Week 5 Instructor Guidance Ethics and Gender, and Final Remarks

This Week's Topics

1. Ethics and Gender

Does gender play a role in how we approach ethical questions? If so, has the male perspective dominated ethical theory? Would our approach to ethical questions change if we took more account of the female point of view? We will consider questions like these concerning the significance of gender to ethics by examining "feminist" theories, such as "care ethics". These try to open up the ways in which the female perspective has tended to be marginalized in ethical discussions, and to show how that might be brought back in.

2. Final Remarks

In this last section, we close out our 5 week study of ethics by considering some reflections and challenges that you might be able to take with you beyond the class.

3. Discussions

There is one discussion assignment this week. Please read the discussion prompt carefully before you begin posting, and review it often during the week.

4. Assignment

The assignment for this week is the final paper, which is due at the end of the week (Monday). The assignment instructions are listed at the bottom of this page. Please read both the instructions and the guidance, and re-read them often during and after the writing process to make sure that you are fulfilling all of the instructions.  Utilize the checklist at the end to help ensure that you have completed all of the components of the assignment.

Ethics and Gender

Are Ethical Questions Gender Specific?

What are the topics, values, and approaches that tend to characterize both ethical theory and everyday ethical thinking? Do these vary depending on whether they are considered by males or females? Given the fact that most of the prominent philosophers, theologians, artists, intellectuals, and others who have influenced ethical discussion have been males, many people from both genders have argued that this is a question worth taking seriously.

Unseen Influences

Whether we are talking about gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or any other distinguishing feature, we are conditioned in unnoticed ways to regard certain features as normal, ideal, inferior, stereotypical, and so on. While we may never be able to avoid that altogether, it doesn't mean we can't be on the lookout for such influences and try to think beyond them.

The Feminine Perspective

Don't let the term "feminist" mislead you; that term has many different meanings, and in our context, it simply means an approach to ethics that reflects a distinctively female point of view, but which can be important for people of both genders to engage.

Gender and Culture

The three philosophical readings that we will be looking at this week all try to show that many of our ethical ideas reflect a distinctively male point of view, and that the female perspective has tended to be overlooked or regarded as inferior. They don't suggest that any of this was done purposefully or consciously; rather, it's often the result of ways that we are conditioned by culture and society to think of men and women along certain stereotypical lines that tend to reinforce certain "masculine" traits as ideal, and certain "feminine" traits as inferior.

Before we turn to the readings, let's take a look at ways that such ideas can become ingrained in us so that we can get a sense of how conceptions of gender inequality can affect our thinking without us realizing it.

First, in this TED talk, Caroline Heldman analyzes how women are portrayed and judged in society according to their looks and she examines how this form of social judgment influences young girls and women.

The Sexy Lie: Caroline Heldman at TEDxYouth@SanDiego
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This next video is a compilation of clips that display inherent sexism in the news media, as women are often judged by their age and looks rather than their intelligence and political acumen.

Sexism in News Media in 2012
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It's not just women that are stereotyped. In this TED talk, Colin Stokes examines how media and films represent manhood and the outcomes that result from these representations.

Colin Stokes: How movies teach manhood
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Finally, we broaden our view a bit to other cultures. The following documentary, "Prostitutes of God," examines a group of prostitutes in India who have been born into prostitution and dedicated to a fertility goddess.  As you watch this film, think about how social ideals and structures often lock women into certain predefined categories. The film exemplifies the ways that negative attitudes toward women can be deeply rooted within in a culture, which might reinforce the urgency to take these kinds of things seriously within our own.

Not only does this present another example of the kind of phenomenon our readings will be pointing to, it also confronts us with some difficult questions that bring us back around to week 1's discussion of cultural relativism. Is this just "the way they do things," and something we have no business judging? Or do these represent real and deplorable violations of rights and ethical standards that apply to all of us, by virtue of our common humanity?

Prostitutes of God (Documentary)
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Further videos displaying examples of gender stereotyping and inequality can be found in the "recommended media" below. For now, though, we turn to the readings.

