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Paper Assignment

PHI 105: Introduction to Ethics

150 Points (15% of Overall Grade)

This paper is essentially the capstone and culmination of the course. In it, you will show a thorough understanding of two ethical frameworks by applying them to a controversial ethical issue. Moreover, you will engage in critical analysis and, finally, clarify your own insights regarding ethical decision-making.

This paper needs to be at least 5 full pages, double spaced (with regular one-inch margins all around).

Find a story in the news, either in a newspaper or from a legitimate news website. This story should be recent (from no more than three years ago). It should not be from a website devoted to offering mere pros and cons of ethical issues.

This news story should focus on one of the following controversial ethical issues: abortion, capital punishment, torture, gun control, religious freedom, animal rights, the Black Lives Matter movement, immigration or immigration reform, LGTBQ or transgender rights, or issues surrounding the COVID-19 situation. If you would like to write about active euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, you may do so, but you will need to read all the required course material on that issue first. If you wish to use a different ethical issue not mentioned here, you must contact me for permission.

1. Find a story in the news (from a legitimate news website) that connects to the issue you choose. At the top of your paper, provide the URL link for the article (or articles) that you primarily reference in your paper.

2. Briefly explain the situation, issue, or problem related in your news story. (This needs to be less than one page. However, you are free to use a full page or even more than a page here, provided that the overall length of the paper is extended as a result; this ensures that the paper will still provide the required depth of ethical analysis and reflection.)

3. Then analyze the story from the perspective of two different ethical systems we have examined so far. Be sure to use and draw upon many of the resources and ideas found within each system you choose. That is, provide a detailed and thorough analysis rather than a superficial one.

• Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics
• Nietzsche’s Moral Nihilism
• Ethical Relativism
• C.S. Lewis’ Humble Moral Absolutism (this is the Natural Law version of Moral Absolutism, or the “Law of Human Nature,” similar to Brannigan’s proposed “5th Option”)
• Johannes de Silentio and the Divine Command Theory of Morality (pseudonymous “author” of Fear and Trembling)
• Environmental Ethics

o You have already had an assignment focusing exclusively on Kant and Mill, so you may not use them in this portion of this paper.

4. Mark an argument regarding which of the two ethical systems is better and why you think so. This needs to be more than just a sentence or two – at least one substantial paragraph, if not more. The paper needs to present well-considered reasons for preferring one over the other. (It is acceptable for papers to say that they agree or disagree with both moral systems, but the paper must still make an argument as to which of the two is better than the other; that is, they cannot be judged as completely equal.)

5. Conclude the paper by providing your personal views on the best way to approach ethical decision-making. This portion of the paper does not have to be tied directly to the paper’s main ethical issue or news story. The paper should address your personal views on ethics in general. In this portion of the paper, it will be acceptable – and it is even encouraged – to refer to other moral systems in addition to the two used in the paper’s main analysis. And there are no restrictions here – it is perfectly acceptable to refer to either Kant’s Deontology or Mill’s Utilitarianism (or both).

Rubric – Practical Tip plus Feedback on Grades

Feedback on Grades: A rubric will be used when I grade these papers. After you see a grade in Talon for this paper, you will also be able to access the filled-out rubric. This means you will be able to see exactly what points you earned and what you earned them for.

Practical Tip: You can also see the rubric ahead of time. It lays how the paper will be graded. Is a great idea to look at this ahead of time, and again as you write your paper – and even look at the rubric again once your paper is completed. You can use it as a kind of checklist to help you craft the best paper possible.

NOTE that while these papers are to be written on a controversial ethical issue, the papers themselves must make every attempt to be objective when laying out the issue itself and the various perspectives on that issue. Remember what we read from John Stuart Mill about the need to look at both sides of an argument, and to think through the best arguments that each side has to offer. Ultimately, you will use your paper to take a position and argue for a thesis. However, this must be done after treating both sides of the debate fairly. Papers that are merely one-sided or that “demonize” the “other side” will fare poorly. The issue you are examining is only controversial because there are in fact very intelligent people on both sides of the issue. We must never act like or believe that we are always right and that anyone who disagrees with us is automatically a stupid idiot.


• Double-spaced, at least 5 full pages (no extra spacing between lines or paragraphs). Papers that have thoroughly addressed all the paper’s requirements will likely be closer to 6 pages.

