Philosophy 3100 - Ethical Theory

Short Papers


See syllabus for length requirements and due dates.

For your short response papers, you have two options:

FIRST OPTION: write a short paper that responds to something from a reading or something discussed in class. The point is to explain your own idea relating to something from the reading or class. Once you have identified the idea you'd like to discuss, you need to be sure you do at least these two things in your paper:

  1. Provide whatever background is required to present your idea. This part of your paper will likely be merely repeating things from a reading or from class in your own words, but it is still quite important. When you do this, don't assume I know anything about your topic. Provide whatever background you'd have to provide if you were going to be explaining your idea to an intelligent friend who knew nothing about metaethics.
  2. Clearly explain your idea. Your idea might be a criticism of some idea from a reading or from class, an objection to some argument we discussed; a way for some theory to avoid some potential problem; or just anything that relates to our material that you found interesting and worth writing down.

If you have room, you might also consider

  1. Addressing a possible objection to or criticism of your idea. This would, of course, require first explaining the objection or criticism before you address it. But it's ok if you don't have room for this.

Whatever your idea is, it will need to be small. This paper is short, and there isn't space to do anything big.

Since I realize that this material is difficult and unfamiliar, and you might have a hard time coming up with your own idea on these issues just yet, there is another option:

SECOND OPTION: write a short paper as according to one of the following:

Topics for First Paper

  1. Huemer's definition of subjectivity includes the notion of constitutive dependence. In your own words, what does this mean? Distinguish it from causal dependence. Give examples of each. If the definition didn't include the word 'constitutively', how would it be defective. Throughout your paper, use your own words and your own examples.
  2. Explain why Ayer rejects what he calls "naturalistic" theories, and explain why he rejects what he calls "absolutism" in ethics (doing so will require explaining what these theories are). Do you disagree with either of Ayer's views here? Explain.
  3. Explain Moore's No-Disagreement Argument against subjectivism. Then explain Ayer's response to this argument, understood as an argument against Ayer's own theory. Who is right, Moore or Ayer?
  4. State a version of cultural relativism and then explain the arbitrariness problem as applied to this theory (in class we discussed the arbitrariness problem in the context of the Divine Command Theory). Do you think this is a real problem for the theory? Explain.
  5. First, explain the Divine Command Theory (DCT). One objection to this view says that it implies that if God were to command us, for no particular reason, to torture and murder our children, then such actions would be morally right. Defenders of the DCT sometimes reply by saying that God would never command such things? Does this reply effectively answer the original objection? If so, explain why it does. If not, explain why it does not.
  6. Explain the Ideal Observer Theory and one of Huemer's objections to it. Then evaluate that objection.
  7. Explain the difference between Reductionism and Naturalism (be sure to explain what a "natural" property is). Does Naturalism entail Reductionism? If so, explain why. If not, then characterize Non-Reductive Naturalism.

Topics for Second Paper (if you choose one of these topics, please indicate it by letter at the top of your paper):

  1. Explain Ross' view of moral knowledge and whether you think it is successful.
  2. Pick one of Mackie's arguments from queerness against Intuitionism, explain what you take it to be, and explain whether you think it is a good argument.
  3. Consider the following moral principle: it is always wrong to play God. Offer an interpretation of 'play God' as it appears in this principle. Illustrate the theory (so interpreted) with an example. Attempt to come up with a counterexample to this theory, explain your counterexample, and whether you think it is ultimately a good one.
  4. Does utilitarianism imply that it is always right to calculate the utilities of each of one's alternatives before one acts? If so, explain why and whether this is a problem. If not, explain why not.
  5. Come up with your own possible objection to utilitarianism and evaluate that objection.
  6. Explain the Argument from Psychological Hedonism against Hedonism about welfare and whether it is a good argument.
  7. Explain what you take to be Nozick's Experience Machine objection to Hedonism about welfare and whether it is a good argument.

Regarding format, your paper must:

Regarding style, you should:

General Guidance. Here are two helpful guides on writing a philosophy paper. Please look them over.

Cheating: You are encouraged to discuss your paper with others in the class; however, the paper you turn in must be your own work. Students turning in duplicate or near-duplicate papers will receive an F for the entire course and may be subject to expulsion from the university. I take cheating very seriously.

Do not quote much or at all in your papers. I 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 Assistance: I am more than happy to provide assistance to you as you work on your paper. Feel free to come to office hours with questions or just to run a rough outline by me.