Essay length: 3 – 5 pages, double-spaced. Standard MLA or APA formatting. Cite references appropriately.
These are merely essay prompts. Feel free to modify or combine ideas. I have listed two possible approaches to the essay.
First Approach: General Essay Prompts
How can we evaluate moral systems? What factors are we looking for in a coherent ethical code?
What does it mean, philosophically, to live (or pursue) the ‘good’ life?
Do we have an obligation to the ‘greater good’ or to the ‘state’? What are the limits of this obligation?
Is there a way to determine which actions are right in a sense that applies to everyone? If not, then how do we decide which actions are good?
How do the interests of a society relate to the interests of an individual? What happens when there is a conflict between what is ‘good’ for an individual and what is ‘good’ for a society? Provide examples.
Why do we give ethical priority to humans over animals? What gives us the right to do this? Discuss.
The term ‘good’ has several philosophical meanings. Discuss the differences/relations between ‘good’ actions, ‘good’ people, and the ‘good’ life.
Can ethical standards be applied to animals, even if they cannot be ethical agents? Can these standards be applied elsewhere (e.g. robots, computers, forests, aliens)? How?
‘Tolerance’ is a negative word. To tolerate someone else’s behavior is to ‘put up’ with it, for example. How do we tolerate beliefs that we do not agree with? When is toleration no longer appropriate?
Since we have no say in where or when we are born, do we have any legitimate title to the resources we are able to consume from this ‘random’ position?
Why do so many philosophers concern themselves with ‘happiness’? Discuss the different meanings of ‘happiness’.
How can ‘happiness’ be a moral concept? (e.g. Aristotle)
Second Approach: Resolving an Ethical Dilemma
Pick an ethical dilemma that is in the news, or that you are passionate about. Analyze the issues using Kant’s ideas and/or utilitarian ideas. What kind of a judgment can you make about the issue? (Examples: animal rights, immigration, environmental issues, acting selfishly vs. acting for ‘the greater good’, first amendment issues, second amendment issues, incarceration in America, voting rights, civil rights, our responsibility to developing nations, bioengineering/genetic modification…)
Do not simply ‘argue your position’. I will be looking to see how well you apply the theories. Remember we cannot simply justify any position, there must be good reasons for our conclusions.