Introduction to Philosophy FA '12 @ Cortland College

Short Essay, Unit 1

Due: Tues, Sept 25.  In class or by email before class starts.

Reminder: If you choose to do an extra credit paper for Unit 1, it is due at the same time as the Short Essay.


  • Demonstrate understanding of basic ethical analysis and argument structure by applying learned concepts to an ethical thought experiment


Choose one of the thought experiments below and take an ethical stance on the outcome.  Argue for your ethical stance (your conclusion) by presenting reasons (premises) for your stance.  You should provide at least two premises that lead directly to your conclusion (although they may work separately or together) and whatever number of premises are needed to support these starting premises.  A good essay will start from widely accepted, given premises or at least limiting-the-scope premises and argue to the conclusion from that point.  A good essay might have this breakdown

  • Paragraph 1: A summary of your bare bones argument.  This states the ethical issue, your response, and the premises that lead directly to the conclusion.
  • Paragraph 2: Argue for one of the premises, treating it as a sub-conclusion.
  • Paragraph 3: Argue for another premise, treating it as a sub-conclusion.  Do this for however many premises you need to defend as sub-conclusions.  Be sure to state when you are not arguing for a premise that may be controversial and why you are not arguing for it.
  • Paragraph last: Explain how the various points you have put forward provide support for your conclusion.

Before or after you write the paper (I recommend after the first draft, but before the second draft (I also recommend drafts)), diagram your argument, as demonstrated in class.  This diagram should include a key with a logical listing of the premises.  This logical listing should include  each critical proposition stated as simply as possible and the conclusion at the bottom of the lsit.  In your diagram, use brackets and arrows to indicate the relationship between the propositions.

The Thought Experiments

Option 1: A woman is mowing her lawn on a riding mower, when she accidentally runs over a pet cat that she loved very much.  As she's preparing to bury the cat, she remembers that someone told her that cat was particularly interesting to eat. Out of curiosity, she takes the cat inside, prepares it, and eats it for dinner. No one sees her do this.  She enjoys the meal immensely.  Was it wrong for the woman to eat the cat?

Option 2: A brother and sister are on vacation together. They have always been very close and felt a special bond. Alone now, they decide to have sex. They know the sister cannot get pregnant because of a medical condition, but just to be sure the brother wears a condom. Afterwards, they feel closer than ever. Although they feel no guilt or disgust, they decide never to do it again, but share it as their special secret. Was it wrong for the brother and sister to have sex?

What You Should Turn In

  • 1 (one) 500-750 word essay arguing for a specific ethical judgment in relation to one of the assigned thought experiments.  If you use sources outside the class, you should cite them in an attached works cited page.
  • 1 (one) argument diagram accurately representing the structure of your essay and including a breakdown of each premise, sub-conclusion, and conclusion.  This can be hand drawn or made on the computer, so long as it is legible.