Feminist Ethics

Having seen the way that certain gender attitudes and inequalities are inculcated and reinforced in various ways, has this had an effect on the way we approach ethical questions? For instance, can females and males each have distinct sensitivities to features of a situation, ways of processing questions and facts, and distinctive insights?

If so, it's worth considering whether this distinctive feminine voice has tended to be overlooked or suppressed in our cultural choices and values, and how recognizing that might affect our individual and societal beliefs and judgments.

Our readings this week engage these questions.

The first reading tries to bring out some important differences between the ways that men and women respond to ethical situations. In her chapter "Images of Relationship" from her book In a different voice: Psychological theory and women’s development, Carol Gilligan (1982) presents her analysis of the differences between ethical responses in young boys and young girls and she interprets female responses through the lens of what has become known as “care ethics.”

As you read, think about how the differences between male and female responses relate to the moral theories that we have been considering, utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics. Consider whether each theory is a "masculine" or a "feminine" ethic, or whether it involves elements of both. Is Gilligan correct to distinguish approaches to ethics in terms of gender?

Virginia Held (1990) tries to answer some of these questions in her essay "Feminist transformations of moral theory" by arguing that moral philosophy has by and large tended to reflect the masculine perspective. Since the earliest days of philosophy, the typical concerns, characteristics, and ways of thinking of males has set the standard for "human" virtue and morality, while the typical concerns, characteristics, and ways of thinking of females has tended to be regarded as subhuman, inferior, or even bad.

Taking these two articles together, what might a feminist perspective teach us about human relations, about virtuous conduct and character, and about the decisions we ought to make as moral agents?

A suggestion in the area of military issues is provided Nel Noddings (2010) in her essay "War and Violence". Noddings analyzes the relationship between masculinity, violence, and war and opposes a certain conception of masculine violence to maternal thinking in relation to these topics.

Does Nodding present some important insights, and if so, how might we as individuals and as a society respond?

Going Deeper

Recommended readings and media on stereotypes and subjugation

In Elizabeth Cady Stanton's (2007) witty and sardonic essay from 1875 entitled "Subjection of women," she presents an analysis of the social structures and ideas that have kept women in subjection to men.  She also presents her own ideas about how women ought to be treated and how they should advocate for equal rights. You can find the essay in the book Elizabeth Cady Stanton, feminist as thinker: A reader in documents and essays with the library's Ebook collection.

The following videos present further examples of the ways that gender stereotypes are reinforced in various ways in our culture.

Gender Stereotypes in Media
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Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes Through Advertising
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Female Stereotypes in Disney Films


The Social Consequences

The next three resources, two videos and an essay, expose some of the social consequences of the kinds of images, stereotypes, and inequalities that we have been examining.

Because they are so commonplace and reinforced at a subconscious level, they often go unnoticed, or their significance unappreciated, unless something is so jarring that it opens things up in a new way. These next two videos try to do just that.

The first is a short but powerful film imagines a world in which the gender roles were reversed, and women were the dominant gender while men had to contend with sexism and sexual violence. While the film is French (with English subtitles) and takes place in France, the social conditions should be familiar to those of us in the United States. What effect does reversing the gender roles in this way have on the emotional impact of the experiences the film represents, and would it have the same impact if the gender roles were more "standard"? (Note that the film contains a small amount of nudity that is non-sexual and supports the message of the film.)

Oppressed Majority (Majorité Opprimée English)
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This next video is a short documentary about women who light themselves on fire (or are lit on fire by others) in order to escape their marriages or other abusive relationships.  Again, it's disturbing and discomforting, but it's precisely these kinds of things that are sometimes needed to jar us out of the mindsets that we are used to.

Dark Flowers: The Story of Self-immolation in Afghanistan
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Finally, in the essay entitled “Domestic Violence Against Women and Autonomy," Marilyn Friedman analyzes the relationship between women’s freedom and the inability of some women to escape the destructive cycle of domestic violence.  Rather than portray women as weak or ignorant, Friedman outlines specific social and familial limitations that prevent women from leaving these relationships. This essay can be found in the book Autonomy, Gender, Politics, which is in the Ashford University Library Ebook Collection. 

