Mid-term exam

The Assignment:

Write a 4-5 page (double spaced) paper that explains, applies, and evaluates a normative ethical theory (Pick one: Mill/Bentham’s Utilitarianism, Kantian Deontology, or Aristotle’s Virtue Theory).

Explain how the theory guides our moral decision-making. Pick a social problem and apply the ethical theory to the problem. Then evaluate how well you think theory does in practice.

Six Parts

  1. Introduction

(1 paragraph)

  1. Introduction to Topic: This paper is about…
    1. What is the social problem?
    1. What is the ethical theory?
    1. How do you think the ethical theory would evaluate the issue?
    1. Thesis Statement: What do you think about how the theory applied to the issue? Does the theory ‘get it right’ from your point of view? Why or why not?
      1.  Example: “I will argue that [Utilitarianism] is an insufficient theory when applied to [killing an innocent person looking for a check-up to steal his organs and save 5 people] because utilitarianism fails to look at [individual rights], which is integral to this situation.”
  • Introduce the Social Problem

(1 paragraph)

In this paragraph, (a) introduce a social issue, (b) explain why it is a problem, and (c) describe the controversy (what are the various sides?).

For Example:

  1. Abortion is the early termination of a pregnancy.
  2. Abortion is a social problem because many people want the procedure to be illegal and/or strictly regulated; while others think it should be legal and/or widely available. 
  3. The main disagreement seems to be whether or not a fetus counts as a person. Some argue that if a fetus is a person then abortion is murder, while others argue that an early stage fetus is still part of the mother’s body and is not a person in its own right. 
  • Introduce the Normative Ethical Theory

(4-6 paragraphs)

  1. Explain the ethical theory in detail. Who is the main author of the theory? What are the main arguments? Explain how an ethical decision is made.
  2. Explain all essential terms (e.g. categorical imperative, greater goodness principle, golden mean). Use examples/thought experiments to demonstrate what the term is all about. If I used a term in the Powerpoint, you should probably use it in the paper.
  3. Use quotes directly from the readings and then explain those quotes to help illustrate the theory. Don’t let the quotes do the talking for you – use short quotes then explain what they mean (one sentence or less is a good length). Don’t quote outside sources, use the primary sources: the readings.
  • Apply the Ethical Theory to the Social Problem
    • paragraphs)
  • Explain how the ethical theory would evaluate this social problem. What would Mill or Kant say about your social issue? What is the morally right policy according to the philosophers?  
  • Critique the Application

(2-3 paragraphs)

  1. What are the shortcomings of the ethical theory? Even if you think the theory is appropriately applied to this issue, what are the possible objections? What is the weakest part of the theory? Check the last few slides of the PowerPoint for specific ways the theories are usually weakest. Choose the best critique and use it.  
  2. If you think the theory fails to offer a convincing evaluation, then make sure to pick the strongest form of the argument before you critique it. Don’t offer a “straw man” argument to make your critique seems stronger than it is.   
  • Respond to the Critique

(1-2 paragraphs)

  1. How does the theory overcome the objection? Or if it doesn’t, why not? Take the critique of the application seriously and answer why you think the theory can answer that critique or not.


Have a clear thesis statement.

Make a claim then provide evidence (i.e. quotes).

Use short quotes and explain what the quote means.

Write simply and directly.