Argument Essay: The Good vs. The Right

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Before
doing this assignment, make sure to review the two Moral Frameworks The
Good– which is Utilitarianism (Morality based on Good or Bad
Consequences)– and The Right– which is Deontology (Morality based on
Duty and Rights). Information on both is in Burnor & Raley, Ch. 6, 7
& 8.

Objective of this assignment: To put theories into conversation with each other, in order to appreciate that:

  • Ideas are not isolated or made in a vacuum, but are created by real
    people grappling with real issues in conversation with others.
  • Disagreements aren’t just matters of opinion, but rather can reveal
    underlying value frameworks. For instance, by analyzing the underlying
    frameworks of Mill’s Utilitarianism and Kant’s Deontology, we see that
    Mill and Kant don’t merely disagree with what is moral or not, but they
    also seem to THINK about morality differently.

This matters because it allows us to see that perspectives that are
unfamiliar (or that we disagree with) are often nevertheless rooted in
value systems that can be shared or at least understood. Recognizing
underlying value systems is one of the first and best ways to move
forward when people who disagree deeply are at an impasse.

Other Objectives:

  • Learn to express your ideas clearly and concisely in writing.
  • Learn the argument essay format.
  • Practice critical thinking by evaluating moral theories and constructing your own argument.

Assignment Instructions:

For this assignment we will use a thought experiment like the Trolley problem we discussed in class.

Suppose you are a train conductor on a runaway train. The train
heads straight for five men who will not have time to get out of the
way, and your train will kill them. But! You notice there is a track
going to the right, and you have just enough time to pull the lever and
turn onto that track. There is one person on that track who will die
just as assuredly as the five would if you stayed on their track.
Should you head to the right?

You will write an essay of approximately 1000 words which describes
what you think John Stuart Mill (or Bentham) would recommend that you do
in the train scenario, what Immanuel Kant would do in the train
scenario, and what you would do in the train scenario and why you would
choose to do that. This paper requires that you use in-text citations
for any quotations you include and that you create a references page
citing all of the references that you quote in the paper. You may use
MLA style citations (a guide to these can be found here).

Use the following guidelines
to structure your paper. This is a kind of fill-in-the-blanks guide to
writing this paper. Include the sentences in bold italic word for word
in your paper. You will need several of your own sentences in addition
to those provided below.

Introduction (1 or 2 paragraphs):

Your introductory paragraph should have the following (not necessarily in this order).

A. Thesis statement- You should state what you think is best to do in the situation described by the scenario. I think I should___________________. Fill in the blank with either divert the train to the right killing one person or not divert the train to the right even though this will result in the death of five people.

B. Background for the thesis. This should include mentioning that you
will be evaluating what Utilitarianism and Deontology say about this
thought experiment and a brief description of the thought experiment.

C. Plan of the Paper. It might help your reader to tell them how your
paper will go. Something like: “I will begin by describing what John
Stuart Mill would have me do in this situation. Next, I will contrast
that with what Kant’s moral theory

Body Part I:

  • John Stuart Mill would probably want me to ____________________,
  • because _[explain one
    or more of the primary principles of Utilitarianism and how he would
    apply it to the train scenario to decide what I should do
    ]
    .
  • As he says, [pick a quote from your text that illustrates that specific principle] (cite it too) and explain what the quote means in your own words,
  • His reasoning here plants him firmly within the Moral Framework called “The ____________,” where morality is judged by looking at _______________________________

[Hint: the first blank should be either “good” or “right” and the
second blank ought to be “consequences of our actions” or “what we have a
duty to do.”]

Note: Mill largely agrees with Bentham and its probably the case that
the higher v lower pleasures distinction is not relevant to this essay.

Body Part II:

  • On the other hand, Kant reasons from framework called
    “The ___________,” where morality is measured by considering
    _________________
  • [Hint: the first blank above should be either “good” or “right” and
    the second blank ought to be “consequences of our actions” or “what we
    have a duty to do.”]
  • Thus, he would most likely tell me to ___________________
  • For one thing, Kant’s moral theory requires us to follow the Categorical Imperative: [pick one of the formulations of the CI and offer Kant’s statement of it] . (cite it too). (I’m asking for the principle of ends or the principle of universal law).
  • What Kant means here is ______________________
  • So, you can see that he is primarily concerned about
    _________________________ and he would probably conclude that I should
    ________________.

Body Part III:

  • Personally, I think I should _______________________
  • Even though I might share some of the values underlying _________’s position, like __________________________,
  • I nevertheless would decide to _________________________________
  • because __________________________________.
  • My reasoning here seems to fall under the framework
    called “The __________” (or neither) because I am primarily focused on
    _________________________________

Conclusion:

Briefly summarizes your paper and reminds the reader of your thesis and how your argued for it.

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