Web Resources

We have only scratched the surface of these complex and challenging themes, and these two websites have a multitude of resources for going deeper.

Hinman, L. (n.d.). Gender and Ethical Theory.  Ethics Updates. Retrieved from http://ethics.sandiego.edu/theories/Gender/index.asp

Hinman, L. (n.d.). Gender and Sexism.  Ethics Updates. Retrieved from http://ethics.sandiego.edu/Applied/Gender/index.asp

Beyond Gender

Having considered the question of gender equality and the ways in which it is undermined through various cultural attitudes and practices, and even philosophy, we can extend those insights to other sources of difference, such as race. Many of these same phenomena apply in similar ways when looking at racial inequality.

For a start, here are two examples of the ways that, like gender stereotypes, racial stereotypes may become entrenched through their forms of representation in the media.

Racial Stereotypes Within Disney Movies


Top 9 Racist Disney Characters

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Final Remarks

An Inescapable Question

What are ethical questions worth taking seriously? The reason is pretty simple. It’s that we all live an answer to these questions every day. All of our decisions involve taking a stand on what matters to human life, whether we realize it or not. What stand are we going to take?

A Human Question

Asking and answering ethical questions is a core part of our very humanity. This means there has been a large variety not just of answers, but of ways of approaching the questions themselves. We're familiar with cultural differences, but can there be differences pertaining to other features of our lives like gender? How do we respond to differences, no matter their source?

A Conversation

With so many ideas, beliefs, and values out there, should we simply declare some right or wrong? Should we simply declare that nothing is right or wrong? If both of these options seem unappealing, perhaps ethical reasoning is best thought of as a conversation in which we continually listen to others voices, and are not afraid to insert our own voice, in a mutual, never-ending endeavor to arrive at understanding and, perhaps, even truth. I hope this course has opened up that possibility for you.

Philosophy as a Way of Life

In our discussions over the past 5 weeks, we have been considering the moral and political dimensions of various issues, some that are very real and present issues for all of us, some that are more remote but worth thinking about.

When we ask such questions, what exactly is it that we’re asking?

  • Are we trying to discover some kind of objective fact?
  • Are we merely forming a particular attitude?
  • Are we just appealing to various social conventions?
  • Can we ever settle these kinds of questions, and how would we do that?
  • To what standards or principles do we appeal, if any?
  • Are there reasons that we can offer for our ethical judgments, and how to we distinguish better reasons from worse ones?

To help us grapple with these questions, we have considered perspectives from lots of different sources - some ancient, some contemporary, and some from literature, film, and popular media. And we have tried to:

  • Figure out the reasons and arguments behind the views under consideration, and try to provide these for our own views.
  • Uncover assumptions that we and others might be making, and considering whether we should call such assumptions into question when they don't have reasons behind them.
  • Critically apply the ideas and principles we have learned about to concrete cases in real life.

It might at times have seemed confusing on a lot of different levels. The ideas themselves often seemed arcane and complex, difficult to wrap your head around. And even to the extent that we understood them, it might have seemed like there was no way of deciding who is right, who is wrong.

Often I’m sure you just wanted to throw your hands up and say “who cares?” “Why bother?” You might have thought that this all just came down to verbal gymnastics from some people who spend too much time with their heads in the clouds. Let’s stop thinking and just believe what you want to believe, do what you want to do. These moralizers are just bothering the rest of us with their heady ways, like a fly that won’t go away.

This was the view many people had of Socrates, whom we encountered in week 1 being challenged by Glaucon's story about the Ring of Gyges. Indeed it was because the people of Athens found him such a nuisance that they ended up putting him on trial, and ultimately putting him to death on trumped up charges to get rid of him. But in his defense during his trial, recorded in Plato’s Apology, Socrates offers us a kind of vision of what philosophy is, why it matters, and why it’s so easy to be dismissive or even antagonistic towards it.

