Writing 121 Winter 2013

Essay Three:

*Please read thoroughly before contacting me with questions about the assignment*


Essay Requirements:  To write this essay, respond to one of the essay prompts below. All essays should include a strong enthymeme in response to one of these questions, and all essays must incorporate one of the articles from this unit. You must bring printed copies of your essay for each member of your Writing Circle (plus one for me) to class on Wednesday, February 13th. Your first draft should be at least 3 pages (double-spaced) in Times New Roman, 12-point font, and with a header and an original title.  A grading rubric with further details about grading criteria is available on Blackboard. Do not use outside sources for this paper.


Unit Overview:  As we have discussed in this unit, making ethical and effective choices can sometimes be difficult or even counterintuitive.  Our readings within this unit have emphasized the different ways that trying to create the greatest good for the most people may sometimes result in either the oppression of a few or in the misleading moral “instincts” that can make us feel like we are making the “right” choices when in fact our efforts are not helpful and may even be harmful.  As you prepare for this unit, you should be sure to familiarize yourself with all the readings from this unit so that you can enter into the conversation with them fully prepared.  For this essay, you are required to cite the articles suggested in the prompts (note that in some cases this means you’ll be working with two articles).  Drawing on these, you should write an essay that thoughtfully and ethically deals with the complexities of one of the following questions:


  1. In “The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas,” Ursula Le Guin constructs a society in which the happiness of many is based upon the oppression of one single individual.  Similarly, in Stephen Gould’s “Carrie Buck’s Daughter,” the government policy of sterilizing some (few) individuals was justified on the grounds that those people’s genes would be damaging to society as a whole.  Although most of us can agree that the actual examples from “Carrie Buck’s Daughter” were unjust (because, after all, the Bucks were not “imbeciles” and those genes are arguably not hereditary anyway), there are ways that one can understand the reasoning behind policies designed to create the greatest good by occasionally sacrificing to some extent the happiness of a few.  Consider these two texts in order to argue whether you think that it is ever okay to construct policies that ask for (as Justice Holmes puts in Gould’s article) a “small sacrifice” from a few people in order to benefit the larger populace.  I encourage you to orient your essay around one or two specific questions that relate well to the questions raised by Le Guin and Gould.
  2. In “The Moral Instinct,” Pinker suggests that the “moral instinct” is a fairly universal neurological response, but that within that there is room for cultural norms to shape the specific scenarios or concepts that trigger what he calls “moralization.”  Read his article thoughtfully and openly in order to consider this question: What are the implications of understanding the specific aspects of the “moral instinct”?  By the end of the article, Pinker says that better understanding our “moral sense” might make us be better able to evaluate moralized issues.  In your essay, explain what you think we as individuals should do based upon Pinker’s findings.
  3. In “Why Bother?” Michael Pollan explains why making small changes is important for helping the environment.  On the other hand, Jensen says that focusing on small individual changes tends to make us think about environmentalism by blaming individuals and keeping us from feeling compelled to find bigger societal changes and bigger lifestyle changes (for instance, he points out that we are encouraged to be better consumers rather than considering buying and consuming less, which would have a negative impact on profit-driven consumer culture).  Even though you will likely side with one of the authors, there are ways that they actually agree on a lot and both bring up important questions.  They both agree that small changes are worth doing but that ultimately big changes will be necessary in order to help the environment; they disagree about whether emphasizing small changes will lead to bigger societal changes, or whether doing so will actually distract of from wanting bigger changes.  Based on this, do you think that emphasizing small individual changes is the best way to solve the environmental crisis?  Or do you believe that emphasizing small changes distracts us from the larger harms being done by societal policies and keeps people from making the kind of big lifestyle and governmental policy changes that both authors agree we need?

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