the writer will choose it

Ethical Arguments: Nuts and Bolts


The Nature of the Argument: Ethical arguments revolve around moral issues and the notions of good vs. bad or right vs. wrong. In an ethical argument right and wrong largely depend on one’s system of values.  Thus, by writing about ethical issues, you can examine more closely your own beliefs and the reasons why you believe so.


Examples of ethical claims (the underlined parts are the controversial “X” terms)


Cloning humans is (is not) ethical due to A, B, C, and D.


Capital punishment is (is not) morally wrong because of A, B, and C.


Consumption of red meat is (un)ethical because it follows (or violates) the principles of A, B, C, and D.


Task: Write an argument in which you try to change someone’s mind about the moral value of X. The X you chose should be controversial. While you would be safe in arguing that smoking is bad for your health and those who live with you, you claim would be unlikely to surprise anyone. By controversial or debatable, we mean that some people are likely to disagree with your view of X, that they are surprised at your position, or that you are opposing some people’s view of X. By choosing a problematic or controversial X, need to focus on a moral (ethical) issue. Somewhere in your essay, you should summarize alternative views and either refute them or concede to them.


So, your purpose is persuasive: you want to change someone’s mind (or influence their judgment) about the X.


Basic Steps in Composing this Paper:


Choosing a Topic and Learning the Facts (The researchability of your topic is crucial)

Once you have chosen a topic, you need to research it to learn all the facts.


Identify the Issues

After examining the situation and learning the facts, you need to identify the contested ethical issues.


Formulate a Thesis

Identify an ethical issue.

In ethics, the thesis is your position, so take a pro or con stance to your chosen issue.


List your Reasons

Your reasons should support your thesis.


Show Evidence

You then need to offer evidence to support each of your claims or assumptions.


Counterarguments and Rebuttals

Not everyone will agree with you. Hence, you should acknowledge and respond to some of the arguments (claims) against your position. In your rebuttal you need to demonstrate once again why your position is the superior one.



A conclusion may restate the main points of your argument and your thesis. Alternatively, you may wish to look at the “big picture” and draw the reader’s attention to the importance of your argument. Another way to close your argument is to call for action or future study.

Conducting an Ethical Argument (two major approaches – you can combine these)


  1. Principles-Based Argument – analyze the issue through the lens of one or more guiding principles.


Capital punishment is wrong because it violates the principle of the sanctity of human life. (i.e.                              human life is sacred)


  1. Consequences-Based Argument – assesses the consequences or effects of a certain decision or action and compares the benefits to the negative costs.


Capital punishment is wrong because it leads to the following negative consequences:

  • The possibility of executing an innocent person
  • The possibility of denying the murderer a chance for repentance and redemption
  • The excessive legal and political costs of trials and appeals
  • The unfair distribution of executions so that one’s chances of being put to death are much greater if one is a minority or is poor.


Some Major Concerns (the Four Cs):

When evaluating ethical issues, keep the following in mind:


Clarity: make sure that the readers understand what right or wrong mean and what they apply to.

“Murder is wrong” — does this include engaging in an action that has death as a predictable side-effect?

“Thou shalt not kill” — does this include killing in war? An embryo? All animals? Some animals? A species?


Coherence: ask whether various moral principles fit together in a reasonable way and do not contradict each other. A classic example of such contradiction is the following: (a) It is always wrong to kill a person and (b) Convicted murderers deserve to be executed. These claims seem to contradict each other.


Consistency: ask whether your proposed principle conflicts with basic, commonly held moral intuitions.

If a principle leads to the conclusion that it’s morally acceptable to torture a two-month old infant because “I wanted to see what it would feel like to do that,” we ought to reject it. In addition, people who happily eat pork chops, but identify “it’s wrong to eat dogs” as a basic moral intuition, will have to dig a bit deeper.


Completeness: this is a matter of how much of our moral life, moral problems, and moral decisions is covered by the principle or theory in question. Most moral principles apply to a limited range of cases, but any principle which applies to a very limited range of cases should be examined carefully.



As for all the papers in this course, your data must result from research, and not from your memory. Before drafting, you need to revisit the subject and carefully take notes. This essay requires a library research, and research in your textbooks, in other relevant printed sources of information (scholarly journals, encyclopedias, dictionaries, specialized magazines), or, on the Web. As you will be speculating about various causes, you will essentially approaching the subject from a multiple perspective.


Sources and Citation Format

Relevant sources add to the credibility and strengthen your arguments. Referring to authoritative sources is a must in academic writing. It is used to support writer’s assumptions and claims. For the use of outside sources, consult Chapter 17 Using, Citing, and Documenting Sources. This section describes in detail how to cite various sources, including the formats of electronic sources.

Format Requirements

Formatting your document is the final important thing you need to take care of. Before you hand in your paper, please make sure that all the following format requirements are met:


•     Font size: 12 points.

•     Font: Times New Roman.

•     Margins: all margins (top, bottom, left, and right) should be 1 inch.

•     Double space the entire paper.

•     Place your name, my name, course title, and date, in the left corner at the top of the first page.

•     Center the title.

•     Pagination: All pages must be numbered.

•     Length: A minimum o f 1,200 words.

•     The sources used in the paper must follow MLA System of Documentation.

•     The paper must include a separate page containing minimally 4 (four) sources. This page should be         titled Works Cited.



Format: Those papers that will not comply exactly with the above format requirements will be downgraded up to 10%.  Papers that do not include a Work Cited Page and references to outside sources will be downgraded up to 20%.


Lateness: If you do not have copies of your final paper on the day they are due, you will lose 10 % from your final paper grade. Also, late papers will be downgraded 10% per each day they are late.  Papers more than one week late will be downgraded 50%.

I look forward to reading your ethical arguments! J

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