Philosophy for Socrates is not a set of abstract theories, facts, or definitions; philosophy is not a method of solving problems, and it’s certainly not simply a skill that allows you to win arguments. Rather, for Socrates, philosophy at its heart is a way of life. What kind of a life?

  • It’s a way of life in which you refuse to simply take for granted what you think you know.
  • It’s a way of life in which you refuse to be content with the way things seem or feel.
  • It’s a way of life in which you refuse to unreflectively follow the crowds or do what everybody does.
  • It’s a way of life that prizes honesty, authenticity, and above all truth.

But to pursue a philosophical life carries with it a risk. It’s hard, tedious, and tiresome. It can be uncomfortable and disconcerting. It can unsettle our settled assumptions. It can induce anxiety as the familiar and comfortable become strange and disquieting. It can alienate us from other people, from our culture and society, and even, in a sense, from our own selves, as we’ve hitherto understood them.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates describes this process of taking up a philosophical life with a myth. In this myth, he describes the unreflective life, the life that’s easiest and most comfortable and most common, in terms of living in a cave wherein we only grasp bits and pieces or shadows of the way things are, but often can’t or don’t want to probe beyond that and seek truth, represented by the sun. I invite you to take a few moments and read it, or if you prefer you can watch an animated rendition of it, narrated by the great Orsen Wells.

The Myth of the Cave
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In the myth as in real life, the life in the cave, the life that rests content with the way things seem or feel to you, or with what you’ve always just taken for granted – that life is often easier and more comfortable. And when one "emerges from the darkness to light," or starts questioning things, it can be painful and disorienting. And it can be tempting to just give up, to "go back to the cave" rather than continue on the journey in pursuit of the light of truth. But as we adjust to that light, we start to see things in a whole new way, and it’s no longer possible to return to the cave in the same way. Such is the risk, and the reward, of the philosophical life.

An Inescapable Question

But why are philosophical, and especially ethical questions worth taking seriously? The reason is pretty simple. It’s that we all live an answer to these questions every day. Whether we are itinerant eccentrics wandering in togas around the marketplace of Athens like Socrates was, or soldiers, mechanics, care-givers, billionaires, minimum-wage workers, entrepreneurs, professors, fathers and mothers, eaters of food, or users of technology. In every decision we make, from how we spend our money, how we relate to our friends, the profession we choose and all the choices we have to make within that – all of these decisions involve taking a stand on what matters to human life, whether we realize it or not.

What stand am I going to take?

What identity am I going to claim through the choices I make?

These are not questions we can avoid asking, for the very attempt to ignore or disregard them is itself an answer.

The Quest for Answers

So how does one pursue these questions (especially when we have a lot of other things to do)? Do I have to grow a beard (even if I'm a woman) and scratch it a lot while saying a lot of deep and wise things? Good grief no!

I like to think of the philosophical human life as a quest, one that we all undertake anyway to a certain extent, but that for most of us (even us professional philosophers) can always be done more intentionally, more reflectively, and more honestly.

There are countless movies and stories in which the characters are trying to find something, or get someplace, and so forth. (Some of my favorites are the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, and the Indiana Jones movies).

Harry Potter
Indiana Jones

Lord of the Rings

When these characters seek something, what does that involve? A quest involves asking:

  • What, exactly, is it that I'm trying to find or do?
  • Where do I find this or how do I do this?
  • Who can I trust to help along the way?
  • Why am I seeking or doing this?

What is needed for them to be able to answer these kinds of questions? What is required for them to fulfill their quest? A quest requires:

  • Some starting point, involving an initial idea of what to seek, what to do, and where to go, whom to trust, etc.
  • Openness to having these initial ideas challenged and revised.
  • Courage and fortitude to hold on to certain things when the challenges are not compelling
  • Trust in those who may be able to guide and educate you.
  • Respect for the ideas and answers that have come before.
  • Openness to having one's own sense of self and purpose, as well as trust and respect, challenged, developed, and educated.
  • Honesty to recognize when one is holding on to something that lacks merit or support.
  • Honesty to recognize when one is ignoring, denying, or rejecting something that needs to be respected and taken seriously.

