The first paper is due at the end of week 5 and must concern the topic, ‘What is it to be truly ethical?’ Give a philosophical account. If your account of ethics involves, as with Christian philosophy, the notion that to be ethical, one must also be pious: then include an account of what it is to be properly pious. Furthermore, everyone ought to address the question, of whether Epicurus’s account of piety and ethics, is sufficient to guide us.
The papers need to be at least 1,500 words each. Quotations do not count toward the minimum word-count. There are essentially no ‘maximum’ limits for word-count.
Special tips for the Ethics paper: Students need to put away ‘avoidance mechanisms’ that keep them from giving a straight answer. If one is a sceptic about moral claims, then likely one will agree with Epicurus and can endorse Epicurus’ account, spelling out whatever modifications are seen as required. There is no need to hide behind a mask suggesting sanctimonious opinions, when none are held. Moreover, while it is advised that you are honest in presenting your views, all I ask for is that you present a philosophic account; as I indicate, it is better if you agree with the account you present, but it is not strictly necessary to do, if for some reason you are very secretive.
There is one main ‘avoidance mechanisms’ I see in students who write on ethics. This is to answer the question, ‘what is it to be properly ethical?,’ with ‘in our society, this is what people think is ethical.’ So, here we are not in a Sociology course but rather I am asking you to develop a unique argument regarding, the right way to live; though of course, in this process, you are free to make use of others’ arguments and endorse or reject them as is helpful for your overall stance. –To be properly ethical, cannot possibly mean, ‘I do what my society says is “ethical.”’ Different societies say different things. Even Socrates, in endorsing Tradition, does not say, “And I mean this for any tradition.” Rather, Socrates holds, there is something special regarding Athens and its particular traditions. To say in general, ‘do what society says, that is the only rule,’ is baseless as a notion. Moreover, it is obviously extremely faulty as a notion, in that it commits one to saying, the German was ‘ethical’ to follow a rule to help exterminate Jews, the Soviet was ‘ethical’ to follow Stalin in his purges, etc. Then too insofar as one tries to support this sort of relativism, there is a great difficulty as the German and the Soviet, say quite contrary things, with ethical relativism likely soon leading to an error of logical contradiction. This is just a dumb argument, ‘the ethical is what my society says I must do.’ A great deal of literature in our ever-so thoughtful and enlightened nation, seems to suggest a contrary notion: nonetheless, there is a distinction between what is actually ethical and moral, and what is said to be ethical and moral. An ‘ethics workshop,’ might properly focus, on what will be thought or said to be ‘ethical,’ e.g. what will lead to a bad reputation as ‘unethical’ or what will be seen as violating ‘generally accepted practices.’ Nonetheless, what is said to be ethical by the majority is one thing, while what is actually ethical, is another (Plato, Crito). What are ‘generally accepted practices’ – e.g. in Nazi Germany, turning in Jews to the Gestapo – are one thing, while what is actually moral is another, etc. –Likewise, failing to address the question posed and instead writing Sociology on ‘what people think today,’ or ‘what most people today think is moral,’ is not the way to proceed: given that, as I say, we are not in Sociology course.
Thus, you will want to present an argument, modelled on Epicurus, or Kant, or Kierkegaard or some other great theorist, as to how one ought to live. Now it is possible to argue, the way one ought to live is follow a specific body of Tradition, such as Eastern Orthodox Christianity (cf. the writing of Alasdair MacIntyre). However, then one would need to explain, why that is so. In general, it is very difficult to argue, Tradition is to be our guide. It is far easier to argue, specific principles are to be our guide. These principles, of course, might be offered as summarizing and clarifying, a given tradition as one appreciates it, e.g. the traditions of Baptist Christianity (Cf. the work of Thomas Aquinas, who offers summary of Roman Catholic ethics). Still, in your papers, the principles and summary ought to stand on their own as defensible, apart from broad appeals to ‘tradition.’
Another way to wrongly try to stick in this ‘avoidance mechanism,’ is to suggest, there is a clear distinction between ‘ethics’ and ‘moral philosophy,’ perhaps implying, ethics are somehow more ‘public’ or ‘societal,’ less ‘personal,’ or whatever. No, there is no clear distinction between ‘ethics’ and ‘moral philosophy,’ though specific philosophers draw their own distinctions as part of their own system, each thinker contradicting the other. To keep things simple: in your papers, treat ‘ethics’ and ‘moral philosophy’ as synonymous. Thus, equally, the main question for this paper is, ‘what is it to be moral?’
