Paper #1:  Describing, applying, and analyzing an ethical theory through lived experience

Paper #1:  Describing, applying, and analyzing an ethical theory through lived experience

Paper #1:  Describing, applying, and analyzing an ethical theory through lived experience


* DUE by 11:59 PM on Wednesday Oct 12*                                             * Uploaded to Canvas *


NOTE: this is due immediately after fall break, to give you maximum flexibility. I am *not* forcing you to work over break, though: I encourage you to turn in this paper BEFORE break.


The goal of this paper is to clearly describe a moral theory (either utilitarianism or Kantianism), do your best to engage in real-life decision-making as the theory demands, and critically assess the moral theory on this basis.


Important things to know:


1.      Your paper must be between 1000 – 1250 words (about 4 – 5 double-spaced pages). 


2.      The “audience” for this paper is someone who is not in this class. This means that you have to define/explain any terminology you use, and can’t presume any background knowledge.


3.      Double space it and use at least 12-point font (so it’s easy for me to read). Don’t write everything as one long paragraph; start a new paragraph whenever you have a new idea.


4.      Because you will be describing your own experiences, you should use the first-person pronoun (“I”) in your writing.


5.      You are permitted to consult outside resources (e.g., resources we haven’t used in class), but you are not required to. Be careful about what sources you choose: some website (especially things like discussion forums) are not reliable, and some resources cover different aspects of the views we’ve addressed or interpret them differently (e.g., different formulations of the categorical imperative.)

a.      If you consult, cite, or borrow an idea or example from any outside source (including websites) you MUST cite this in your paper. You must put quotation marks around any quotes. You may NOT turn in any work you didn’t write yourself.


6.      Try to paraphrase ideas in your own words rather than quoting them, as this shows deeper understanding of the content. When possible, don’t quote or cite my handouts: quote or cite the texts we’re engaging with directly instead (and include the page numbers!)


7.      You don’t need a bibliography for course readings. You may use whatever style of academic citation you like (for example, APA, MLA, or Chicago). Be consistent. See:


8.      For a short paper like this, you don’t need an elaborate introduction. Just jump right in to the main substance of the paper. For example, your first sentence can be “The moral theory of utilitarianism/Kantianism states . . . ”

9.      I will accept late papers for a penalty of 2 points (out of 100) per day late. If you expect in advance that you may need an extension (due to conflicts with other coursework, family conflicts, travel, etc.), ask me early and I will usually grant it.




1.      Choose either act utilitarianism  or Kantianism (the humanity/end-in-itself formulation).


2.      For at least one 24-hour period—or longer, if you wish—do your best to make all of your decisions in accordance with the theory you’ve chosen. For at least one day, try to actually live as if you were a committed utilitarian or Kantian.

a.      We’re all flawed humans, so you may not perfectly succeed at this! That’s okay.

b.      Take notes as you go reflect on what decisions you’re making, and why. Use whatever note-taking format works best for you: recording audio reflections on your phone, writing in a journal, sending yourself email or text reminders, etc.


3.      Follow the instructions below to write a paper that describes the moral theory, reports on your experience trying to put it into practice, and offers objections/replies.


Paper instructions:


First, describe the moral theory you have chosen in detail.

–          You want to explain what the theory says about why actions are right or wrong, and what decision-making procedure the theory advises you to engage in.


Second, describe at least THREE decisions that you made in accordance with the theory. Most importantly, you must clearly illustrate how the decision you made is supported by the theory. (Or, if you think you failed to do what the theory advises, explain what decision you should have made instead, and why.)

–          The decisions you address can be big or small. Describe you own actual experiences that took place recently; don’t bullshit or make things up. The most important thing is that you give a plausible assessment of how a utilitarian or Kantian would respond.

–          Because respect for privacy is important, if you talk about other people in your paper, either ask them for permission to use their name or use a fake name.

o   Remember: Even though you’re reporting on your personal experiences, this is not a journal entry: it’s an academic paper. You don’t need to try to sound formal, but use proper grammar and spelling and keep your tone respectful.


Third, offer a brief reflection on what it was like to make decisions in accordance with your theory. Was it hard? Easy? What did you enjoy or not enjoy about it? (This should be short!)


Fourth, offer a strong objection to (that is, a limitation of or problem for) the theory you’ve chosen (utilitarianism or Kantianism).

–          You may base this objection on reading you’ve done (whether for class or outside of class), on objections we’ve addressed together in class, or on your personal decision-making experiences.

o   Whatever kind of objection you choose, you must connect your discussion of the objection to your experience in some way.

–          For example, you might address questions like:

o   What is missing from the theory? What doesn’t it capture that it should capture? 

o   Where does the theory go wrong?  Does it deliver the wrong verdict?  Is it too difficult to apply?

§  These questions are suggestions; you may address one of them, but you may also address a limitation/problem of your own.


–          IMPORTANT: You want to choose the strongest objection you can think of; don’t pick an objection based in a misunderstanding of the theory.


Fifth, explain how a supporter of the view would respond or reply to the objection. What is the best defense they could give against it?

–          What strategy to responding to an objection are they using?


Finally: Explain whether you think this reply succeeds: in your personal opinion, does it successfully defend against the objection, or not? Why?





An excellent paper will: 


1.      Cover all of the topics the assignment asks you to (and address only those topics.)


2.      Offer complete, accurate explanations of the moral theory, in your own words.


3.      Offer plausible applications of the theories using real-life decisions you’ve made, and thoroughly explain why each view delivers the verdicts that they do.


4.      Clearly articulate an objection to the utilitarian or Kantian analysis of the case, and explain why this objection is potentially problematic.


5.      Offer a direct reply to this objection, and state whether you think it succeeds.


6.      Write in way that is grammatical, clear, straightforward, simple, and easy to understand.


7.      An excellent paper will go beyond what we have talked about in class in some way, and offer an insight into the theories or their application that is creative or especially helpful.


Final notes:


–          I do not permit paper re-writes: talk to me in advance if you have questions or concerns about your paper.


–          I will answer very specific questions by email, but I will not look over entire drafts or sections of drafts by email. Meet in office hours if you want more substantive feedback.