PHIL 2320 Ethics in Public and Private Life 19SP (DL)
Term Paper Instructions
To Distance Learning Students:
Please read these instructions carefully and ask me if there is something you don’t
understand.The term paper is 33% of your final grade. Our
semester is quite short, so you should begin thinking of your topic now.
Due date: This will be posted under the Term Paper Instructions on Bb.
Submission: Your term paper should be submitted via Blackboard under Writing
Analysis and Term Paper.
Format of the document: The document must be saved as a Word document (.docx) or
in pdf., not, e.g., in Pages. If it is not submitted in a format that can be checked by
SafeAssign, it will not be read nor will it count.
Target audience: This is a formal paper for a general audience. More specifically, your
target audience is college students who are not in this course. This means the typical
college student who hasn’t had ethics should be able to understand and follow what you
are saying. You are not to write for me, or for other students in the class. You are also not
to reference the course, as in “When I was reading what you assigned us, I saw, etc.” You
will lose points if you do this.
Application of the Theories: Your paper must exhibit familiarity with what we study in
the course. A paper with no reference to Aristotle, Christian ethics, utilitarianism, natural
law, Kant, etc., will not pass. Even if there is superficial mention of the theories, unless
the theories play a substantive role in your paper, I will view it as not having satisfied this
requirement. Tip: Your ability to apply the course materials should be first and foremost
in your mind when choosing a topic, i.e., Can I relate my topic to the course materials? If
you don’t see an obvious way to do this, you should look for a different topic.
Wrong I’m interested in (x). I’ll write on that, and, oh yeah, I’ll just sprinkle in some of
the course material.
Right I thought of a great a topic that works really well with the course material. I’ll write
on that, and include (x), (y), and (z) from the course.
I. Choosing a Topic
There are two types of term paper, “practical ethics” and “theoretical ethics.”
A. Practical Ethics
Papers in practical ethics typically focus on issues such as whether a certain action or
practice is ethical, but it may also include consideration as to whether a certain action
should be illegal or restricted regardless of its morality, e.g., It is wrong to view
pornography, but it must be allowed under such and such circumstances. Examples
include the morality/legality of abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, cloning,
marijuana decriminalization, “open borders,” or gambling.
• If you are in Professional Studies, either Education, Allied Health, Business, or
Engineering, you may certainly consider writing on a topic within your major,
program, or field. However, you must examine the morality or ethics of a given
practice, whether it is right or wrong, and not whether it is merely legal, practical, or
beneficial. In other words, you must ask whether the practice is ethically permissible,
not whether it is more efficient, faster, simpler, or would cost less money.
• Students must be sensitive to the need for supporting data and studies. For example,
claims such as “Many women suffer post-abortion depression,” or “Children of samesex
parents fare just as well or better than children raised by their biological parents”
must be backed up by at least one peer-reviewed study, but also demonstrate
awareness of counterevidence. If you cite a study, but I know there are many other
studies that have different results, or question it, this can affect your grade.
B. Theoretical Ethics
Papers in theoretical ethics typically focus on more abstract questions such as the proper
basis for ethics, or whether purported general principles are truly ethical. Such topics
— Do we need God/religion/Christianity for ethics?
— The relationship of morality to law (“legislating morality”)
— Moral relativism vs. (moral) realism (Is ethics objectively true, or is it relative?)
— The nature of wisdom, character, or virtue
— Is Stoic wisdom truly wise?
— Whether freedom of the will is necessary to ethics
— Whether a given ethical theory “works” or is coherent
Theoretical ethics papers must have at least one (1) peer-reviewed external source as
either an argument, counterargument, or response to a counterargument.
II. Getting Started
Especially if you are writing a paper in practical ethics, read the Lesson Introductions and
Assignments for Lesson 5 (utilitarianism) and Lesson 6 (Kantian ethics). These deal with
modern moral theories that are relatively easy to apply to practical issues such as
euthanasia, same-sex marriage, or abortion.
II. Structure and Content of Your Paper
A. Thesis (the position you wish to defend)
This is not a topic, rather it’s the position you wish to defend.
Wrong: In the following essay, I will examine whether abortion is ethically
permissible. (This is a topic, not a thesis.)
Right: In the following essay, I will show that abortion is ethically permissible (or
impermissible). (A thesis is your position or stance.)
The exposition explains why your topic (the subject matter as opposed to your
thesis) is important. In addition, you must locate your topic/thesis within the
ethical and political divisions between Christendom (premodern or classical ethical
theories) and modern ethical theories. You should not merely summarize this
division, but demonstrate specifically how your topic/thesis reflects this division.
