This page gives you general information on the essays required for this course. Specific information or instructions for each of the three required essays is given in the “topics” handouts(“Essay 1 Topics”, etc.) found in this module. You must consult the “topics” handouts, for only the topics listed in those handouts are pre-approved and do not require getting approval from me. Any topic not on the list of pre-approved topics has to be explicitly approved by me or you will get no credit for writing on it. Please do not ask me whether you can write on a pre-approved topic.


1. Since this is an online course, you will have no choice but to type your paper. Be sure to double-space, and allow for at least one-inch margins on all four sides. Use 12-point type. Put your name and the course name on your paper. Prepare your essay as a .doc or a .docx.
2. Proof for spelling, punctuation and appropriate vocabulary. Run spellcheck and grammar check.
3. Appropriately cite sources, including internet sources, and page numbers of quotes and page numbers of any references to texts. (MLA style.) Put page numbers on your own paper.
4. Indent and single-space any quotes more than three lines long.
5. Strive for clarity throughout your paper. Make sure the reader knows what your topic is, knows what your thesis is, and can understand your support for your thesis or your criticisms of competing theses. To this end, it is important that your first paragraph clearly states what you intend to do in your essay. An example of a good introductory paragraph is this:

“In this essay, I intend to defend the thesis that promises should always be kept. My essay is divided into three sections. In the first, I shall develop my reasons for my thesis. In the second, I shall consider objections to my thesis and show that they are not good enough to defeat my thesis. In the final section, I shall review what I believe I have shown in this essay.”


1. Work out a view on your topic that you find true or plausible, and defend that view against relevant objections. Some of these objections might have been voiced in lecture, some in the readings, some in the discussions we’ve had, etc. In any case, it is your task to learn about them, think about them, and respond adequately to them. In some cases, this may require recourse to a library or to an internet site.
2. Your essays are not primarily research papers, so don’t focus on doing a lot of research. Do not slight necessary research, however. You need to be aware of important views on the topic you are addressing and aware of at least some of the arguments people put forward in support of their views. This will almost certainly require research. In some cases, this may simply mean revisiting some of the sites on the net that you’ve visited as you’ve gone through the lectures or re-reading one of the assigned articles in the text or reviewing portions of a lecture or lectures.



1. Failure to adhere to the required format and style will be penalized. In extreme cases, papers will be returned unread.
2. Substance is of the essence. I will ask the following sorts of questions:
a. Is this paper informed by relevant points from the assigned readings, the lectures, or from class discussions?
b. What view or position is being defended here? Is it well-defended?
c. Does this paper reveal a good and independent attempt to grapple with its topic? An attempt that is not merely a rehearsal or summary of class readings, discussions, or lectures, and is not merely a hash of someone else’s opinions?


Adhering to the above format, the bare minimum is four pages. Most “A” papers I receive are at least four or five pages long, not including the “works cited” page. There is no maximum, but papers that go past six pages have probably not been well-edited.
Topics for Essay 2

You may choose your own topic; however, you must clear the topic with me. Failure to clear it with me will mean no credit for the assignment.

Otherwise, here are possible topics for your second essay. Be sure to address all the questions in the given topic area. (Don’t write on more than one topic.)

A general note: don’t forget about Hobbes or Kant or Mill as you think about and write your essay, regardless of your topic. I am not saying that you must bring their thinking to bear in your essay, but keeping them in mind might well help you write a good essay on your topic.

1. Since your last essay was due, we’ve discussed a variety of “applied ethics” issues: abortion, capital punishment, assisted suicide/euthanasia, animals and ethics, world poverty, etc. You could pick one of these issues and work out, and defend, your view on it. So, for example, you may think homosexual sex is morally right or good and may wish to defend its rightness or goodness against its critics. You’d develop your arguments for your position, then state and rebut the arguments against your position. capital punishment under certain conditions. Ditto for the other topics.

2. You have been exposed to some of the moral thinking of Hobbes, Kant, and Mill, among others. You could pick some of their major theses or arguments, and either attack them or defend them. For example, you could focus on Kant’s thesis that there is what he calls a Supreme Principle of Morality(SPM), and that it is what I’ve called the Universalizability Principle(UP), and attack or defend his thesis of a SPM and his thesis that it is the UP. For another example, you could attack or defend Hobbes on the origin or purpose of the moral rules and on how questions about legitimate violations of them are to be handled.

3. You have also been exposed to the issue whether morality varies somehow from society to society and perhaps from time to time. You could write on the issue of morality’s varying from society to society, or a more specific issue like female circumcision–whether it’s somehow morally OK for the people of Togo, say, but definitely not OK for us, and why. if you were to choose to write on an issue like female circumcision, make sure that you understand the rationale that its practitioners offer in defense of it.