Theory Application Papers

Each student is responsible for writing two theory application papers. These papers apply one of the theories we have studied to one of the issues we have studied (you may construe the issue broadly, if it helps). 

Topic Selection

Below is a table showing theories (on the left) and the issues we applied them to (on the right).

Theory Issue
Contractarianism (Egoism) Environment/Shared Resources
Utilitarianism Treatment of Animals
Kantian deontology Suicide
Virtue Ethics Abortion
Feminist Ethics Disability
Divine Command Theory Capital Punishment
Subjectivism and/or Relativism Female Circumcision

There are three rules about topic choice: 

  1. You may apply your chosen theory to any of the issues that we did not already apply it to in class. So you could apply Kantian deontology to any of the issues EXCEPT suicide, since we read an article in class applying Kant’s theory to suicide. 
  2. You may not write on divine command theory or subjectivism/relativism at all. These are both theories of metaethics (rather than normative ethics), and both hold that ethical terms and concepts ultimately refer to the views or commands of some person or entity (either God or some individual or culture, respectively). We will discuss whether these theories are true, but won’t be applying them in the same way as we do other theories. 
  3. You may not write on the same theory OR the same issue twice. The second theory application paper must utilize both a different issue and a different theory than you used in the first. 


Papers should: 

  1. Have a clear thesis, near the beginning, that makes clear how the student thinks the chosen theory applies to the chosen issue. 
    • Example: In this paper, I will argue that Kantian deontology requires that we do not help or otherwise support others who attempt suicide.
  2. Have a body that consists in arguments supporting the thesis. 
    • Example: First, Kantian deontology does not allow us to assist others in suicide because it requires us to think of each person as possessing objective value, or a “dignity beyond price,” regardless of that person’s own subjective evaluation of his or her own worth. 
  3. Consider at least one objection, and respond to it.
    • Example: Someone might object that for some people in extreme pain at the end of life, suicide would increase the overall value of their life to them. However, I respond that this cannot justify assisting someone with suicide, because subjective experiences of pain do not decrease a person’s objectively determined value.
  4. Interact substantively with (and cite) relevant readings from class (at least one reading on the chosen theory, and one reading on the issue to which you are applying it)
  5. Be at least 1000 words long, written with standard English grammar and syntax. 

For due dates, see “Assignment Overview.”