how to write philosophy paper and how reference
In this essay your task is to analyse a case study of evil using the relevant
concepts introduced in the course and making use of the appropriate
course readings. In each of the cases there are linked resources for getting acquainted with the case details.
2. Evil and Responsibility: Robert Alton Harris Read the case of Robert Alton Harris as detailed in Gary Watson’s paper
Evil and the Limits of Evil (see Additional Readings Week 12) and in the following links.
Can someone be evil and not responsible?
Questions to consider in your analysis: (i) If an evil action is in character, as is suggested, is that enough for moral
responsibility or does a person need to have played an agential role in the formation of their character and values?
(ii) Harris’ execution was briefly stayed on the grounds that he might
have been suffering from a psychiatric disorder (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Foetal alcohol syndrome
were both suggested).
In your view would his responsibility for his evil actions be diminished if he had suffered from a mental
Why or why not?
N .B. The issue of capital punishment is not relevant here and should not be discussed in your essay.
If you are opposed to capital punishment then you could consistently think that Harris was fully responsible
and that he should not have been executed.
You could also think that he was not responsible, and think that community protection requires that he be locked
Try to think about the central question you want to address in relation to the case study you choose and which of the topics and readings from the course will best help you to answer the question. Make sure you follow the steps in the essay plan guide and include all the relevant sections. (You will receive 2 marks just for turning up and participating – there will be no tutorial responses next week). You will then swap plans with another student and mark each other’s work. The aim of the session is to help students refine their questions, improve the structure of their essays and share ideas about the topics. If you follow the instructions you should at least get 3/5 for your plan and it won’t be too difficult to get a higher mark.
Neil Levy, (2014) Psychopaths and Blame: The Argument from Content, Philosophical Psychology, 27:3, pp. 351-367.
Gary Watson (1993) “Responsibility and the Limits of Evil,” in John Martin Fischer and Mark Ravizza (eds) Perspectives on Moral Responsibility, Cornell University Press, pp. 119-148.
Your essay plan should contain the following:
1. The question or issue to be addressed
2. Background (why does this matter?)
3. What you will do in order:
Do 1 and 2 in the Introduction. Don’t be waffly here. Do not say things like “since time immemorial philosophers have debated…” You could say something like “What goes wrong when people engage in evil actions such as …
[provide examples] A popular answer is that such people are lacking in empathy but this hypothesis has recently been challenged by….
In this essay I will evaluate the role and importance of empathy or sympathy for moral motivation and argue that ….
3.Provide a précis of what you will do. It is fine to use point form in a plan and it is fine to use section headings in your plan and in your essay. That can keep you on track.
Example “In this section I present Hume’s arguments that …
In the following section I will consider two key objections to Hume’s position..
Hume’s argument 1
Objections to Hume
First I examine Kant’s argument that sympathy is not necessary or sufficient for morally good action (what is it? What does it show? What is a possible reply)
Second, Prinz argues that though emotion Is necessary and sufficient for moral judgment, empathy is not. The empathy/altruism hypothesis is false…..
Your position; refer back to question and to initial examples. What does the argument support?
The essay paln
The question or issue to be addressed
According to Parrott, (2011), evil acts are those that cause disgust among individuals and usually lead to violation of law or moral principle. Evil action is character and character is formed from habits that are repeated over and over until they form part of an individual. Bearing in mind that each action we make has a consequence, it is prudent to act in a manner that cause people give praise.
Harris story talks of his childhood life that was filled with challenges. His mother was always abused by his father who was a military man. The mother abused drugs meaning he did not have enough time to take care of her children (Springer, & Roberts, 2007). According to Likert, (1967), our actions are largely as a result of the situations we have faced throughout life. Therefore, some people develop the character of doing evil as a result of experiencing hostility in their past life as observed by the behavior of Harris and his brother. As such, individuals should act with wisdom and avoid situations that would lead them into crime (Perlin, 2000). This is because we are responsible legally and morally for our actions.
If accused is thought to be suffering from mental instability, he has to be examined, and a connection between the disorder and the crime determined. If there is a direct link between the disorder and the crime committed, the culpability of the offender might be reduced. On the other hand, if there is no established connection between the mental disability and the crime committed, especially if the crime is grave, no mitigation can be done whatsoever. However, the way the world is changing so fast, countries are coming up with legislations to find alternative sentencing for individuals with mental disabilities like the use of hospitals (Springer, & Roberts, 2007). In some psychiatric hospitals, guarded confinement centers for people who have committed capital offences have been established, reducing the chances of offenders escaping sentence in the pretext of mental instability.
What to do
• From a personal point of view, every action has an equal and opposing reaction. As such, when individuals engage in evil acts, they should face the consequences of their actions (Bedau, 1971). Therefore, the issue of Harris claiming to have a mental disability was stage managed in order to avoid the wrath of the judge (Seder, 2002). Given that he had a mental disability, it would be difficult for him to stand before the jury and defend himself as he did (Hautzinger, & Scandlyn, 2013.
• Mental examination should be conducted to establish the authenticity of the claims
• If the claims are authentic the accused should be confined in a mental facilty
In conclusion, it is prudent to subject people into taking responsibility for their actions so as to foster a sound society that embraces sobriety. In case an individual commits an offense as a result of the psychosocial disorder, then that individual needs to be confined in a psychiatric unit until the time he or she becomes mentally stable. Human beings have an obligation to act within what they feel counts (Fischer, 1986). However, it is not right to punish others because of our past experiences. Therefore, each person has an obligation to be legally and morally responsible.
Bedau, H. A. (1971). Justice and equality. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Fischer, J. M. (1986). Moral responsibility. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.
Hautzinger, S. J., & Scandlyn, J. (2013). Beyond post-traumatic stress: Homefront struggles with the wars on terror
Likert, R. (1967). The human organization: Its management and value. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Parrott, M. T. (2011). Agency and First-Person Authority. Berkeley, CA.
Perlin, M. L. (2000). The hidden prejudice: Mental disability on trial. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Seder, I. (2002). Justice and fairness. Austin: Raintree Steck-Vaughn Publishers.
Springer, D. W., & Roberts, A. R. (2007). Handbook of forensic mental health with victims and offenders: Assessment, treatment, and research. New York: Springer.
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