Introduction to Philosophy

First Summer Semester, 2018

Jacksonville University

Dr. Scott Kimbrough

Topics for First Paper


Write a maximum three page paper on one of the topics below. There is no minimum length. Papers are to be typed and double-spaced, with reasonable margins. Papers are due Tuesday, May 29th. Late papers will be penalized 5 points per week-day late.

The goal of this paper is to evaluate objections to a philosophical theory. This involves three basic tasks:

  1. Set up the debate. Using textual evidence, describe the relevant claims made by the philosopher. Then explain the objection to those claims. You must discuss the specific examples provided in the paper topic below.
  2. Provide the philosopher’s reply to the objection. This involves using textual evidence to infer how the philosopher would or should respond to the objection.
  3. Evaluate the effectiveness of the philosopher’s reply. Give reasons for your own conclusion about whether the philosopher succeeds or fails in fending off the objection.

Note that your task is to evaluate a particular objection, not the philosopher’s theory as a whole. It is possible that you might disagree with the philosopher’s overall view, yet still conclude that the philosopher has an effective reply to the specific objection under consideration.

Give textual evidence for any quotations and whenever you attribute a specific view. Papers without textual evidence will receive no higher than a D. Since this is not a formal research paper, you may simply provide page numbers from the textbook in parentheses. For example: “According to Aristotle, moral virtue is a product of habit (p.509).” However, if you use sources other than the textbook (which is not recommended), full bibliographical information must be provided.

Grading: The paper is worth a total of 125 points. You will receive a letter grade that will be converted to a numerical score. The main criteria for grading are:

Use of textual evidence

Accuracy of interpretation

Depth of analysis/defense of conclusion


Choose one of the topics below:

  1. According to Mill, Against Mill, it has been objected that the utilitarian Greatest Happiness Principle justifies immoral means to achieve the goal of overall happiness. For example, suppose an angry mob believes an innocent man has committed a terrible crime, and will riot unless he is executed, killing dozens and destroying a lot of property. According to the objector, it is morally wrong to condemn an innocent man to death, but that is what the Greatest Happiness Principle recommends in this situation. How would Mill respond to this objection? Is his response effective? Why or why not?

(Note: You may be able to find some discussion of a situation like this online, but your task is to use textual evidence from Mill’s article to defend your conclusion. Determine what Mill in particular would say, not a generic utilitarian.)


  1. According to Rachels, the welfare of the people is a culturally neutral standard that can be used to evaluate the customs of any society in an objective manner (p.472). Briefly explain how Rachels defends this standard, and how he uses it to criticize the custom of excision. Against Rachels, it has been objected that the concept of welfare is itself culturally relative. For example, the people who support the custom of excision say that their custom promotes the welfare of the people by removing a source of dangerous temptation that would otherwise destabilize families and the community. According to the objector, Rachels is applying his own culture’s standard of welfare when he condemns excision, not applying a culturally neutral standard. How would Rachels respond to this objection? Is his response effective? Why or why not?

Return to the Introduction to Philosophy page or my homepage.