Contemporary Ethical TheorySpring 1998

First Paper

Write a paper on one of the following:

 1. John Rawls in "Two Concepts of Rules" proposes to "defend utilitarianism against those objections which have traditionally been made against it in connection with punishment and the obligation to keep promises." (intro. CH 273) Explain the objections Rawls addresses to a utilitarian account of punishment. Explain carefully Rawls' attempt to defend utilitarianism against these objections. Critically discuss.

Graduate students: In addition: Rawls theory involves what he calls "practices." Compare and contrast Rawls' notion of "practices" with Brandt's notion of "institutions" (in "Some Merits of One Form of Rule-Utilitarianism" 9 CH 426ff). Would Brandt support or oppose Rawls' account of a utilitarian defense of punishment?

 2. In "The Meaning of Good and Bad" Bertrand Russell offers an argument that is intended to "refute those who say that good means desired." (7 CH 35) Carefully explain and critically discuss Russell's argument.

Graduate students: In addition: Explain to what extent (if any) Russell's argument differs from the one G. E. Moore has given about "that which we desire to desire". ("The Subject Matter of Ethics"13 CH 20).

 3. Judith Jarvis Thompson in "Goodness and Utilitarianism" argues, as an objection against utilitarianism, that "there is no such property as goodness." (2 CH 716) Explain and critique her argument for this claim.

Graduate students: In addition: Thompson goes on (in section 3) to consider three ways in which utilitarianism can attempt to accommodate her thesis about goodness. Explain and critically explore each of these ways.

Note: For this assignment you need not use any materials apart from those assigned in class. However, no matter what sources of information or ideas you use--even the book--be sure to footnote references adequately. You are expected to do your own work. Use of unacknowledged sources (e.g., books, friends, tutors, other papers) for this paper constitutes cheating.

This paper should be typed (or printed out by computer), if possible, or submitted electronically to Submissions after the due date risk incursion of a penalty for lateness.

Please put your name on your paper. Be sure also to indicate (by number) at the top of the first page which of the topic you are writing on. If you are handing in a printed version, a genuine staple in the upper left-hand corner would be appreciated. No fancy covers or binders, please.

Richard Lee,, last modified: 16 February 1998