The Assignment

The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy defines “ethics” (from the Greek “ethos” meaning “custom” or “character”) as “the study of the concepts involved in practical reasoning: good, right, duty, obligation, virtue, freedom, rationality, choice.” In an ethical argument essay, you argue for a particular position on an issue involving a choice (or choices) based on the rightness / wrongness / appropriateness / inappropriateness of these concepts as they apply to real world situations. In other words, you will choose a secular / non-religious issue that involves ethical consequences to society at large, state your case for your position on the issue, and support it with appropriate academic sources.

Commonly, many people defend ethical views by appealing either to religious or theological positions or to moral principles that are religiously based, but confine yourself to non-religious / secular / philosophical arguments for this essay (see the list on Canvas for some possible topics, but you are free to choose your own). Like any argument, ethical arguments require justification and support by clearly stating your reasons for supporting a particular position, which helps to alert and clarify for your readers when you move from ethical analysis to your judgments.


Ethics essays require both arguing for a specific position (rather than writing about the general definition of the issue) and acknowledging / answering objections. Readers of ethical arguments will expect three particular things: 1) a clear thesis and main points to be developed, 2) your understanding of the ethical principles and theories your topic entails and their application in the real world, and 3) logical consistency in argumentation. Even though you are arguing for your specific position / conclusion / solution, write objectively and dispassionately in tone using Third Person Objective (using First Person [“I,” “we,” or “my{self}”] only when necessary), doing your best to avoid emotionalism and emotionally charged language so as not to alienate readers.

Obviously, the most important part of an ethical argument is a clear understanding of the key ethical issues: what values, principles, rules, etc., are involved? What conflicts exist between them? How will you weigh and discuss them? Here, it is no understatement to say that understanding and stating the ethical issues clearly is almost as important as reaching and supporting your own reasoned position / conclusion / solution.


Since ethical reasoning focuses on things like consequences, fairness (a loaded term in itself), and rights, your essay should concentrate on what should be done ethically about the issue rather than what is typical, practical, or consistent with a particular set of commonly held positions. Your essay should address topics like the potential personal and societal effects (or consequences) involved, what would be “fair,” and whether or not people’s rights are being violated.

Following “The Elements of Argument” in Practical Argument Chapter 1 (pp. 24 – 27), an outline along these lines could be used for this assignment.

I) Introduction – explicitly state what your ethical issue is, give any brief and relevant

background information, and explicitly state the argument that you intend to make

about it; tell readers how your discussion will be structured by stating the main points

(ideally 3) that you will develop in the Body

II) Body – explicate the main points that you listed in the Introduction that support your

position on the issue fully and clearly, adjusting your discussion for paper length; if

your topic is complex enough to justify a longer paragraph of background information

/ explication, you may wish to place it first in this section

III) Refutation – objections come in two forms: 1) most importantly, those directed

against the reasons in support of your thesis (e.g. your assumptions are implausible or

your logical reasoning is unsatisfactory) and 2) those directed against your conclusion

(e.g. reasons why the view you advocate is false); depending on the length of your

paper, you may wish to address only the most important objection (either reason or

conclusion) in detail or any combination of them

IV) Conclusion – restate your thesis in different words so that it reinforces your



For Paper 3, you will incorporate at least three (3) sources, two supporting your ethical position on the topic and one opposing it (you may, of course, use more, but no more than five [5] sources in any event). You will need to document these sources by photocopying or printing the first page containing the author, title, and / or website, much like you did with your image in Paper 2. The two supporting articles could provide either main topics for you to discuss in the body of the paper or important information for the body paragraphs, while the opposing one will help you consider objections to your ethical position by providing one example; these sources may be accessed electronically or in print. Remember, use your research to support the position you think about the ethical issue. Regardless, be sure to correctly parenthetically cite each source in the text; also, you will need to include a correctly formatted MLA 8 Works Cited page at the end of your paper. See PA Ch. 10 (pp. 345 – 367), AWR (pp. 427 – 468), and the MLA 8 Guide from Norton PDF on Canvas for correct in-text citation and bibliographic forms.

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