Your final paper involves three main tasks:
1. Provide a clear and careful exegesis of two distinct
approaches to the foundations of normative ethics.
2. Evaluate each of those approaches.
and 3. Defend one of the two positions (explaining why the other
should be rejected) or present grounds for rejecting
both accounts of morality.
W.D. Ross’s “What Makes Right Acts Right?” pp. 87-105
Donagan, “Fundamental Principle” & “First Order Precepts”
Richard B. Brandt, “Some Merits of One Form of
Rule-Utilitarianism”, pp. 418-436
Bernard Williams, “A Crit
In the film, “The Last Supper”, a group of graduate students consider
the following hypothetical situation:
You are a time traveller. It is 1909 in Austria. You are
sitting in a pub, at a table with a young man named Adolf
Hitler. It is 1909, so the person you encounter is neither
bitter nor angry. He has not committed any crime, he does
not bring weapons to the dinner table, he has not started a
world war and he has not (yet) slaughtered millions of people.
Should you poison Adolf’s drink?
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In order to help you to develop a focus for your paper I invite
you to consider the above situation and reflect upon the following sorts of
Assume you are an act-utilitarian, what would your answer to this
question be? Describe the appropriate act-utilitarian analysis to
justify your claim.
How, if at all, would a rule-utilitarian’s analysis (such as Brandt’s)
differ from that of the act-utilitarian? What answer would a
rule-utilitarian give in the end?
How would deontologists such as Ross or Donagan reach a decision.
To what principles would they appeal? How, if at all, would their
analysis differ from that of an act-utilitarian or a rule-utilitarian?
Assume you are yourself. What would you do? Explain the
principles which inform your decision. Either way, would you or
should you feel guilty?
How might Bernard William’s notion of negative responsibility figure
into an assessment of the above situation? What other considerations
might William’s bring to bear?
If Judith Jarvis Thompson is right, can consequentialism provide
practical guidance in the above situation?
Your assignment is to write a carefully constructed essay which
addresses the relevant issues based on a detailed exploration of textual
arguments. This exploration requires that you compare and contrast the
structure of consequentialism with that of a morality containing
deontological constraints. Your paper MUST REFER to SPECIFIC
AUTHORS and THEIR ARGUMENTS rather than speak generally about
consequentialism or deontology. You are expected to explore foundational
issues from an informed, analytical point of view and to provide a solid
analysis of key arguments. DO NOT MERELY PRESENT AN “OPINION
Having set out an account of the contrasting moral visions, you are
required to evaluate each and to adjudicate between the two. You should
draw explicit criticisms and objections from the readings & class discussions,
consider the merits/faults of these objections and present your reasons for
supporting or rejecting such objections. How do deontology and
consequentialism measure up, at the end of the day, according to your
The final paper assignment is intended to encourage you to emerge
with an overview of where things stand in the debate between
consequentialists and non-consequentialists. It is also intended to allow for
some flexibility in focus. (You are not expected to discuss all the readings
in the same degree of detail. Rather, you are expected to make insightful
selections.) Therefore, as part of the assignment, you will have to define a
more specific focus for your paper, within the broad areas described above.
Be sure to start with a clear, well-organized first paragraph which outline
the structure and content of your essay and its arguments.
Your essay should be about 2000 words in length (8-10 pages),
preferably typed, double-spaced (normal font & margins). Essays longer
substantially longer than 2000 words may be penalized. Late essays
without authorized extensions (for cause) will be penalized at the rate of
3% per business day beyond the due date.