Now, instead of thinking about something like finding the Ark of the Covenant or destroying the One Ring, think instead about something like

  • "what is the meaning of life?"
  • "what is happiness?"
  • "what kind of life is best?"
  • "what is my purpose here?"
  • "what does God want from me?"
  • "what does God want for me?"

Perhaps seeking the answer to these kinds of questions is like engaging in a quest. If so, perhaps it involves the same kinds of questions and requirements. Specifically, it might involve asking:

  • What is the answer for me?
  • What is the answer for humanity in general?

And seeking the answer might require:

  • Some starting point, involving an initial idea of what to seek, what to do, and where to go, whom to trust, etc.
  • Openness to having these initial ideas challenged and revised.
  • Courage and fortitude to hold on to certain things when the challenges are not compelling
  • Trust in those who may be able to guide and educate you.
  • Respect for the ideas and answers that have come before.
  • Openness to having one's own sense of self and purpose, as well as trust and respect, challenged, developed, and educated.
  • Honesty to recognize when one is holding on to something that lacks merit or support.
  • Honesty to recognize when one is ignoring, denying, or rejecting something that needs to be respected and taken seriously.

A Conversation

We aren't the first to ask these questions. And we won't be the last. The "starting points" didn't from us, nor did our sense of where and how to find the answers. Nor did they come from any one person. Rather, they emerged out of what might be best described as a "conversation" – a conversation with one’s peers, with the past, with one’s religion, society, and culture, even with the world itself.

For this reason, I would suggest that seeking the answer to questions about the meaning of life should also be regarded as engaging in a conversation. Indeed, philosophy itself, and the whole of human life, might be viewed this way. It’s a conversation about how we should live and what we should do. It’s a conversation about what it means to be human, and our place in the grand scheme of things. But by entering into that conversation, we’re not just asking these questions, we are living out those distinctively human possibilities of thinking, questioning, and enquiring. And for this reason, the reflective, philosophical life might be regarded as the most authentically human kind of life.

Whether we're religious or non-religious, male or female, old or young, Republican or Democrat, black or white - whoever one is, wherever one is coming from, and wherever one is going, the quest and the conversation is a central part of what it means to be human. And living out our humanity by engaging in that quest and conversation, continually striving to leave the cave and seek the light is, perhaps, what philosophy is all about.

Going Further

If you are interested in going a bit deeper or getting some more perspectives, here are some resources to get you started.

Places to find interesting stuff:

Philosophy Bites
Podcasts featuring short, accessible interviews with philosophers on a variety of topics.

Philosophical Installations
A comprehensive collection of videos on all sorts of philosophical topics.

Open Culture
Links to free philosophy courses that you can watch or listen to. A great thing for the car or while doing the dishes! I particularly recommend the course "Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?" by Michael Sandel, and "Ancient Wisdom and Modern Love" by David O'Connor.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Excellent and authoritative articles on almost every major philosophical topic and figure. Much better than Wikipedia!

A forum in which people can submit questions, and trained philosophers do their best to respond to it. To date it has answered thousands of questions on dozens of topics.

The Stone
A regular blog on the New York Times that features contemporary philosophers writing on a wide variety of topics. I especially recommend the articles by Gary Gutting.

Some things worth reading:

I encourage you to file away somewhere the list of recommended resources for each week, and in the coming months and years to work through some of those that might interest you.

In addition, here are some articles and books that are accessible but still provide what I think are interesting and illuminating insight into ethical questions, and human life in general.

Crawford, Michael (2009). Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work. New York: Penguin Books.

Crawford has a Ph.D. in philosophy but decided to work in motorcycle maintenance. This article talks about the relationship between hands-on, practical work and the life of the mind. A shorter version is published as "The Case for Working With Your Hands."

Sandel, Michael (2007). The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in the age of genetic engineering. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Sandel writes about certain trends toward perfection and domination in our culture that are impacting the way that we use our technological resources. It is an illuminating look not just at technology itself, but at our culture attitudes and what might need to be examined about those. A shorter version was published here.

