PHL 370 Paper Topics

Part I: General Guidelines

  1. Each essay should be no longer than the specified length and must be typed or word processed in a font size between 10 and 12 points with approximately 1-1.5 inch margins all around and stapled once in the upper left corner. The paper must be written in both upper and lower case letters, as appropriate. Your name should appear ON EVERY PAGE. Put it in the header or the footer if you know how.
  2. A professional appearance is recommended for your cover page. Avoid a lot of flashy cover art. It won't help your grade and wastes your print cartridge unnecessarily.
  3. Do not use plastic report covers or folders of any sort when handing in your papers. Such accouterments are cumbersome, annoying, and will not help your grade. Simply stapling your pages together in the manner suggested above will suffice. Unstapled papers will not be accepted.
  4. You ABSOLUTELY MUST, when summarizing or directly quoting the words of others, use a quotation format (either quotation marks or block quotations will do) and cite the source from which you are drawing those words in an appropriate way (Chicago/Turabian is preferred). Failure to do so leaves you open to a charge of plagiarism. Plagiarism is the use of another's words or academic work without citation or permission, and it is a serious academic offense. I take plagiarism seriously. If you commit plagiarism in my class I will take the strongest action possible under the Marygrove College Academic Honesty Policy.
  5. Late papers will be penalized at the rate of five points per day late, beginning immediately after the end of class on the day the paper is due.
  6. Any paper not turned in by the end of class, in class, will be counted late. This includes papers left in my mailbox, under my office door, or conveyed to me by any means other than by hand in class at the appointed time. Turning in your paper early is permissible but you MUST see me first so that the proper arrangements can be made.
  7. I do NOT accept papers via e-mail or on flash drives or on any other electronic media— EVER. (Do not ask, the answer is no.)
  8. I do NOT recognize computer or printer failure, malfunction, or unavailability as an excuse for late papers. Such events can be overcome by good preparation on your part. Do not wait until the last day before the paper is due to begin writing. While you write, save your paper often on a portable medium, like a floppy disk or a CD. Make sure that the media you use to save your papers can be accepted by a College computer lab just in case you can't print your paper at home. The College has computer labs with up-to-date computers and printers at which you can write and print papers. Also, print out and save your rough drafts, even if they are covered with corrections. In the event that an act of God (e.g. tornado, etc.) prevents you from printing out the finished product, the instructor will be more likely to give you a full hearing should you be able to produce a rough draft with corrections on it as evidence of your work. Your planning is your responsibility. Failure to manage time effectively does not warrant special treatment in my class.
  9. I set my page limitations and/or word counts according to how much work I think it would take a reasonable person to write a paper which adequately addresses all parts of the topic in keeping with the goals of the assignment. Your mileage may vary. All papers will be graded on quality, not on quantity. How much you write is in no way connected with getting a higher or lower grade (unless, of course, you write nothing).
  10. Your ability to write a clear, concise, coherently structured, well-written essay in grammatically correct English is directly connected to your ability to be successful at written assignments in this class. This is College. It's time to get serious about developing your ability to express yourself clearly, effectively, and efficiently in both spoken and written media. I have a web page designed to help you improve your writing skills. Take advantage of it. Other helpful resources can be found at this page. If you have difficulty writing or need to brush up on your English skills, it is also highly recommended that you take advantage of College resources (e.g. tutoring programs, academic success centers, or writing centers, etc.) for doing so. For general questions on the bare minimum requirements for standard written English you should refer to the book Elements of Style, by Strunk and White.
  11. I am always happy to meet with students to discuss strategic, substantive, or any other aspects of your paper either in my office during office hours, by appointment, or via e-mail. I do NOT, however, give or suggest provisional grades to rough drafts.

Part 2: Paper Topics

Specific Instructions:

  1. All students in this class must complete 3 of the paper options given below. Students are free to choose whichever paper topics they prefer for the other two.
  2. Each paper must be submitted by the due date given with it or it will not be accepted.
  3. Each paper must be between 700 and 1200 words long, and conform to all standards given in the general guidelines (see Part 1, above).
  4. Peer review is a part of our writing process. Attached to the end of each paper should be a completed PEER REVIEW WORKSHEET.

The Paper Topics

Topic 1:

John Rawls argues that rational persons in the original position would use the “maximin” strategy when choosing principles of justice for their new society. What three features of the original position does he think make their choice of this strategy apt? “Maximin” yields choices that make the best of the worst possible outcome (think of it as being roughly analogous to a “bet small, lose small” approach). Imagine that you are a Rawlsian in the original position with a “Maximizer” and an “Equalizer”. The Maximizer is someone who advocates for a “maximax” (i.e. bet big, win big) approach. The “Equalizer” is someone who advocates for absolute equality, no matter what in the new society. You do not necessarily have to convince them, but how would you address the Maximizer and the Equalizer in Rawlsian terms? In your paper, draw on Rawls’s reasoning in the selection from your text and argue the case for preferring the “maximin” strategy to the “maximax” or “equalize” strategies.


Topic 2:

Nozick uses the “Wilt Chamberlin” example to argue that liberty upsets whatever distributive patterns might be established. Explain the example. Does it show what Nozick thinks it shows? If we applied Nozick’s results here, could we object to the wealth of a Donald Trump or Bill Gates on grounds of justice?


Topic 3:

In the last line of his essay, Miller writes:

A society can give people what they deserve, but also set aside resources to cater for needs, and be guided in economic matters in part by efficiency.

This quote leads one to think in a pluralist mood about distributive justice: Perhaps different goods should be distributed according to different principles depending on their place and importance in human life, rather than by one overarching principle. (The political theorist Michael Walzer makes just such a proposal in his book Spheres of Justice Is this a reasonable idea? If it isn't, then how should Miller change his view? Accordingly, what further changes are implied regarding the claims he makes that lead to this view?


Topic 4:

Liberty or freedom plays an important role in the thinking of Rawls, Nozick and Anderson. Compare and contrast the definitions of liberty (or freedom) offered by each, and compare and contrast the way they characterize the relationship between liberty and socioeconomic well-being.


Topic 5:

Shelby thinks it would be a mistake to see certain types of criminal or other deviant activity by ghetto residents as a failure of civic obligation. Use Anderson's idea of democratic equality to respond to Shelby on this point. Under democratic equality, would it still be the case that, as Shelby puts it, the "deviance" of some ghetto residents is not unreasonable? Why or why not? Assuming that Shelby's description of life in ghetto conditions is accurate, what theoretical advantages would an advocate of democratic equality have, if any, over a Rawlsian theorist in conceptualizing a political system that would be more just as regards those who find themselves living in the "dark ghetto"?

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