Sample Guidelines for Writing Ethical Arguments
Your essay should be a position paper, not a report. The paper must make an ethical argument in defense of a thesis. It doesn’t matter what thesis you defend, but the argument must be clear and coherent. Depending on the topic, some outside research may be appropriate, but do not let that obscure the main purpose, which is to make an ethical argument.
There are several possible ways to structure the paper, including one (or more) or the following:
• Articulating and applying principles (such as love, respect for autonomy, respect for persons, the principle of utility, etc.) to the issue or to cases.
• Investigating how one or more ethical sources work to support a particular view: for instance, how biblical principles or a religious tradition or a particular ...view middle of the document...
• Analyzing a case study.
The reader of an ethical argument is looking for three main things in your essay:
1. a clear and interesting thesis,
2. your grasp and application of ethical principles and theories, and
3. logical consistency.
The most important part of ethical analysis is getting a clear grasp of the key ethical issues: what values, principles, moral rules, etc., are involved? What conflicts exist between them? How will you weigh them? To state the issues clearly is more important than reaching a decisive conclusion. Your introduction should directly state your thesis—the argument you are going to make—and how you are going to go about it. Your conclusion should be equally direct: restate your thesis and how you defended it.
Develop your own approach to the topic. When building your position upon another author or source, be critical and judicious in the use of that source. For instance, don’t just list someone’s arguments and then agree or disagree with each one—that gets boring. As another example, don’t simply assert that the Bible prohibits killing; say what evidence you have, and why religious authors have made exceptions.
Advancing a particular position requires justification. That is, in an ethics paper, you are not simply offering an opinion or a proposal, but an argument. Support your position by clearly stating your reasons. Considering objections or alternate interpretations is normally quite important. State these—fairly—and respond to them. Make sure each part of your essay contributes to the strength of your position. Check your argument for inconsistencies or self-contradiction.
Obviously you also have to limit what you do, so state your parameters and work within them. The directions and topics assigned are designed to help you focus an argument, but they still allow you leeway. Whatever your focus, you should at least show how you are moving from ethical analysis to your judgments.