Taylor, Charles (1992). The Ethics of Authenticity. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

This short book speaks about a sense of unease that many of us often feel about life in the modern world - a sense that we have lost the common values that hold us together, the traditional ways of making sense of our lives and our place in this world. He connects that up with a modern preoccupation with self-determination, self-fulfillment, or "authenticity". Taylor considers what it might mean to be authentic in a way that can overcome this modern malaise.


There is one discussion this week. The requirements for the discussion this week are a minimum of four posts on four separate days. The total word count on all of your posts combined should be over 600 words. Be sure to answer all the questions in the prompt and to read any resources that are required to complete the discussion properly. In order to satisfy the posting requirements for the week, the latest day you can post would be Friday (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday). However, we recommend that you get into the discussion early and spread out your posts over the course of the week.

Additional Information:

  • When posting an independent post (i.e., not replying to your peer), please use the following heading (w/out the quotes): "Your Name 1" (for your first such post), and "Your Name 2", "Your Name 3"... for any subsequent independent posts. That will help me keep track of different threads.
  • Be sure you understand the general discussion requirements stated above, and which are explained in more detail in the Faculty Expectations (which includes video guidance and a "Frequently Asked Questions" section). If you have read that and are unclear about the requirements, be sure to read the Frequently Asked Questions section, and if you have questions not answered there, please contact me.
  • Before composing your post, be sure to read and watch the relevant text(s) and media, and be sure to also read the instructor guidance and watch any associated lectures on this topic.

Key Discussion Requirements to Remember:

  • Post at least once on four separate days during the discussion week.
  • Total word count for all posts combined should be at least 600 words.
  • Demonstrate a thoughtful engagement with the relevant resources and the instructor guidance.
  • All posts should be on-topic and contribute to the discussion topic in a meaningful and substantive way.
  • All posts should be carefully proofread for spelling, grammatical, and mechanical errors, and should cite all sources in APA format.

Discussion: Virtue Ethics and Feminist Ethics

In week 4 you examined virtue ethics and what it means to live a flourishing life.  One thing we learned was that in an Aristotelian account, what the virtues are and the way they enable us to flourish is a function of the kind of activity characteristic of the being in question.  With that in mind, identify 3 virtues that are elicited by a feminist ethics such as the ones we find in the readings for this week.  Should we regard those as specific to women, or are they virtues that men should cultivate as well?  Contrast these with 3 virtues that might be more closely associated with the kind of masculine view of ethics that some of the authors claim has dominated our thinking.  How might our view of the virtuous life and virtuous behavior change by focusing our attention on feminist ethics?   Make reference to the arguments of at least one of the relevant readings from week 5 in your discussion, but you are encouraged to compare and contrast multiple readings as well.


Week 5 Assignment: Applying Ethical Reasoning

Please read these assignment instructions before writing your paper, and re-read them often during and after the writing process to make sure that you are fulfilling all of the instructions. 

Be sure to carefully look over the "Notes and Advice" section underneath the instructions, and to watch the Assignment Overview and Assignment 1 videos below.

Utilize the checklist at the end to help ensure that you have completed all of the components of the assignment.


In the Week One Assignment, you chose a concrete moral question, identified three ethically significant issues that pertain to this question, and constructed a thesis statement that articulated your position on that question.  In the Week Three Assignment, you discussed either deontological or utilitarian theory, applied that theory to the topic, and raised a relevant objection.

By engaging with the course material, you now have had a chance to refine your thinking and broaden your understanding of the issue by approaching it from the perspective of multiple ethical theories.

In this paper, you will demonstrate what you have learned by writing a 1500-2000 word essay in which you:

  • Present a revised thesis statement on the question you are discussing
  • Identify, explain, and apply the core principles of at least two ethical theories to draw specific moral conclusions about the question you are discussing.
  • Present your own reasoning on the question you are discussing and explain which of the ethical theories best supports your own view on the issue.


