Phi 208 Ethics and Moral Reasoning Final Paper


Week 5 Assignment Guidance:

General Notes and Advice:

· This paper is a demonstration of what you have learned about moral reasoning based on our examining of ethical theories and specific ethical issues. As such, you should focus your attention on carefully spelling out the reasoning that supports your conclusion, and relating that to the theories we have discussed in class.

· You are free to write on the same topic and question you wrote on in previous papers, or choose a different topic and question.

· If you choose a different topic, you would benefit from going through the exercises in the previous assignments.

· You are free to draw upon the work you did in previous papers, and reuse parts that you feel were strong, but you are not to simply recycle the previous papers.   This paper should reflect the culmination of the development of your thoughts on this issue, and many of the requirements for the final paper cannot be satisfied by a heavily recycled paper.

· The consideration of an objection against your own view is a way of showing that your view has the support of good reasons and can answer its strongest objections. Therefore, aim at identifying and addressing the strongest opposing argument you can, bearing in mind that a good thesis should be able to respond to the best arguments for the other side.

Thesis Statement

The thesis statement is more than just a position statement of the sort you provided in the first assignment; rather, it states the position and the primary reasons in such a way that the reader should have a clear sense of how the reasons support the position, which is what will be spelled out and explained in the body of the paper. Please see the guide on constructing a thesis statement at the end of this document.

Ethical Argument

The ethical argument does not need to refer to a specific ethical theory like utilitarianism or deontology. If you believe that the strongest argument relates certain actions or policies to the values and character needed to flourish, you could explain that here, and then in the next section describe virtue theory and the way that it regards questions of character and flourishing to be more fundamental than consequences or duties. Or, if you think that the strongest argument in favor of your position involves showing the consequences, you can argue that one action or policy has better consequences than another. In the next section, you can explain why you believe that the action or policy with the best consequences is the morally correct one by explaining utilitarian theory. Or you could explain why one action or policy involves respecting or violating fundamental rights, or is inconsistent, or fails to respect persons, or something like that and then explain that in the next section by discussing Kantian theory.

Objection and Response

The objection needs to directly address the argument that you made. One way to think about that is whether someone could accept the view of the objection and accept your own view at the same time.

When you respond, you can identify a premise or assumption that the objection makes that can be challenged. Remember that if you challenge a premise or assumption, you thereby challenge the conclusions that are based on that premise or assumption. You might also try to show that the objection is inconsistent, or that it would lead to further conclusions that are unacceptable. When you respond, be sure that you do not end up defending a different position than the one you defended in the main part of the paper.

Guide on Constructing Thesis Statements

The thesis serves as the backbone of your paper. Or if you like, it states the central idea of the paper, around which everything else revolves. Every part of your paper is meant to in some way explain and defend that thesis. So it’s really important to construct a thesis that is focused enough that you can defend it in the space given to your paper, and for that thesis to be clear, concrete and specific, and to include a statement of the primary reasons for that position.

So let’s look at some examples of some strong and some weaker theses.

First you will be presented with a weak thesis statement, and you should try to think about why it’s weak and what might make it stronger before reading the explanation.

1. Weak Thesis:

· Abortion is a really tough issue that has sparked a lot of controversy and debate for over four decades, and there are many good arguments on both sides.

What makes it weak:

· No position. In other words, you don’t really tell me what your stand is on this issue; you simply reiterate that it is an ethically important issue, which should already be obvious. Be sure that your thesis clearly states your position.

Some Stronger Alternatives:

· Even though abortion involves taking the life of a biologically human creature, its relative lack of development, considered in comparison to the burdens a woman may face in carrying it to term, means that abortion may be morally justified in some cases, and that is a determination that should be left up to the individual woman to make with the full support of the law.

· Anytime there is uncertainty about whether a class of beings is human, a liberal democratic society should always err on the side of humanity, thus we should consider fetuses to be human and criminalize most cases of abortion.

These statements specify the position that the person takes, and provide a concise statement of the primary reasons for that position. They also limit themselves to one particular aspect of this wide and complex debate. Compare that with the next thesis.

2. Weak Thesis:

· Racism is a problem in this country because blacks are treated as inferiors, there is too much prejudice within law enforcement, and there are many racist stereotypes in the media and popular culture.

What makes it weak:

· Too broad. While each of these points is worth considering, it would be impossible to adequately defend all of these claims within the scope of a single paper. It is important to make sure that the claim being defended is narrow and focused enough that you can adequately defended it in the space provided by the assignment. Remember that it is better to be narrow and deep, rather than broad and shallow.

Some Stronger Alternatives:

· When we examine rates of incarceration and instances of police brutality, we find that people of color are targeted at much higher rates than whites, and this reveals an inherent racism within the criminal justice system that is unjust and demands substantial and concerted efforts to change.

