or morally wrong) but that PGP implies has some other moral status.  Be sure to demonstrate why PGP has the implication, and explain why the implication is an unacceptable one. Your job here is to convince the reader that this version of PGP is false.

In giving your argument against PGP, don't "beg the question."  That is, don't show that PGP has some implication that those sympathetic to PGP would be happy to accept.  So, for example, it is no good to say that PGP is mistaken because it implies that physician-assisted suicide is wrong or that we shouldn't genetically modify food.  Advocates of PGP probably want their principle to imply these things.  You need to come up with a counterexample to PGP that would convert its adherents.

In the event that you are convinced that PGP as you have interpreted it is true, then do the following. Present the strongest argument that you can think of against PGP; present it as forcefully as you can. Then explain why you think this argument is not ultimately successful.

As before, if you like, your essay can begin with the sentence that appears after 'Essay 2 (35 points)' above (including up to "It is morally wrong to play God").


Grading. Your essays will be graded on

Cheating.  It is fine if you want to discuss your ideas with others in the class.  However, the paper you turn in must be your own work. Turning in closely similar essays is cheating.  Students who do that will receive an F for the entire course and may be subject to expulsion from the university.  So will students who use a paper -- even if only a tiny part of it -- that they found on the internet (these are easy to spot).  We take cheating very seriously.  

Do not quote others much in your papers.  We want to hear the ideas in your own words.  But if you must use the words of others, put them in quotation marks and cite the source.  Otherwise, you are plagiarizing.  Plagiarism will earn you an F for the whole course and possible expulsion from the university.

Extra Help. If you seek assistance while write your essays, please visit one of us in office hours this week and/or visiting CU's Writing Center.