Write an essay that conforms to the requirements below. The paper must be 1500 to 2000 words in length (excluding the title and reference pages) and formatted according to APA style. 

The paragraphs of your essay should conform to the following guidelines:

  1. Introduction (150-200 words):
    1. Your first paragraph should introduce the topic by briefly but precisely discussing the concrete problem or question that you will be addressing, including a brief preview of the ethically significant issues that make this question important. This should draw upon your work in the Week One Assignment, but should be more succinct and reflect the development of your understanding of those ideas throughout the course.
    2. Conclude your introductory paragraph with the revised statement of your thesis, and a brief description of the primary reason(s) supporting your position. (If you changed topics, you will need to repeat the exercises from the Week One Assignment, including using the Thesis Generator. Please see the notes and guidelines for more on this).
  2. Application of Two Ethical Theories (1000-1200 words):

    This section of the Final Paper consists in explaining and applying the core principles of two ethical theories to the question or problem you have chosen.  One of these theories may be the theory you used in your Week Three Assignment, but your discussion here should be more refined and must identify the specific moral conclusions(s) that result when the theory is applied to the question or problem you are addressing.

    For each of the theories you are considering, you should:

    1. Explain the core principles or features of the theory and the general account of moral behavior it provides.
    2. Explain how these principles or features apply to the problem or question under consideration and identify the specific moral conclusion that results when these theories are applied to that problem or question.
      • A specific moral conclusion is a statement that takes a moral stance on the issue at hand.  For example, if you’re discussing the question, “Is the Death Penalty Moral?” a discussion that identifies and applies the core principles of utilitarian theory might yield the specific conclusion that the death penalty is moral because it ensures the greatest good for the greatest number. Applying virtue ethics might conclude that the death penalty exhibits the vice of cruelty, or a deontological theory might worry that it fails to treat the criminal as an end-in-itself.  (Note that these are just examples; you may not write on the death penalty, nor is it necessarily the case that each theory would lead to the conclusion mentioned).  
      • For purpose of this assignment, it’s best if you apply one theory first and discuss its core principles and moral conclusion(s), and then turn to the second theory.  This section of the paper should be approximately 1000 -1200 words (500 – 600 words for each theory application).
  3. Evaluation (150-300 words):

    In this section of the paper, you should explain which ethical theory you think presents the most persuasive moral argument on this question and why.  Then briefly address a common objection to that argument that you have not yet considered in the main part of your paper, and provide a concise response to that objection.

    • For example, if you were writing on capital punishment, you might think that a utilitarian argument that defends position X is most persuasive.  You would then raise an objection against a utilitarian defense of position X, and defend that view against the objection.
  4. Conclusion:

    Provide a conclusion that sums up what you showed in the paper and offers some final reflections, including a revised statement of the thesis (do not simply repeat your thesis, but rephrase it in light of the discussion you just had).

Resources Requirement

  • You must use at least four resources. 
    • Two of the resources must be drawn from the list of primary resources on each of the two theories you discuss, provided here. For example, if you write on deontology and virtue ethics, you would need at least 1 resource under the “Deontology” list, and at least 1 resource under the “Virtue Ethics” list. 
    • The other two may be from either the required or recommended material, or from the Ashford Library. 
  • If you need help with finding additional resources, or are unsure about whether a particular resource will count toward the requirement, please contact your instructor. 
  • The textbook does not count toward the resource requirement.
  • Cite your sources within the text of your paper and on the reference page.
  • For information regarding APA, including samples and tutorials, visit the Ashford Writing Center, located within the Learning Resources tab on the left navigation toolbar.

Notes and Advice:

  • This paper should primarily focus on demonstrating an understanding of the moral theories we have studied, and how the kind of moral reasoning they describe would apply to the ethical problem you are addressing. 
  • The paper is not to be primarily focused on your own view; that is a secondary component that should be reserved for the end of the paper.  If you spend too much of the paper focused on your own view, you will not be able to fulfill the main components of the paper and your grade will not be as high as it otherwise could be. 

