An introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation by John Taurek and Should the numbers count by Jeremy Bentham


ESSAY TOPIC: What might Taurek say in reply to Bentham’s claim that morality approves of those actions whose tendency is to augment the happiness of the community? In your view, who, if either, would be right? Why? (In your answer, be sure to consider how Bentham understands “the interest of the community.”) A few points about these essays:  1. These are not research papers. All you need to write them is in the materials for the course. Your assignment is to think through the questions, rather than research what others have said about them.  2. Do not assume that your reader knows the material you are discussing. On the other hand, don’t back up too far (Please, no essays starting “Since the beginning of time, man has wondered….”).  3. Write simply. Feel free, of course, to use philosophical terms of art (eg. “epistemological”) where appropriate. But generally, err on the side of simplicity and clarity. Don’t be too casual: the model isn’t a text—but perhaps a letter or a carefully written e-mail is a good start.  4. Yes, you can say “I…” Please do. Please don’t say “This essay will argue that…” or anything like that. Avoid the passive voice. (E.g., don’t say “the passive voice should be avoided.”)  5. More on “I”: What we are interested in is your answer to these questions. But it’s not just a poll. You need to give arguments. Always ask yourself: How might someone object to what I’m saying? Give the strongest, most plausible version of an objection, or alternative view, and then respond to that.  6. The topics on which you are being asked to write raise difficult questions about which reasonable and informed people can disagree. We are not looking for the correct answer. We are looking for good analysis and careful argument. An important element of that is, you might say, diagnostic. When faced with a difficult question, ask yourself: On what does its resolution turn? Much important work in philosophy involves clarifying questions.  7. That said, you do need to defend an answer in your paper, however tentative and qualified. (Please, no essays that end “In conclusion, there are strong arguments on both sides.” )

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