Philosophy 361                      Ethics                      Darwall                   Fall 2007

Write a 1000 to 1500 word (4 to 6 page) essay on one of the topics below. Your paper will be due at the beginning of lecture on Wednesday, October 3.

Please bear in mind in writing that the virtues of a philosophy paper are clarity, depth of analysis and critical questioning, judicious consideration of arguments, and logical organization.  Be sensitive to such questions as: Are my claims clear? Are my arguments clear? Am I being fair to opposing views and adequately appreciative of what might be said in response to my claims and arguments? Also, when you make claims about a philosopher we have read, make sure that you support your interpretation with specific references to the text.

Finally, academic integrity requires that you clearly acknowledge and reference ideas you have derived from others (whether from books or from the Internet).  Especially when you take a specific formulation of a point, it is necessary to make that clear with quotation. The College’s policy on academic integrity and plagiarism can be found at:,2034,24%255Farticle%255F5143,00.htm

If nothing else, please bear in mind that this is an ethics course.


1.  Critically evaluate the following:  “In arguing that ‘higher quality’ pleasures are intrinsically better than ‘lower quality’ ones, Mill falls prey to the same reliance on the elitist intuitive judgment of his own class with which he charges the intuitionists.”  Make sure that you carefully analyze Mill’s view on this issue and his arguments for it.
2.  In Chapter III, Mill considers the question of what, according to utilitarianism, makes morality binding.  Write an essay in which you critically evaluate Mill’s aims and arguments in Chapter III.  What exactly is Mill trying to show, and how successful is he?

3. According to common sense morality, we have special moral obligations to certain people (e.g. parents, children, friends), and we ought to care more about them than others. Does this contradict the utilitarian view that everyone’s happiness counts equally? Can the utilitarian explain the existence of special obligations within the framework of utilitarianism? If you think utilitarianism is incompatible with special obligations, do you think that the incompatibility raises a real threat to utilitarianism?


4.  Suppose you were writing a code of ethics for some profession, say, law or medicine. Discuss a kind of case where you think there would be a utilitarian justification for a rule that would require people not to do something even when that would maximize overall net happiness. (No fair using cases discussed in Philosophical Ethics about doctors cutting up patients to distribute their organs or obvious permutations.  Highest points to the most interesting cases.) Analyze this kind of case in relation to AU (Act-Utilitarianism) and RU (Rule-Utilitarianism), showing the relevance of Rawls’s distinction between practice and summary conceptions of rules (“Two Concepts of Rules”). Finally, address the question of how you think a professional really should act in this case, when confronted both by the rule and by the considerations lying behind utilitarianism.


5.  In Chapter I of Utilitarianism, Mill proposes a metaethical view, inductivism (or naturalism), as opposed to intuitionism. What’s the debate between naturalism and intuitionism? Mill attempts to argue for his normative ethical theory, i.e. utilitarianism, by appeal to naturalism. Does his metaethics give a strong support for his normative ethical theory? Can we coherently accept an intuitionist metaethics and at the same time a utilitarian normative theory?


6.  In Chapter V, Mill says: “We do not call anything wrong, unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it— if not by law, by the opinion of his fellow-creatures; if not by opinion, by the reproaches of his own conscience. This seems the real turning point of the distinction between morality and simple expediency.”  Write an essay in which you critically discuss this statement and what reasons you think might lead Mill to make it, how it is to understood in relation to the “criterion of right and wrong” that Mill states in Chapter II, and how, given this statement, what you think determines, in Mill’s view, the rightness or wrongness of an action.