The Topic:

  • You are free to write on the same topic you wrote on in previous papers, or choose a different topic. 
    • If you choose a different topic, please go through the paper 1 exercise of utilizing the thesis generator and identifying the ethically significant issues that would need to be considered. 
  • For a list of acceptable topics and questions to start with, see the options listed below. If you are still unsure of your topic or of how properly to focus it, you are strongly encouraged to consult with your instructor .  
  • You are free to draw upon the work you did in previous papers, and reuse parts that you feel were strong, but you are not to simply recycle the previous papers.   This paper should reflect the culmination of the development of your thoughts on this issue, and many of the requirements for the final paper cannot be satisfied by a heavily recycled paper.
  • As you explain which view you find most persuasive, you should remain focused on the reasoning that leads you to this position, and attempt to provide the strongest reasons you can.
  • The consideration of an objection against your own view is a way of showing that your view has the support of good reasons and can answer its strongest objections.  Therefore, aim at identifying and addressing the strongest opposing argument you can, bearing in mind that a good thesis should be able to respond to the best arguments for the other side. 

List of topics (see the Week 1 assignment for more detail):

  • Just War/Military Ethics (Weeks Three and Four)
  • Gender and Equality (Week Five)
  • Responsibility to Animals  (Week Two)
  • Responsibility to the Environment  (Week Four)
  • End of Life Medical Issues (Week One)


This checklist can help you ensure that you have completed all of the assignment instructions.

Please Carefully review the Grading Rubric for the criteria that will be used to evaluate your assignment.

Content Criteria 
(a) Effectively discusses a focused, concrete ethical question or problem that is (b) set out well in the introduction, and (c) provides a precise, clear, and well-constructed thesis. 2
Explains and applies two of the ethical theories covered during the course and demonstrates excellent understanding of each of the theories based on the relevant required resources. 6
Effectively explains which theory presents the most persuasive moral argument and why, raises a relevant objection to this argument, and provides a strong response to the objection. 2
Provides a conclusion that concisely summarizes the paper and presents a rephrased statement of the thesis. 1
Research Criteria
Cites at least one of the primary readings for each of the two theories, and two more scholarly items from either the required or recommended material or the Ashford Library. References are pertinent and effectively used. 2
Writing Skills 
The paper uses correct grammar and spelling throughout.  .5
The paper is organized in a coherent manner which develops a sustained analytical argument, including a well-crafted introduction and conclusion.  .5
Style Criteria 
The paper uses proper APA format throughout.  .5
The paper is no fewer than 1500 words in length, not including reference and title pages.  .5

Additional Resources

Please see:

Zúñiga y Postigo, G. (2013). How to write an argumentative essay [Unpublished work]. College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Ashford University, Clinton, IA.

Ashford Writing Center Resources:

The Ashford Writing Center can be found by looking under the Learning Resources tab on the left navigation toolbar.  Once in there, please note the following resources:

  • The Ashford Writing Center Thesis Generator to help you generate your thesis. Look under the "Writing Resources" tab, then under "Writing Tools", and click on "Thesis Generator", or go directly to https://awc.ashford.edu/writing-tools-thesis-generator.html.
  • Information regarding APA, including samples and tutorials, can be found by clicking on the "APA/MLA" heading at the top. 
  • The Ashford Writing Center (AWC)  has two kinds of tutoring available to you.
    • Live Chat – If you have writing-related questions about a topic before you draft a discussion post or submit a written assignment, you will now be able to chat live with a tutor for a short (up to 20 minute) conversation. Live Chat will be available Monday through Friday from 10:00-11:00 am and 4:00-5:00 pm (PST). AWC Live Chat
    • Email Paper Review – If you have a draft, partial draft, or even if you’re having trouble getting started, you can complete a submission form and email your paper to the AWC for review.
    • Writing Tutors will do their best to return your paper with their comments within 48 hours, not including Saturdays and Sundays. Please plan accordingly if you would like to receive feedback before an assignment due date. AWC Email Paper Review.

Additional References