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argument essay about ethics and technology
PHIL 236 – Term Paper Assignment
July 3, 2018
40% of final grade
About 7-8 double-spaced pages
You are asked to produce a “term paper” as that is normally understood in the humanities—not a report, not a literature survey, but a personal argumentative essay. This means your essay should include a thesis —one or more specific claims that you advance and defend by supplying reasons. In addition, your paper should explicitly identify the normative principles at issue, state your agreement or disagreement with those principles, and offer reasons for the conclusions that you reach. In short, you are asked to supply an argument, in the philosophical sense of that term.
If you are especially interested in the ethical implications of some specific area of technology, this is your opportunity to go into details. The set topics in section III (below) have been designed to allow you a fair bit of latitude and they need not (and probably should not) be interpreted as a step-by-step script for constructing your argument. So, for example, if you are especially interested in technologies used to monitor employees in the workplace or the privacy threat posed by RFID tags, you are free to focus on this in addressing topic D. Similarly, topic C could be considered from a consumer perspective or a producer perspective or possibly as a conflict between consumers’ rights and producers’ rights. These are all allowable options, so long as you do indeed address the question and develop an argument.
If you need to go into specifics about the scientific or technical aspects of the question, do so. Do not bog things down with over-elaborate technical description or background, however. If you find yourself going beyond three or four sentences in explaining how some technology works, or the science that underlies some technology, you have probably become distracted from your point. This is first and foremost an assignment in applied ethics. Accordingly, you will be evaluated predominantly on how you handle the normative and evaluative issues raised in your essay, as opposed to your description or explanation of scientific or technical issues.
That said, secondary sources should be consulted and cited as necessary in order to support your argument. Note, however, that an essay is not a scavenger hunt. You will not necessarily get a better grade by supplying more reasons or including more footnotes. Instead, your objective should be to develop and adequately explain a few good, relevant, perspicuous reasons to believe the thesis for which you are arguing.
Wherever you use outside sources, including Internet sources, references must be included. Plagiarism (and other forms of academic dishonesty) may result in penalties ranging from a grade of 0 to expulsion from the University. Be advised that I am quite scrupulous about following up on cases of suspected academic dishonesty. (See also my note on Web Resources on the class web site.)
In philosophy the traditional MLA (‘Chicago style’) footnote documentation format is usually preferred, but you may use any standard format, provided you follow it consistently. (For more information on documentation formats, see: http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/using-sources/documentation)
You face a fairly serious size constraint, but this is deliberate on my part. If you refrain from unnecessary obiter dicta and revise your work so to make it as concise and compact as possible, you should have no trouble staying within the imposed limits. Design your paper so that every sentence, every paragraph, counts. Ideally, not a single word should be wasted.
II. Essay Drafts & Assistance
If you would like to discuss a draft of your paper with me, see me during office hours. Be sure to bring along a copy of your work.
III. Essay Topics (Choose ONE of A, B, C, D or E below)
A. Some theorists argue that technology has increasingly assumed control of our society and/or our social and political institutions. To what degree is this true? To the extent that it is true, is this a bad thing, a good thing or a matter of indifference? What, if anything, should be done to change the degree of control that technology seems to exercise over society? Explain using examples.
B. Discuss the role that intellectual property rights play in the use and development of technologies. Are gene patents, for example, ethically acceptable? Why or why not? Be sure to consider the arguments about the moral justifications for intellectual property rights presented in the readings and in the lectures.
C. Discuss one or more of the ethical concerns raised by the development and use of genetic engineering technologies (including ‘gene editing’ technologies) in agriculture, aquaculture or forestry. Should we be worried about the kinds of applications for which recombinant DNA technologies might be used? If so, which ones and why?
D. Discuss the issue of privacy in the context of information technology. Is personal privacy at risk or perhaps has it already been compromised beyond repair? Are there good moral reasons for imposing limits on what information about us should be available to individuals, corporations, and/or governments? If so, what are those reasons and what should the limits be? If not, why not?
E. Ask and answer your own question. A question in one of the following areas might be especially apt: risk assessment, biotechnology research, “appropriate technology,” technology and the environment, information technology, research ethics in technology.
If you choose option E, note that: i) your essay should make reference to at least one course reading that is relevant to that topic and ii) the question that you aim to answer must be approved by the instructor prior to being handed in. Note that ii) is a necessary condition: Your essay will not be accepted for grading unless I have received and approved a statement describing your topic. This statement can be very short (ca: 25 words or less) and can be conveyed to me via email or on paper during office hours.
IV. Mechanical Details
Please double space and paginate your paper.
Please do not use binders, spines, duo-tangs, or other gadgets when handing in your paper. Ordinary 8 ½ x 11 paper, stapled or paper-clipped in the upper left hand corner, is sufficient. Include a title page if you wish, but do make sure that your name and student number are clearly indicated.
PHIL 236 – Term Paper Assignment page 2 of 2
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