Topic: Is religion an adequate foundation for an objective ethics? Plato’s answer & Is ethics a question of “balance”? Aristotle’s alternative to Plato

When writing you ought to assume that the reader is intelligent, but ignorant of the subject matter, and it is your task to explain to this person what it is that you are presenting and for which you are arguing.  Example: Imagine that you are writing for your intelligent, but ignorant grandmother who has asked you the following two questions: What did Aristotle mean by virtue ethics?  Should we believe it?  You would have to craft your response in a way that grandma would understand you.  That means that you are obliged to explain all the technical terms that you introduce including illustrative examples.

You must structure your paper so that it has a clear introduction of the topic you are addressing (a thesis statement), a middle section in which you present the competing theories you are considering (development section), and a summary in which you state with arguments and supporting examples or evidence the conclusion with which you want the reader to agree.

The preceding means that you should avoid including anything that detracts or distracts from your thesis statement.  You should exclude needless biographical information (e.g., Plato was a student of Socrates type information) or long-winded and irrelevant rhetorical verbiage (e.g., “Ethics for a long time has been an interesting and lively area of debate and disagreement, blah, blah, blah.”).  You are NOT being either informative or “creative” if you waste your time and essay space with these.  You are far better off telling the reader in the first paragraph or two what you are writing about and to what conclusion you intend to reach.  For example, you are better off beginning your paper as follows: “In this paper I will argue that Plato’s ethical idealism is a better, more profound argument for understanding moral values and action than Aristotle’s virtue ethics” or the reverse.  You would then state provisionally why you think this is the case and afterwards proceed to developing your argument.

Your development section should first present each of the competing philosophies in turn, deferring criticisms until the conclusion of the paper.  Unless you honestly, accurately and completely present the essential elements of the philosophies you are considering, any critique you attempt to offer will fail or at least be incomplete.  Remember that you are obliged to explain to the reader all the relevant technical terms.  For example, if you are writing about virtue ethics, but fail to explain what a virtue is, then it will be rather difficult if not impossible either to understand the theory or your critique or support of it.  Remember as well that examples by themselves explain nothing (we saw this in Plato’s Euthyphro!).  An example, or a citation, should illustrate what you have already attempted to explain, not do the explaining for you!

In your conclusion you are to evaluate the theories you have presented and now wish to argue for or against.  Here are some ways to evaluate an argument, depending on the evidence you wish to use to support your point of view:

The theory is logically valid or invalid – the premises of the argument are true or false or nonsensical; or, the conclusion of the theory follows or does not follow logically from its premises

The theory is logically valid, but the implications or consequences of applying the theory are or are not impractical, dangerous, or undependable.

The theory is logically valid but omits or cannot be applied to important areas of moral discourse (e.g., How would you apply Aristotle’s virtue ethics to determining the morality of assisted suicide?  If it cannot be applied, then what use is it as a moral philosophy?)

One theory is more comprehensive than another; it can apply to, explain and serve as a better guide to understanding what morality really is or requires and provides more intelligible guidance to action in more areas of moral dispute than the other.

The theory is logically valid, but there is no evidence available to support its practical application as guidance to moral action.

To summarize, your paper should be organized as a steady, cogent presentation of theories moving from description to analysis and, finally, to evaluation.  This is the essence of college level writing, expressive of critical thinking, and applicable not only to the practice of (moral) philosophy but also to most other disciplines whether in the humanities, the social sciences, or the natural sciences.  If your essay dwells solely on description and then jumps to evaluation, in which you casually assert your opinion, then all you have done is presented a below college level book report!  I generally expect college students to write at the college level, especially in on-line courses where instructors and students have little to no personal contact.

Examine closely, for example, how a Sartre or an Ayer or an Aristotle formulates and presents their arguments and how they craft their sentences and arguments.  How do they begin?  How do they develop their theories?  What conclusions do they reach and how do they do it?  What kinds of examples do they offer? Etc.  There is nothing wrong with imitating, at least in part, how they do the work.  I care less about so-called originality and creativity and more about clarity and accuracy in presentation. 

Type of service-Academic paper writing
Type of assignment-Essay
Subject-Philosophy
Pages / words-4 / 1100
Number of sources-0
Academic level-High School
Paper format-APA
Line spacing-Double
Language style
US English

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