This part of your paper or outline should be at least 250 words in length. Your
sources should include material from the Introduction to Lesson 7, but may also
include material from The Student’s Guide to the History of Ethics, and your own
research. See how to cite lectures and unpublished manuscripts at Purdue Owl
MLA “Other Common Sources” and “Books”.
C. Arguments for your thesis
These arguments should support your thesis, giving the reader reasons to think
your thesis is true. If you’re writing on practical ethics, you must draw from the
ethical theories we cover in the course (Aristotelian or Christian ethics; Stoicism;
utilitarianism; Kantian deontology). If I do not see that you employ thinkers or
theories that we cover in the course, you may not get a passing grade.
This part is extremely important. You must provide what you believe to be the
strongest argument or arguments against your view.
Note: If you write on either abortion or same-sex marriage, you must respond to
the arguments provided under Lesson 7 Resources.
If you support a right to abortion, you must respond to Noonan.
If you are opposed to abortion, you must respond to either Thomson or Warren.
If you support same-sex marriage, you must respond to George, et al, “What is
If you oppose same-sex marriage, you must respond to Stoerts.
In addition, you may be required to respond to at least one argument that opposes
your view from the documents Abortion Discussion or Same-Sex Marriage
Discussion. (These documents are currently being prepared.)
E. Response to counterargument(s)
After listing the counterarguments, it is extremely important that you respond to
them in a convincing and compelling manner. Failure to do so could result in a
F. Conclusion (qualifications, i.e., what you didn’t cover in your paper)
You can write a summary of what you have argued and how you’ve defended
your thesis. But another good thing to do is to mention things you didn’t cover in
• The paper MUST be formatted in Microsoft Office (.doc or .docx).
• Citation and formatting style should be MLA according to Purdue Owl MLA (I
provide a link under Writing Analysis and Term Paper.)
• The paper should not be fewer than 1250 words (5 pages), not including quotes, cover
page, headings, name, footnotes or endnotes. Papers longer than 2,500 words (10
pages) may be penalized.
• Font style is up to the student.
• There should be proper citations for any external sources you use.
Criteria for Grading
• Generally, is the paper well-written, i.e., is it easy to follow and understand even if a
person outside the course read it? Does it evidence logical development, or does it
contain elements that don’t make sense or distract from the overall point?
• Is the exposition clarifying and helpful, or confusing or superficial? Does the author
demonstrate awareness of the assumed audience’s need for explanation?
• Are the arguments presented plausible, well-thought through, compelling, and nonquestion-
begging, or are they implausible, hastily put together, superficial, or
o To “beg the question” is to start from a premise that is likely rejected by one’s
opponents, or is one many people doubt or reject. If you think your premise
may “beg the question,” show that you are aware of this, and address it as best
• Are the counterargument(s) strong and compelling, or are they weak or a “straw
man”? Does the author treat opponents of his view with respect, or is the author
derogatory or contemptuous toward his opponents? Does the author express the
counterarguments as well or better than his opponents would?
• Is the response to the counterargument successful? Is it convincing, to-the-point,
plausible, or creative, or does it seem to miss the point, leave the major objection
unaddressed, or only offer a weak or under-developed rebuttal?
• Does the conclusion helpfully summarize the debate? Does it offer something for the
reader to chew on? Does it indicate awareness on the author’s part that some
significant issues haven’t been addressed?
• Is the paper free of grammatical and stylistic errors, including a well-formatted
• Does the paper engage or apply the theories we cover in the course, or could it
have been written in the same way if you had never had the course? If it is the latter,
the paper will not receive a passing grade.
• Warning: If your paper has frequent grammatical errors, I will award it a 0 (zero)
until it is taken to the Writing Lab, revised and re-submitted. (By “frequent” I mean
more than c. 10 errors that I deem will harm you professionally, i.e., in getting a job
or advancing in one. After you re-submit the paper, the highest grade it can receive is
a D (65%).
A Excellent; exceptionally good in every respect.
A-/B+ Very good, but some minor flaw(s), or not exceptional.
B/C+ Satisfactory; meets criteria, but not exceptionally well; some critical flaws.
C Adequate; satisfaction of only some of the criteria.
D/F Failure to achieve minimal satisfaction of the criteria.
Plagiarism occurs either when you copy from another source or borrow ideas from
another source without attribution (indicating where you got it). If I determine that you
have done this, you will receive an F for the course.
Please read, sign, and attach the following declaration at the end of the paper. No paper
can be accepted without this declaration.
I, _________________________________, affirm that this assignment is my own work.
I have not taken or copied material in this assignment from any other source or received
assistance of any kind unless this is explicitly referenced in the bibliography. Any quoted
material has been placed in quotation marks or indented with an endnote, footnote, or intext
citation and included in the bibliography, and any idea from any other source is also
so marked (endnote, etc.) and included in the bibliography.