Prospectus for final paper

Think of the prospectus as an elevator pitch. You have an opportunity to outline the most basic and essential components of your paper (your subject, thesis, basic argument, and sources), in a short format, and get a green light to go ahead or an opportunity to revise it.

This generally accomplishes two things:: it shows us that you’ve had adequate time to think about your paper and your research, and saves us the agony of reading a paper conceived and written at the last minute.

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This is important because the paper will be graded on, among other things, how well you argue your thesis.

Generally, ethics-paper theses go wrong in one of two ways — they are far too broad, or they are not in fact ethical theses. Both are pretty easy to fix.

You should apply some ethical principle or theory to a specific case in order to answer a question that goes something like, “Should medical professionals (or patients or someone relevant to your case) do X in these specific kinds of circumstances?”

Remember, the business of ethics in its most distilled form is to answer questions about what someone should or ought to do. This can only be done when a strong thesis is supported by extensive research, good argumentation, and with adequate time for revision.

To that end, we need a one page (double spaced, normal font and margins) document that includes:

  1. Your thesis (that someone(s) should or ought to do X in a specific kind of circumstance).
  2. The case you’re arguing about (i.e. the specific kind of circumstance in which someone ought to or should do X)*
  3. The ethical principles relevant to your case (i.e. why someone should or ought to do X in some specific kind of circumstance)
  4. A very basic, broad outline of your thesis-supporting argument (i.e. how the ethical principles you’ve chosen determine why someone should or ought to do X in a specific kind of circumstance)
  5. A list of at least two academic philosophy articles from outside the course**

Finally, although this is a short document, all the familiar (I hope) rules about plagiarism apply. I know it’s tempting to read the word plagiarism and tune out, but you should understand it’s something we see a lot. If it’s not your idea or argument, it needs a citation. If it’s a quote, it needs a citation. If it’s a fact about the world or something in it that anyone might conceivably disagree with, it needs a citation.

The prospectus will be graded pass/not pass. You’ll be given a chance to revise, so understand that it will be graded with what might be an unfamiliar degree of harshness (of course the trade off will be a better paper and a higher grade). In other words, failure to meet any of the criteria above will result in a ‘not pass’, and you’ll have to revise. If you try to pad the length with weird margins, not pass. If any of your sources end in ‘.com’, not pass. If this modest, short, one-page paper is more than 10% quotation (so, basically, one or two short quotes), not pass. You get the idea. Looking forward to reading all the submissions!

*Make sure your case isn’t too broad. This is a common mistake. Here are some examples of excessively broad topics and their improved counterparts (credit: Laurel Mieirdiercks):

Too BroadAppropriately Broad
ConfidentialityConfidentiality standards for adolescents
Decision making authorityDecision making auth. in cases of impaired judgement
Human researchA Utilitarian look at human research (on a particular population)
EuthanasiaEthical autonomy in euthanasia vs. physician aid in dying

**The last item needs some emphasis. History.com is not an academic philosophy article. Youtube is not an academic philosophy article. Brietbart news is not an academic philosophy article. Bernie Sanders’ twitter is not an academic philosophy article.

An academic philosophy article comes from a reputable journal, generally accessible through the university’s licensing system, jstor, the library, etc. If you’re not sure, ask.

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