Philosophical Ethics

Your first essay should do three things: (1) it should show that you able to identify a value claim (HINT: propositions containing words such as “right,” “wrong,” “good,” “bad,” etc.) (2) that you can describe the central issue about which opponents in an ethical disagreement/dispute disagree (3) that you can think critically about a particular ethical disagreement/dispute and articulate your own perspective on the disagreement, that is, you can identify what further questions need to be resolved in order to help opponents reach a resolution.

The essay should adhere to the following structure:

Part 1: Identify a controversial ethical claim
– Clearly state the main ethical claim that you will discuss in the essay
– The claim you discuss should be an ethical claim, that is, it should be concerned with whether some action, practice, policy, etc. is right or wrong
– The claim you discuss should be controversial, that is, it should be one about which people seem to disagree about
– If necessary, provide a brief explanation of the action, practice, etc. whose ethical status is under debate.
– Part 1 shouldn’t require more than 5-6 sentences.

Part 2: Provide a diagnosis of the controversy
– State whether the debate over the ethical claim you’ve chosen is (1) merely apparent, i.e. that opponents affirm/deny propositions that are merely subjectively true, (2) a substantive disagreement about how an agreed upon absolute ethical truth applies in a particular situation, or (3) A substantive disagreement about whether some absolute ethical principle is true or false
– Offer some reasons in support of your diagnosis, for example: (1) if you think that the dispute is merely apparent, explain why opponents might be unaware that the propositions they express are merely subjective; (2) If you think that it’s a substantive disagreement about how an absolute moral truth applies in a particular situation, identify the underlying moral truth whose proper application opponents disagree about; (3) if you think that it’s a substantive disagreement about whether a principle is, in fact, an absolute ethical truth, explain why one side accepts that principle while the other side rejects it.
– Be sure to provide a brief definition/explication of any technical terms, e.g. ‘absolute truth,’ ‘objective truth,’ ‘subjective truth,’ etc.

Part 3: Propose a way to help resolve the controversy

– Disagreements arise when people either (1) mistake a subjective claim or an objective one, (2) do not share a common perspective on what evidence is relevant to the truth/falsity of an objective claim
– In case (1) disagreement, resolving the disagreement requires correcting the mistaken view that the claim is subjective. If you diagnosed the disagreement as subjective, identify those considerations that lead you to believe that there’s no objective truth on the relevant claim and explain why those involved in the disagreement might have made such an error
– In case (2), resolving the disagreement requires opponents to compare their assumptions about evidence. If you diagnosed the disagreement as substantive (that is, as a disagreement about an objective or absolute truth), point out what questions about evidence might be raised as a means to resolving the disagreement. For example, you and a friend might disagree over whether it is morally good to give money to homeless people on the subway. Supposing that the dispute is objective and that you both agree that it is good to promote the well-being of others when it’s not a serious cost to your own well-being, the disagreement seems to concern whether giving money to homeless people on the subway is a case where you are promoting well-being without serious cost to yourself. In an effort to resolve the disagreement, some plausible questions to raise might be: (a) Does giving to the homeless on the subway really promote their well-being? How do we know how the money is used? Is there a better way to promote their well-being than by giving money? (b) Does giving money involve a serious cost to one’s own well being? What is the relationship between one’s level of wealth and one’s well being?

Further guidelines:
(1) Remember: for this essay, you are NOT being asked to state whether you think the claim in question is true or false, or in other words, whether the action in question is right or wrong. Rather, the idea is for you to gain some practice in thinking about ethical disagreements and how to resolve them.

(2) Depending on what ethical claim you have chosen to discuss, the disagreement may involve many complicated considerations. Do your best to focus on a single question/issue that could help work towards resolution. More may need to be done, but the investigating the question you raise in part 3 should at least provide a start

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