Philosophy 3100 - Ethical Theory

Paper Prompts


Read paper guidelines before reading this. See syllabus for length requirements and due dates of papers. As those paper guidelines said, you don't need to do a pre-assigned topic (a topic based off of on of these prompts). In fact, it's great if you have your own idea. But if you don't have your own thesis and argument, you may write a paper addressing one of the following. If you do one of these pre-assigned topic, make sure to indicate the number and name of the topic you choose at the top of your paper.

Second Paper

  1. Utilitarianism. Is some form of utilitarianism true?

  2. Welfare. Which theory of welfare (hedonism, desire-fulfillment, or objective list) is true?

  3. The Argument from Psychological Hedonism. Bentham suggests that we can argue for hedonism on the grounds that "Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone ... to determine what we shall do." How would this argument go? Is it a good argument?

  4. The Experience Machine. Can Nozick's experience machine example be used to refute hedonism about welfare?

  5. Kant's Categorical Imperative. Is Kant's Categorical Imperative true?

  6. Ross' Argument from Promises. Is Ross' argument from promises against utilitarianism successful?

  7. Sidgwick on the Duty of Fidelity. Does Sidgwick show that the duty of fidelity has a utilitarian basis?

  8. Ross' Theory. Is Ross' theory true?

  9. The Doctrine of Double Effect. Is the doctrine of double effect true?

  10. Hart's Objection to the DDE. Does Hart's objection to the doctrine of double effect create serious problems for this principle?

  11. Thomson's objection to Foot. Does Thomson's objection to Foot's explanation about the Driver and Magistrate cases succeed?

  12. The Trolley Problem. What is the solution to the trolley problem?

  13. Experimental Philosophy. Can we learn about what's right and wrong from data in psychology and neuroscience? Has Greene succeeded in doing this?

First Paper

For the first topic, I spell out in detail what your paper would need to address. Read this no matter what. It will give you an idea of what you should address if you were to choose a different topic.

  1. The Motivational Internalist Argument. Is the Motivational Internalist Argument for Non-Cognitivism successful?

    A paper on this would require: (i) endorsing a clear Yes or No answer to this question; (ii) explaining the internalist argument (and explaining any this else relevant that came up in explaining the internalist argument; (iiia) (if you think the argument is unsuccessful, then) presenting a clear objecting to a clearly-identified premise of the argument; or (iiib) (if you think the argument is successful, then) anticipating an interesting objection to the argument, laying it out clearly and forcefully, and explaining why you think the objection fails. If you choose (iiia) rather than (iiib), you should consider replies that an advocate of this argument might give to your objection, explain them, and rebut them. If you have time at the end, you might offer some thoughts as to the importance of your conclusions (see the first full paragraph of p. 52 of the Martinich).

  2. Empiricism and Moral Knowledge. Is empiricism (in epistemology) true? Does it really have problems for accounting for moral knowledge?

  3. Non-Cognitivism. Does the Frege-Geach argument refute Non-Cognitivism?

  4. Moore against Subjectivism. Is Moore's argument against simple subjectivism successful? Are there other forms of individual subjectivism that avoid Moore's argument? Do these theories face new problems?

  5. Arbitrariness. Do any forms of subjectivism/constructivism in metaethics avoid the arbitrariness problem? (Possible theories to consider are the ideal observer theory and perhaps a theory based on Rawls' ideas of the original position [something we didn't discuss in this class]). Is the arbitrariness problem even a real problem in the first place?

    In this paper, it is imperative that you get across very clearly and forcefully just how the arbitrariness problem is supposed to be a problem.

  6. Divine Command Theory. One objection to the Divine Command Theory goes like this: (i) the DCT 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; but (ii) it's not true that such actions would not be morally right if God did this; so (iii) the DCT is not true. Is this a successful argument against the Divine Command Theory?

  7. Reductionism. Are moral properties and facts identical to facts and properties that can be expressed using non-moral terms? What is at stake here: if the answer is No, what problems do we face? But is it plausible to answer Yes?

  8. Open-Question Arguments. Who's open-question argument is better, Moore's or Hare's? Do either of them succeed in refuting reductive naturalism?

  9. Non-Reductive Naturalism. Is it possible to reject Reductionism but still be a Naturalist in ethics? Explain why or why not? If this view is possible, is it plausible? How could we tell if it was true? Are there reasons to think it is true?

  10. The Regress Argument for Non-Inferentially Justified Moral Beliefs. Is this a good argument? If it is, what does that teach us about moral epistemology generally? If it is not, what other options are available for moral knowledge?

  11. Ross' Moral Epistemology. Is Ross' moral epistemology successful?

  12. Mackie's against Realism. Pick one of Mackie's arguments from queerness against Intuitionism/Moral Realism (e.g., queer motivation, queer normativity, queer dependence, queer knowing) and say whether it is successful.

  13. Nihilism. Does Huemer's argument against Nihilism in §5.5 refute Nihilism?

  14. The Argument from Disagreement. Does the Argument from Disagreement cast serious doubt on Moral Realism?