PHL 484: Philosophy of Biological Science

Term Paper Task: Research & Philosophical Analysis

• Proposal

Due: April 14th at the beginning of class

Length: Body 3 pages typed, plus annotated bibliography.

Download the pdf file Proposal Guidelines for specific instructions.

• Paper

Due: Wednesday, May 5th at 5:45 pm at the beginning of class

Length: 15 pages typed, including annotated bibliography.

Pick a topic for your paper that is connected to one of the issues that we have discussed in class.   Your paper should have a clearly defined focus--a thesis to defend, a specific question to answer or an issue to explore.  Check with me if you are unsure whether your idea is appropriate.   Just to get you thinking, here are some possible topics that you could consider:

Your paper may be based upon the topic of your oral presentation, but I would recommend that you pursue a different topic for variety.  In any case, unlike the oral presentation, it must be more than a simple report.  I'll expect that the paper to exhibit (1) breadth and depth of research on the topic and (2) your own reflective analysis about the philosophical issues involved. 

For (1) you should do a thorough background search in the library on your topic.  Your paper should demonstrate that you are now something of an expert on the literature on your topic.  You should be familiar with the original writings of the main people who have written on the topic; you may make use of secondary sources so long as you then also trace them back to the primary materials.

Your bibliography should be annotated with short paragraphs that concisely describe the content of each of the cited books or articles that was relevant to your topic.  (The purpose of an annotated bibliography is to provide information to readers of your paper about what they would find in the referenced works so that they would have a guide to the literature should they want to investigate the topic further.)  Here is an example:

Ross, Judith Wilson.  "The Puzzle of the Permanently Unconscious" Hastings Center Report, May-June 1992, 2.
Ross asks why the 5,000 to 39,000 permanently unconscious patients in the US are continuing to receive treatment.  She gives statistics on how patients and families in the United States feels about being in a Permanent Vegetative State (PVS).  She suggests that is might be best to leave the question of whether to treat a PVS patient to the patient's advanced directive or the surrogate's judgment.

For a research paper of this length, I would expect that you have a minimum of ten relevant references.

For (2) I will be looking to see that you have grasped and grappled with the philosophical issues.  You should demonstrate that you have understood the issues by giving a clear explanation of the concepts and positions that are in play in the literature.  This will require that you define the terms of the debate, being careful to note if different authors use the same word but with different intended meanings.   You will also have to be able to articulate what is at stake (i.e. why the issue you have selected is important) and what are the arguments and evidence given, for and against, the positions but their proponents and opponents.  As for 'grappling' with the issues, by this I mean that you should become a participant in the debate, not merely be a reporter of it.  I'll look to see that your explanations are reflective, that you have critically evaluated the arguments, and that you have taken a stand on the issue and defended your view.

Of course, I will also expect the paper to be clearly written and carefully proof-read for spelling, grammatical and typographical errors.  Finally, staple your paper together; please don't use those slippery plastic cover sheets!