PHIL 1100 -- Ethics
Fall 2016
Prof. Chris Heathwood

University of Colorado Boulder


First Paper Assignment: The Golden Rule

50 points


Your typewritten, double-spaced hardcopy paper is due in class on Tuesday, September 27.  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.  If I 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. 


According to the philosopher Antony Flew, "Various expressions of the [golden] rule are to be found in tenets of most religions and creeds through the ages, testifying to its universal applicability" (Flew, "Golden Rule," in A. Flew (ed.) A Dictionary of Philosophy, London: Pan Books, 1979, p. 134.).  Here are some examples:

"Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself" (Confucius, Analects XV.24, David Hinton (tr.));

"What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah ... " (Shabbath folio: 31a, Babylonian Talmud);

"The most righteous person is the one who consents for other people what he consents for himself, and who dislikes for them what he dislikes for himself" ("Conversations of Muhammad," Dwight Donaldson, Studies in Muslim Ethics (1963), p. 82.).

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

a. Formulates a theory in the normative ethics of behavior that is based on the golden rule.  Your theory should take the same form as the other theories that we have studied, viz., "act act is morally right if and only if _______________ ."

b. Illustrates the theory by applying it to two examples.  Come up with two of your own examples, spelled out in detail.  The first example should feature an action that (i) your formulation of the golden rule implies is right, and (ii) intuitively is right.  Be sure to explain why your theory implies this.  The second example should feature an action that (i) your formulation of the golden rule implies is morally wrong, and (ii) is intuitively morally wrong. Be sure to explain why your theory implies this. 

c. Gives a counterexample to the theory.  To do this, describe some case, real or imaginary, in which someone performs some act that most or all of us would agree has a certain moral status (e.g., morally right or morally wrong) but that your golden rule theory implies has some other moral status.  Be sure to demonstrate why the theory has the implication, and explain why the implication is an unacceptable one.  Your job here is to convince the reader that the golden rule, as you have stated it, cannot be the fundamental moral theory.

If you're not sure how to begin your paper, you can start it as follows:

Variations of the "golden rule" appear in many world religions.  In this essay, I will formulate the golden rule as a fully general theory in the normative ethics of behavior.  Then I will illustrate the theory by applying it to two examples.  Finally, I will show that the golden rule cannot be the fundamental truth about ethics by presenting a counterexample to it.


Grading. Your essays will be graded on

Philosophy Paper FAQ. Look at my Philosophy Paper FAQ.  Although this document is geared more toward open-ended writing assignments, reading it will help you with this paper too.

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.  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).  I take cheating very seriously. 

Extra Help. If you seek assistance while write your essays, please visit office hours this week or visit CU's Writing Center.