· While some people may find the image of the “Mammy” character in literature, media, and advertising to be warm and comforting, it reinforces the idea that the “proper place” of the black woman is in a servile position, which in turn supports a conception of the inherent inferiority of blacks that conflicts with the notion that all humans are inherently equal.

Notice how each of these theses limits itself to one of the many ways in which racism might be a force in society. Moreover, it doesn't simply describe the sociological facts; it also includes a clear ethical claim, i.e., a claim that invokes conceptions of value, right and wrong, and so forth. Compare that with the next thesis.

3. Weak Thesis:

· Placing more restrictions on gun ownership will make it much harder for potential criminals to have access to guns.

What makes it weak:

· Not an ethical thesis. The claim made by this thesis statement is a sociological one, not an ethical one, strictly speaking; in other words, it is a claim about what effects on society certain policies will most likely have. An ethical thesis would state the ethical significance of that claim, if it were true. The truth of the claim may mean that we have a responsibility to impose tighter restrictions on gun ownership, but it may not. Whether or not it does depends on how that fact relates to our conceptions of ethical value and moral responsibility.

Some Stronger Alternatives:

· While supporters of gun control are correct in holding that there should be some restrictions on gun ownership, I will argue that restrictions similar to those in many European countries would cause more harm than it would prevent if implemented in the United States, given how many people in our society depend upon guns for protection.

· While tighter gun control measures might mean that some people will not be able to engage as freely in certain leisure activities like sport hunting and target shooting, the fact that human life itself is far more valuable than such activities and that lives that would be saved by tighter gun control measures justifies the inconvenience such measures would cause for a few people.

In the first case, the thesis appeals to the idea that our moral responsibility is to ensure the greatest good and least harm. In the second case, it appeals to the ethical idea that the value of human life itself outweighs the value of any particular enjoyments within that life. These ideas are all debatable, as are the sociological facts, but the relation between the two is the focus of the thesis; the body of the paper would be focused on defending these debatable claims.

4. Weak Thesis:

· I believe that doctors have an obligation to always respect the rights of their patients.

What makes it weak:

· Too vague about some of the key terms. Watch out for terms like “rights” and “respect” and others that can mean many different things. You want to instead be as specific as you can. In the alternatives below, notice how the “rights” in question are specified, and what it means to “respect” a patient (and what it doesn’t mean) are also clarified.

Some Stronger Alternatives:

· A patient always has the right to be told the truth by his or her doctor so that he or she can make the most informed decisions, even when telling the truth results in greater harm than good.

· A patient has the right to the most effective form of treatments possible from her doctor, and if a doctor believes that a patient will be better treated if they aren’t aware of the whole situation, then it is permissible for the doctor to lie.

5. Weak Thesis:

· Criminals are scourges on society and it’s ridiculous to think they deserve to keep living.

What makes it weak:

· Too extreme, indefensible, uses inflammatory language. This is a formal philosophical essay, not a screed, not a Facebook post or blog comment, not a conversation among friends. Make sure your position can be adequately defended with reasons and evidence, and that you maintain a respectful, formal tone.

Some Stronger Alternatives:

· When someone knowingly and deliberately takes the life of someone else without just cause, the only kind of punishment that truly fits that crime and satisfies the demands of justice is to have his or her own life taken in return.

· It is never right to take the life of an innocent person, and since there is always a possibility that we might execute an innocent person, capital punishment is not justified.

6. Weak Thesis:

· Everyone has their own religious beliefs, and who are we to force them to pray if they don’t want to?

What makes it weak:

· Rhetorical question, not a statement. Remember that this is a thesis statement. In fact, avoid using rhetorical questions anywhere in your essay. Ideas are almost always communicated much more clearly and precisely when they are stated positively and directly.

Some Stronger Alternatives:

· Since public prayer implicitly expresses an endorsement of religious belief, officially sanctioned prayer in public schools constitutes a violation of religious freedom and should not be allowed.

· While official school prayers are a violation of religious freedom, banning any student-led prayer gathering on campus grounds is equally a violation of religious freedom.

Again, remember that a thesis announces your position, and it is something you can argue for. I should know what conclusion you will be trying to defend on this topic, and the primary reasons supporting that conclusion. And for ethics papers, the thesis should have a clear ethical statement to make.

In sum, you should avoid a thesis statement that:

1. doesn’t state the position clearly and directly;

2. is too broad;

3. does not state an ethical claim;

4. is too vague;

5. is extreme, indefensible, or uses inflammatory language;

6. uses rhetorical questions.

When you have constructed your thesis, run through these examples and consider whether your thesis statement makes any of these mistakes. If it does, try to revise it, and if you are unsure or are having trouble, please consult your instructor.