Another ‘avoidance mechanism’ you ought not use in your paper, is spending a lot of time trying to summarize what has been said about what this question means, ‘what is ethical?’ or ‘what is moral?’ Do read up on these matters if you want, but then try to stick the model of the course material, e.g. a thinker such as Kant who just gets to the point and argues, ‘to be ethical is to follow the Categorical Imperative.’ In general, try to stick your own thinking and to the course material, unless it is to make use of some great philosopher you find personally appealing, such as Thomas Aquinas or Dun Scotus, etc. And as regards your own thinking, -please make sure when end up presenting it, it is philosophically informed by the course material.
1. Make sure you have a strong thesis statement. Place your thesis statement in the first paragraph of your paper. Please make it the first sentence. Use ‘and,’ commands and semi-colons, etc., to fit all the thesis ideas into one, grammatical-sentence.
2. Make sure your paper is organised around the thesis-statement, working to support it.
3. Make the thesis specific, not ‘Socrates helps us with thinking,’ but instead ‘Socrates helps us with our thinking by offering his method of questioning to find contradictions, and to seek definitions; in particular, Socrates’ approach is beneficial in raising the idea, to know x, one must able to define x – this idea gives us a goal for our attempts at knowing.’
4. Include numerous references, with page numbers. Try to use quotations. Try to reference your textbook. When your paper needs an in-text reference: give a quotation with a page-number. Then follow this up with a paraphrase of what you think the quotation means. Ideally, supply both the quotation and the paraphrase…. It is indeed very, very important to use primary sources, and to use secondary sources from outside our classroom only to clarify primary sources. (Obviously, then, there is more freedom when it comes to secondary sources, from within the classroom….)
5. You have to use MLA style.
6. Work on displaying your knowledge of Philosophy.
Beginning your paper
Don’t begin with a sentence like "Down through the ages, mankind has pondered the problem of…" There’s no need to warm up to your topic. You should get right to the point, with the first sentence.
Also, don’t begin with a sentence like "Webster’s Dictionary defines a soul as…" Dictionaries aren’t good philosophical authorities. They record the way words are used in everyday discourse. Many of the same words have different, specialized meanings in philosophy.
–Jim Pryor, ‘Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper’
Each paper must be tightly organized around a thesis statement that is presented near the beginning of the paper, ideally as the first sentence. A thesis statement takes a side regarding a controversial question. E.g. ‘The value of Socrates’ philosophy lies solely in his willingness to question atraditional claims.’ This is obviously controversial as one could well imagine, there is some other value to Socrates’ philosophy. Etc. A thesis statement is not a statement of aims. A statement of aims describes what your paper is about, in terms of what the paper will be covering and what it is trying to accomplish. I am looking for a thesis statement in each paper, not a statement of aims. You can also add a statement of aims, but that is optional. (By default, your aim is to support your thesis.)
Do not merely describe what is in the texts, but evaluate the material and give arguments about what is important in philosophers’ thinking. Develop your own, detailed, logically coherent arguments. At the same time, papers must demonstrate the students’ knowledge of the history of philosophy. (Thus it is a question of balancing the evaluative, the creative, and the historical-descriptive.)
Papers ought to be on the topics assigned. Moreover, the paper ought to be about the course material, which means especially the textbook and the online readings within GeorgiaView.
—References / Secondary Sources
Be sure to provide proper references, including page numbers, for direct claims about philosophers. This is the most important requirement for your papers. Papers without references appropriate to beginning students will automatically be failed, and would have to re-written. All essays need to use appropriate, academic references in the MLA-style. The emphasis with reference in general ought to be on quotations rather than paraphrase (though with referencing the course textbook, accurate paraphrase might make quotation redundant). Plagiarism is a problem in online courses, and all plagiarism will be reported in accordance with University-policies, so please take extra-steps to avoid any appearance of plagiarism.
Papers require proper citations and references in MLA format [see http://www.library.cornell.edu/resrch/citmanage/mla].
Also keep in mind that, only certain WWW material can be used for references in papers: 1) specifically approved material, 2) material written by the instructor, 3) material assigned by the instructor as reading, & 4) material that is published elsewhere in print. The reason for these restrictions, is that much WWW is of a low-quality. It is recommended that you use JSTOR to find better quality material, if needed. — The contents of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is approved in advance for student use, however students are advised, that the content is often, not really very well-written or easy to read, and often pursues somewhat idiosyncratic questions. https://plato.stanford.edu/
More generally, care is required in choosing references. So, for example, please do not use Russell’s History of Western Philosophy. This work is not permitted as a basis for papers in this course; please refer to the assigned readings and appropriate supplements to them. Then in general, -you need to pick good sources. If you rely upon the false claims of even a prestigious source – or if you paraphrase an accurate source so as to turn its ideas into false claims – then your own ideas have not been established. I do not give out a lot of points for just quoting false ideas from the secondary literature.