Ethics Essay Prompts & Topics

All essays are to be at least three pages, typed and double spaced with 1 inch margins.  Essays should focus on a single idea or issue, clearly stating your position at the beginning and then using evidence and reasoning to support your position.  You are welcome to use your own life experience, current events, historical examples, or examples from fiction.  Please attach your essay to an email and send it to ericgerlach@gmail.com by the due date.  I will also accept printed copies by hand or in my box at BCC.  Check the syllabus and schedule for due dates.

Essay Grading Policy:  For response essays, write at least three pages, stick to your own thinking and provide a clear and focused argument, earning 2 points per page (one point off for every half page less than 3 pages), 2 points for sticking to your thinking, as opposed to summarizing the material, and 2 points for clarity and focus, for 10 points total.

First Response Essay Topics:

1) While Kant argues that we should be moral to be ethical, and we should always follow morals, rules and laws regardless of situation or outcome, Mill argues that being ethical is not about following rules, but rather making people happy.  Kant argues that morality is anchored in good beginnings (intent, morals, duty) Mill argues that morality is anchored in good ends (happiness, utility, consequences). Both Kant and Mill believe one should use rules and act for the good of society, but Kant believes that one should never break rules while Mill believes rules only serve as tools to achieve good consequences.  Do you find yourself agreeing more with Kant, more with Mill, equally with both, or with neither, and why?

2) While Bentham and Mill both agree that ethics is about the best consequences for the most people, Bentham argues that we should try to make people as happy as possible, while Mill argues that we should try to prevent people from suffering as much as possible.  Bentham thinks we should proactively try to make others happy, much like a communist planned economy, while Mill thinks we should let others make themselves happy, much like a capitalist unplanned economy.  Do you find yourself agreeing more with Bentham, with Mill, with both, or with neither, and why?

Second Response Essay Topics:

1) Confucius argued that balance between self and other is central to Ethics.  What does this tell us about human nature?  Are human beings essentially selfish?  How do we recognize the needs of others, and put them in balance with our own?

2) Nietzsche argues that individuality and the courage to rise above the herd is what makes life worth living.  Is this wise, or problematic?  In what way should individuality be balanced with the collective good?

3) Nietzsche, Heraclitus and Zhuangzi argue that truth is always interpretation and perspective, and what is good for one may not be good for another.  If truth is relative and subjective, does this prevent us from giving Ethics or perspective any secure basis?  If there is no absolute, objective truth, does this mean that all perspectives are equally good?

Third Response Essay Topics:

In the second half of the class, we have studied theft, lies and violence, as well as the “big three” in academics since the 1960s, the three ways people are most divided in society: class, gender and ethnicity.  Using one of the ethical concepts we studied in the first half of the class, explain how that concept is useful or not sufficient for dealing with a problem we studied in the second half.  Find an issue raised that interests you, and pick out an ethical concept that you think helps or does not.

Example 1) How is the concept of perspective useful for dealing with propaganda?

Example 2) How is the concept of utility not sufficient for dealing with war?

Example 3) How is the idea of balance problematic when dealing with modern racism?

Example 4) How is utility useful for dealing with gender inequality?

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