PH 350 History of Ethics: 

Emotion, Reason, and Morality

The Midterm Benchmark Project

Timeline and Policies


Due: Oct 28th, by the end of the day


Midterm Final Draft Due: Everyone who attends a draft meeting on the week of  Oct 20th will have until Oct 28th to submit the final draft. Bring an outline/progress draft to ONE meeting. A schedule of meetings based on social contact pods will be distributed.

Submission: Via Email in .DOC file extension only (no .PDFS)


Rewrite Safety: Papers submitted on time that do not earn at least a B may be rewritten, with a capped potential grade of B



The Basics


Choose your Format:


OPTION A - Survey Format

Two Short Papers (1000 words each; 2000 word total), one on a figure or topic in Module I and the other on a figure or topic from Module II




OPTION B - Sustained Treatment:

One Middle Sized Paper (2000 words total) on a single topic or figure from Module I or II


The Details


The aim of this course not only to teach you about philosophy, but to cultivate your ability to do philosophy. The purpose of the midterm benchmark paper is to give you the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge of the material while also giving you the opportunity to actually explore some of the basic conventions of philosophical discourse.

The Paper Types: In order to help you accomplish the foregoing, your midterm paper(s) should satisfy at least one of the following paper types below:

1. Critical Engagement: Engage critically with a philosopher's work by generating original objections or challenges to their position

Example Topic: How might Hume's argument against rationalism be undercut by evidence of "amoralism"?

Example Topic: Is Bentham's psychological hedonism consistent with our best evidence of human behavior?

Example Topic: Does Mackie's queerness argument rest on an excessively narrow conception of the nature of reality?


2. Reconstructive Effort: Try to defend a philosopher’s view from some classic objections or problems by

reconstructing a fortified or amended version of their position

Example Topic: How might Bentham respond to the "Doctrine of Swine Objection" without conceding a qualitative difference in pleasures?

Example Topic: How might the non-cognitivist respond to the charge that our moral discourse appears to carry 'objective purport' - e.g. we take ourselves to be 'in the right' in our political and moral discourse?

3. Trans-Historical Topical Debate: Show how an issue in contemporary debate is illuminated or problematized by a historical figure. Or show how an historical philosopher’s view might be illuminated or problematized by contemporary philosophical debate. 

Example Topic:  How might our contemporary moral crises underscore the challenges of taking moral relativism seriously? 

Example Topic: How might recent empirical psychology support/challenge Humean Sentimentalism/Psychological Hedonism/etc.?

4. Interpretive Dispute: Engage in an existing scholarly debate between differing interpretations of a philosopher. 

Example Topic: Is Hume a moral anti-realist, as traditionally thought?

Example Topic: Is Montaigne really a moral relativist after all?

Example Topic: What does Wittgenstein mean by the suggestion that 'ethics can be no science' yet the world is a 'miracle'?

Some Basic Guidelines for Writing Philosophy Papers, for First Time Philosophy Students:


I. SHOW DIALECTICAL SENSITIVITY Compelling arguments require compelling interlocutors! In philosophical writing, if you do not consider an opposing view, or if you present the other side in a way that makes their position seem weak or underdeveloped, your argument will appear undermotivated in turn.  


II. TREAT YOUR PAPER AS AN ACT OF COMMUNICATION, NOT AN OBJECT:  Philosophical writing is best seen as an act of communication between inquiring persons. You should get out of the headspace of seeing your writing as the production of a textual object that satisfies a set of formulaic rules, and into the headspace of seeing your writing from the standpoint of a human reader. At each stage in your paper, anticipate how your reader will be reacting to your argument.


III. SOMETIMES, LOSING IS WINNING - AIM FOR INTELLECTUAL DISCOVERY, NOT “WINNING” While it is critical to consider opposing perspectives, this doesn’t mean that you have to defeat the objections you raise. In fact, it is an intellectual achievement to show just how difficult an issue really is, and some of the most important contributions to philosophy, and indeed some of the best student papers I have read, have concluded without a resolution to the problems that were raised. 


IV. AIM FOR ORIGINALITY, IRRESPECTIVE OF NOVELTY: Your paper should demonstrate independent thinking and original synthesis of ideas. However, this doesn’t mean that your ideas have never been expressed by anyone in the literature. The idea is rather to aim for philosophical growth on your own merits, relative to your encounter with the primary sources.



Additional Resources 


Guidelines for Philosophical Writing: Philosophy comes in many different forms, and I would hate to give you the impression that there is a one size fits all approach to philosophical discourse. There isn’t one. That being said, Jim Pryor’s guidelines is a fair place to start if you’ve never written a philosophy paper or an argumentative paper before. Pryor gives a helpful overview of some of the basic conventions of philosophy. Keep in mind that this is just one approach to philosophical writing:

Where to Find Papers in Philosophy: PHILPAPERS.ORG: The best way to get a sense of the philosophical writing is to see what it looks like in the wild. The following website is an excellent database of philosophical research that will give you a sense of what philosophy looks like today: