FIU Warren on The Moral and Legal Status of Abortion Essay

FIU Warren on The Moral and Legal Status of Abortion Essay

FIU Warren on The Moral and Legal Status of Abortion Essay

Introduction to Ethics

Paper Instructions


  1. Format and general guidelines
  2. Three pages, double-spaced, 12pt font, 1-inch margins
  3. Turned in electronically (on Canvas).
  4. The content of the paper
  5. The main task of the paper, as described in the syllabus, is to critically examine an argument from one of the assigned readings. This task involves several steps.
  6. Identify an argument in a reading. For example, let’s say you want to write about Rachels’ article on cultural relativism. One of his arguments                against relativism was the one involving moral progress. Your first task                                    would be to tell me in your own words what the argument is. What are the                            premises? What is the conclusion?

Premise 1: If cultural relativism is true, then there has been no                                            moral progress

Premise 2: There has been moral progress

Conclusion: Cultural relativism is false

  1. Fill in the details of the argument. Why does the author think these             premises are true? For instance, in support of premise 2, you could cite                              some of the examples that Rachels provides. The United States used to                          permit slavery, but now it does not. It used to deny women the right to                             vote, but now it does not. These are concrete examples of moral progress.

As for premise 1, explain why relativism makes moral progress                                          impossible. What is Rachels’ reasoning for this premise?

  1. Provide some kind of critical analysis of the argument. One way to do that would be to criticize the argument by raising an objection. Another                  would be to provide additional support for the argument by bringing up                           ideas, examples, or points that the author did not. For example, you could                                 criticize Rachels’ moral progress argument by pointing out that premise 2                               is begging the question. That is, by asserting that there has been moral                                     progress, we have already assumed that relativism is false. This premise                             would not convince a skeptic who denies the possibility of moral progress.

The critical analysis requirement involves saying something substantive about the arguments. Do not just tell me “I agree with Rachels” or “I disagree with Rachels.” I want to hear about your reasons. What reasons do you have for supporting Rachels? Or what counterarguments do you have?

III. General points about effective writing

  1. Don’t bury your thesis. Tell me right away what your paper is about. Start off with a clear statement of your topic. For example, if you were writing the          hypothetical paper that I have been discussing in this outline, here is how you     might start your paper:

In his article, “Cultural Relativism,” James Rachels argues against the idea that moral truths are dependent on one’s culture. One of the arguments he presents in defense of his view is that cultural relativism is incompatible with the notion of moral progress. In this paper, I present his argument, and I object to it by showing how it relies on a question-begging assumption. Rachels’ idea of moral progress is based on a pre-existing rejection of relativism. A cultural relativist would therefore reject Rachels’ argument on the grounds that one of the premises implicitly relies on the truth of the conclusion that Rachels is trying to defend.

  1. Write with clarity and concision
  2. Avoid wordiness. Don’t tell me a bunch of unnecessary stuff.
  3. If you use any technical terms or jargon, explain them. Of course, since I am your audience, I will know what you mean by “utilitarianism” or “ethical egoism,” but I want you to write as if your reader needed to have         these terms explained.
  4. Make the structure of your paper easy to follow. Don’t jump around randomly. Help the reader see how you are moving from point to point.           What ties this paragraph to the one before it? How is the point you are    making now related to what you said above?
  5. Writing style
  6. Avoid saying things like “Since the dawn of time, man has wondered about moral rightness.” Statements like this add nothing to you paper.
  7. Try to vary your sentence structure. If your whole paper is just a string of short sentences that contain a single independent clause, it will sound          really choppy and bland. For example:

Rachels argues against cultural relativism. He thinks moral progress is possible. He claims that relativism is incompatible with    moral progress. Women can vote. That counts as moral progress. So relativism is false.

  1. But that is not to say that long sentences are always better than short ones. You should also avoid long, convoluted sentences that contain too          many clauses. You want to find a “middle way” between those two         extremes.


Check out Jim Pryor’s Guidelines on writing philosophy papers:



The Five C’s of Good Writing


  1. Clear
  2. Did the paper have a clear thesis?
  3. Did the paper clearly identify an argument?
  4. What are the premises? What supports those premises?
  5. What is the conclusion? What does it mean? What are the implications?
  6. Concise
  7. Did the paper contain lots of unnecessary stuff? Unnecessary sentences (or paragraphs).
  8. Since the beginning of time, man has wondered about moral rightness…
  9. Filler. Don’t just try to reach the page requirement by saying things that don’t need to be said.
  10. Say only what needs to be said.

III. Complete/Comprehensive

  1. Did the paper say everything that needed to be said? Did it leave out anything important?
  2. If you are defending a view, you should probably address the most significant objections to that view. You should explain all of the premises. What supports the premises?
  3. Correct
  4. Did the paper say anything that was wrong? Was the author confused about the ideas?
  5. Did the paper have grammatical mistakes? Spelling errors?
  6. Compelling
  7. Was the central argument compelling? Did the author do a good job of making the argument? Was it coherent and consistent? Were the reasons given compelling?
  8. This does not mean I have to agree with what you are saying. I just have to think that it’s compelling.




How I Grade Essays [1]


  1. An essay is presumed to be a midrange B (85%) “until proven otherwise.”


  1. For an essay to move up from a midrange B, it must be adequate overall and outstanding in one or more respects.


  1. To be “adequate overall” it must do everything the directions asked for, and without making any significant mistakes.


  1. Different essays are outstanding in different respects.


  1. Sometimes an author does a particularly good job explaining the material we have studied, doing so in a succinct, but thorough and precise way.


  1. Other times an essay does an outstandingly good job on the critical or evaluative portion of the assignment, for instance by coming up with an original and insightful criticism of an argument we have studied, or by coming up with an original and insightful way of responding to an objection to an argument.


III. For an essay to move down from midrange B, it must either be incomplete or get something wrong.


  1. An essay is incomplete if it fails to do everything the instructions required.


  1. Different essays get things wrong to different degrees.


  1. Sometimes an essay is incomplete in some way or gets something wrong, but it is also outstanding in some way. In such cases a judgment call must be made. Sometimes the outstanding aspects of an essay make up for, or more than make up for its inadequacies, and it gets a B or even an A. Sometimes the inadequacies outweigh the outstanding elements and the essay gets a C.


  1. For an essay to warrant a D, it must be substantially wrong in multiple respects, and a D essay is almost never outstanding in any respect.


  1. For an essay to warrant an F it must either be radically incomplete, substantially wrong in a majority of respects, or otherwise give the impression that the student did not take the assignment seriously.




[1] (Based on a handout by Gary Varner, Texas A&M University)

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