Philosophy 330 / 331 - Ethics - Fall 2002

term written assignment

Due date: December 2, 2002 at 12 noon.
Length: approximately 2,000 words.
Essays should be typed and double spaced, with an adequate margin for comments.
Late assignments will not be accepted.

The University considers plagiarism to be an extremely serious offence, and it may lead to failure in the course, suspension or expulsion from the University, or even the revocation of a degree. If you are in doubt about what plagiarism is, please consult me prior to handing in any written work. My policy is to be particularly vigilant in looking for plagiarism. As a student in this class, you are to keep an electronic copy of any paper you submit, and I may require you to submit that electronic copy.

This is an analytical essay; it is not a research essay. I understand that you may have to consult dictionaries or encyclopedias for some background, but other secondary sources must be kept to a minimum and are strongly discouraged.


1. Discuss the nature and role of connatural knowledge in Maritain’s natural law theory. (Be sure to discuss whether it is a genuine kind of ‘knowing,’  whether it avoids such claims as that such knowledge would make morality purely subjective, and what exactly connatural knowledge knows.)


2. Does Maritain’s natural law theory adequately address the challenge of alleged anthropologically confirmed exceptions to natural moral laws?


3. Discuss the teleological character of Maritain’s natural law theory. What possible objections does it claim to resolve/avoid? Is it successful?


4. Some sexual practices have been said to be unnatural and therefore immoral. Discuss and evaluate the arguments that a natural law theorist might give for saying this.


5. Kant says that the moral worth of an act is determined by it being from duty alone. Discuss Kant’s arguments for this view and present and discuss some major objections to it. (You should consider, for example, what the best way is of interpreting Kant’s views on the relationship between duty and inclination/feeling, and whether you agree with Kant’s understanding of this relationship.)


6. Must morality and moral requirements be categorical in the Kantian sense? (Present and discuss why Kant thinks the requirements of morality must be categorical, not hypothetical.)


7. Kant says that we must never use another merely as a means. Explain his reasons for this view and then consider the following case: “Federal officials in the United States are now considering the use of torture to extract information from a number of suspects they believe are linked to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network.” Present what you take Kant’s position would be, and discuss whether this is a satisfactory response to this case.


8. Can Kant’s ethical theory provide an adequate response to a global problem (as distinct from an individual vice), such as the problem of world hunger?


9. Mill suggests that Kant is a closet consequentialist. (Mill writes that the categorical imperative demands that an action be morally prohibited if "the consequences of its universal adoption would be such as no one would choose to incur" [Utilitarianism, ch. 1]) Kant would obviously disagree. Present the relevant arguments in Kant’s ethics, and discuss whether Mill’s view is a just one.


10. A standard objection to utilitarianism is that it does not take the value of persons seriously—that it does not see each one of us as something intrinsically valuable and worthy in our own right, that it ignores merit or desert, and that the punishment of the innocent or slavery could be morally allowable (and even obligatory) if it were advantageous to ‘the greatest number.’ Explain how this is an objection to utilitarianism, present how a utilitarian might respond to this, and evaluate these arguments.


11. Is supererogation an essential part of morality? How would a utilitarianism deal with supererogation?


12. Discuss Aristotle’s account of ‘friendship’ in Books VIII and IX in the Nicomachean Ethics. Explain the distinctions Aristotle draws between the different kinds of friendship. What does Aristotle mean when he says that friends are like another self? Why is friendship a necessary component of the flourishing life? Do you agree?  [Students who wish to write on this topic must see me first.]