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Kant and Mill: Advice Columnists

Introduction and Background

Write a 1000-1500 paper on the following topic. Papers are due December 07, 11:59PM EST. Please make sure to submit the paper through the appropriate link on Quercus. Please, also make sure to write only your student number. Do NOT write your name on your paper (papers are graded anonymously).

The New York Times has a column called “Ask the Ethicist,” in which people seek advice from Kwame Anthony Appiah ( , a philosopher at New York University. Below are two of the letters requesting advice. Choose only one of these letters. What do you think would be the advice that Mill and Kant would give to this person? Would you agree with either philosopher on this advice?

Make sure you explain your answers and argue for your view.

NOTE: For the Kant part of your answer, please discuss only one of the formulas of the categorical imperative.

For nearly his entire life, my 80-something-year-old father has been a quiet, gentle and deeply religious man who went to Mass and said the rosary daily. Although his political views have always been conservative, he has also always believed in kindness and fairness. Since the start of the pandemic, his social interactions have become severely reduced, limited to daily calls from me (I live across the country), weekly visits from my brother and the occasional shopping trips and church Second Paper 2021-11-22, 5:06 PM Page 2 of 5 across the country), weekly visits from my brother and the occasional shopping trips and church attendance. As our mother passed away before the pandemic, his one loyal companion has been his iPad and YouTube.


Because of his viewing of religious programs, YouTube has increasingly steered him toward conservative media, so that he is now obsessed with right-wing extremist politics and is absolutely against taking the Covid vaccine. Every time my brother or I have a conversation with him,
he talks politics and pushes his views, and even after we asked him to stop, he tries to get the lastword in by sending us angry emails or texts. Now both of us try to avoid having any interactions with him.


I have the password to his YouTube account from a year ago when I helped him with a tech problem. In order to preserve our relationship, I’m thinking about going into his account to delete and pause his viewing history, and perhaps put in some links to more wholesome entertainment such as music and soccer to counter the constant bombardment of extremism. My justification is that if he is being brainwashed by an algorithm, then I might as well use the algorithm to steer him back to his old self so that we can at least have a normal conversation. What is your view on this?

Analysis of the Advice that Mill and Kant would give


My sister revealed that she often records phone conversations that she has with our father without his knowledge. She says she does it because he is so “funny,” i.e., eccentric, but I get the impression that she is laughing more at him than with him. I find his conversations less humorous than distressing, since he is often, at the best of times, in a state of heightened psychological dysregulation and anxiety, and the pandemic has just made things worse. Because of my sister’s behavior, my niece has grown up thinking there’s nothing wrong or unethical with recording
conversations without the other person’s knowledge or consent and has herself started to do this.

When I found out what my sister was doing, I was uneasy and told her that it was illegal to record someone without their consent. Her rapid retort was, “It’s not in New York,” where she lives, as if that made it OK. I did not address my ethical concerns and am uncertain how to do so now, because my sister can be rather vicious, and I fear her wrath. At the same time, I think that it’s terrible that she is recording my father, who would feel hurt and humiliated if he knew, and that her daughter is learning that this is OK. It flies in the face of the Golden Rule. I’ve thought about telling my father but don’t think that’s a good course of action. I don’t know what effect my calling her to task on the behavior
would have except to alienate her. Do I just let it all go?
( ( )

Further instructions and resources:
1. Make sure to properly cite the authors you are discussing. You can use any standard citation
format (such as APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.). For For Mill’s Utilitarianism, we are using the version
that appears in Instructions on how to cite this work can be found here
( . For Kant’s Groundwork, the bibliographical
information can be found at the footer of every page.

2. Please make sure that you understand well how to avoid committing an academic offence (such
as plagiarism). You might want to consult also Margaret Proctor’s How Not To Plagiarize
( . I highly recommend that
you do NOT use any sources about any of the philosophers we’ll be writing about other than the
assigned texts. If, against this advice, you plan to use external sources, you must consult with
your TA, so they can advise on whether the source in question is reliable and appropriate. You
must also make sure that it is properly cited and that you list in your bibliography every source you

Justification and Ethical Concerns regarding using YouTube Algorithms


A well-argued paper will have a clearly articulated and specific (as opposed to vague) thesis. In support of this thesis, a good paper will make a case (an argument) in favour of or against a clearly understood target argument(s) from the readings (dictated by essay topic chosen). There are a number of ways to make a successful argument. The argument may aim to point out an ambiguityand clarify it, or argue that a premise that a philosopher relies on in their argument is false ordoubtfully true (among other possibilities). What is most important is that you use reasons to support your views, and that you make a case for a clearly articulated and specific thesis. Aspects to be considered include (but are not limited to) the following:

• Does the student articulate a clear, specific, original thesis at the beginning of the paper?
• Does the student argue in support of their thesis?
• Are the arguments given in support of the thesis good, or are they weak? Weaknesses of arguments might include but are not limited to:   arguments that are vague, irrelevant, too broad, too narrow, resting on false or dubious claims, arguments from authority, circular arguments,  straw manning an opponent, ad hominems, invalid or unsound arguments, etc.
• Does the student show originality and attention to detail in their argument?

An essay that demonstrates good understanding of its target argument(s) will present the important points of the philosopher’s view in a clear and detailed way, without summarizing too much extraneous detail. The target argument(s) will be carefully explained in the student’s own words. A paper that shows good understanding will also clearly explain how the target argument(s) fit together. Aspects to be considered include (but are not limited to) the following:
• Are the target argument(s) presented in a way that indicates a clear and nuanced understanding
of the philosopher’s views?
• Are there central argumentative points in the target article that have been missed?
• Does the paper include extraneous detail (i.e., discussion of unimportant points in the target article
it’s about)?
• Are the ideas presented specific and well explained?

A well-structured paper will present the ideas of its target argument(s) in a logical, clear and precise way. The reasons the paper gives in support of its thesis will be carefully laid out and dealt with one at a time. The main argument of the paper will clearly relate to the parts of the philosopher’s target argument(s) that the paper has initially discussed/laid out. Aspects to be considered that relate to a paper’s structure include (but are not limited to) the following:

• Do the ideas discussed follow naturally from each other?
• Is there too much or not enough description of what the target argument says?
• Is there enough argument to make a case for the thesis?


A well-written paper will have very few or no writing errors, and will use concise, specific language. It will fall within the stipulated word count, and it will have citations and a list of works cited. It will not be plagiarized or co-written with others. Aspects to be considered that relate to a paper’s written quality include (but are not limited to) the following:

• Is the writing clear and precise?
• Is the register too colloquial or too highfalutin?
• Are there writing errors (grammar, spelling, punctuation, other typos)?
• Is the writing too bulky (i.e., too many adjectives) or confusing to read?
• Does the essay fall within the assignment word count?
• Are quotations and paraphrases appropriately cited?
• Does the student use their own formulation of the philosopher’s ideas, or do they rely too much on
quotations and paraphrases from source material?
• Is there a bibliography or list of works cited?

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