• Do not double space or put too much extra space at the top of the first page. The paper’s first paragraph should start no more than 1/4 of the way down on the page.

• 12 point font, Times New Roman (or comparable)

• Regular margins (1 inch on sides, top, and bottom)

• Provide the link to the news story (or stories) at the top of page 1 of your paper


• You are required to engage directly with the required texts for our class. For Aristotle, it is our specific edition of his Nicomachean Ethics, and all others are found on Talon. You must quote and reference those required texts.

• Whenever you refer to specific passages from our texts, you must include the specific page number within the paper (i.e., you must indicate exactly where the author makes the claim or argument you are discussing; the author’s name alone is not sufficient). These are in-text citations.

• You must provide in-text citations every time you directly quote from the text. You must also provide in-text citations every time you paraphrase from the text. You can either use footnotes or parenthetical references – just be consistent. (Parenthetical references are easiest and preferred.)

Two examples:
o Direct quote:
 Aristotle says that “the nature of moral qualities is such that they are destroyed by defect and by excess” (p. 179).
o Paraphrase:
 Aristotle claims that extreme deficiency and also extreme excessiveness are immoral and will prevent us from having moral virtues (p. 179).

• You should not do any outside research. You should use only our required texts and notes from class. Using other sources will lead to a penalty on the paper’s grade.

• At the end of the paper, you must give the full bibliographic information for all of your sources. Ideally, this will only include the required readings for our course.

o I’m not picky about the citation style (MLA, APA, Chicago Style, etc. etc.), as long as you have the author, title, publishing company, and the date. When relevant, including the edition, editor, or translator is good.

o The Bibliography does not count toward the page length requirement.

• If you use any other sources, they must be acknowledged within the paper with in-text citations and they must be listed in the bibliography.

o Once again, if you use outside sources of information, and if you correctly cite and acknowledge all such sources, there will be a penalty on the paper’s grade.

o If you use ChatGPT or other AI Generators, and if you correctly cite and acknowledge all such sources, the penalty on the paper’s grade will be even greater. (But if you at least come clean about using such a source you can avoid the greatest penalty, which is discussed next.)

• If you use outside sources of any kind, and if you do not correctly cite or acknowledge all such sources, the paper will receive a zero for plagiarism and an official report will be sent to the Dean of Students office.

o After all, using an outside source without acknowledging that source is essentially the definition of plagiarism.

o See Syllabus for the Academic Integrity Policy. If I request that you authenticate your work, it will be up to you to prove that your work is your own. See the Syllabus policy for more details on that.

• If you have any questions about how to cite your sources, look at the Plagiarism module in our Talon course, or just ask me, or look at Kirkwood’s Library page (they have very good resources there).

• Try to keep in mind that this is an ETHICS class, and this paper is meant to showcase what you have learned about Ethics. When you turn in your paper, you will submit it in your own name. You are essentially saying to me, “Here are my thoughts on these things.” Have integrity and enough self-respect that your submission is honest and transparent.

Just to be clear, here are more details on the “required texts” that your paper needs to reference and cite to write this paper.

You should be using the required readings listed in the Detailed Course Schedule document.
For most of our readings, there is a PDF on Talon. Inside that PDF you should find all the information you need to create an entry for the bibliography (usually either on the first or the last page of the scanned document). If you need help figuring out how to cite Lewis or Nietzsche, for example, just email and ask.

If you use one of the chapters by Brannigan, here is the information you need: all of those readings are different chapters within a book written by Michael Brannigan titled Ethics Across Cultures: An Introductory Text With Readings (McGraw-Hill, 2005).

Citing Aristotle should be pretty straightforward. However, if you want to use portions of his text that we did not read or cover in class, I suggest that you clear that with me first. At the very least, make sure that any such references are in addition to references that use the portions you were required to read for class.

For example, we did not read or discuss anything from Books V or VI in Aristotle’s text, even though they are in our physical textbook. Try to either not use such extra material, or only use such non-required readings in addition to the portions of the text that were required for our class.

You may refer to other resources provided on Talon.

These include PowerPoints, handouts, and any videos posted in Talon.

Here again, be sure to cite these sources clearly. Also be sure that using these sources are in addition to citing and referencing the required readings themselves.

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