Paper topic for philosophy


Pick just ONE of the following paper topics and write a paper at least two and a half pages long (double-spaced).  Three pages is a good length to shoot for, but you can write a longer paper if you wish.

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Your paper is due by midnight on Friday, November 27th.  (That gives you time during Fall Break to work on it.)  I’ll create a link in Titanium for submitting them.

Please make sure your paper is either a Word file or a pdf file.

In class we’ll discuss the paper format and how to write it.  Feel free to email me or come to office hours (Monday, 4:30 to 6:30) for advice on the paper.


FIRST TOPIC: How should a covid-19 vaccine be distributed?


Your assignment is to a position on the issue discussed in this piece, and argue for your position:


I recommend looking at the material from the covid-19 part of this course, and at the material on the utilitarian, libertarian, and egalitarian theories of distributive justice.  I’ll leave it up to you which parts of that material to use in your paper.



SECOND TOPIC: Should desktop biolabs be banned?


Your assignment is to take a position on whether desktop biolabs should be illegal, and argue for that position.  If it helps, one way to write this paper is to apply the moral practice checklist and what we’ve learned in this class to desktop biolabs.  However, you don’t have to use the moral practice checklist for this paper if don’t want to.


A desktop biolab is a suitcase-sized box that sits on a tabletop and can be used at home for do-it-yourself genetic engineering.  You can now buy one for less than $2000.  For a more complete explanation, see:


The best-known company that makes these is called Amino Labs; their website is actually a bit less informative than the webpage link above, but here it is:  The founder of Amino Labs says she wants to make genetic engineering “accessible to everyone.”  Amino Labs sells two desktop biolabs: a basic kit called “Playground” for $350, and a more advanced kit called “Explorer.”  There are two or three other companies offering similar products.  Feles sells a desktop biolab for $3000 that seems to do the same sort of thing. is another one:


You can use these labs to perform genetic engineering on DNA, create new microorganisms, to produce pharmaceuticals at home, to make new recreational drugs, to create newfragrances, new flavors, new materials, and even create medicine, such as insulin.  In particular, you can use the desktop biolab to perform genetic engineering on bacteria and thereby create new kinds of bacteria.  You can also modify the DNA in different kinds of cells to reprogram them to behave or develop differently.


Advocates argue that these desktop biolabs are educational, fun, and might enable a large number of individuals tinkering at home to make breakthroughs that big university and corporate labs overlook.  They could also be used to make drugs at home (and presumably more cheaply).


However, some people are worried that a desktop biolab could also be used to create dangerous bacteria, new diseases, and bioweapons.Some say they could be used to create opium-like drugs using yeast rather than poppies.  Also bear in mind that when someone creates pharmaceuticals or medicines (such as insulin) at home, the product is only as good as the skill of the person who made it—in other words, this is unregulated and unsupervised.  Mistakes are possible.  Also, it’s conceivable that some people might use or give such drugs to others without consulting a doctor or getting a prescription.  Here is an article in Wired that explains various ways that genetic engineering (which some people call “biohacking”) could be misused:


The article isn’t specifically about desktop biolabs, but desktop biolabs would make it easy for individuals to do the things described in the Wired article.



THIRD TOPIC: Automation and whether everyone should get a basic income


Your assignment is to take a position on whether everyone should get a basic income like the one described below if they become permanently unemployed due to automation, and to argue for that position.  Also, assume that this income will go to 3 out of 10 Americans who have become permanently unemployed due to automation.  (That hasn’t happened yet, but for your paper, pretend it has.)  This topic became a political issue during the 2020 Democratic party debates, when candidate Andrew Yang argued for giving everyone $1000 a month, regardless of income or employment status.  However, don’t talk about Yang’s proposal in your paper.  Use the proposal discussed below.


This topic is about distributive justice.Use the three theories of distributive justice in your paper: utilitarianism, libertarianism, and Rawlsian egalitarianism.


The distribution of wealth and income in the United States has grown increasingly unequal over the last forty years.  This may soon get worse, for engineers and programmers are now developing new forms of automation, including robots and artificial intelligence, which will replace human labor and eliminate some jobs.  You can already find devices on the table in some restaurants that take the place of a server to come get your order; there are still servers, but fewer of them, for part of their job has been automated.  Travel agencies have largely disappeared; their work is now handled mostly by websites run primarily by computer.  Self-driving cars and trucks threaten to throw huge numbers of taxi drivers and truck drivers out of work.  Factories require fewer workers than ever before, and this trend is continuing.  To sum things up, a new report from Oxford University concludes that nearly half of all jobs in America may disappear due to automation in the next 20 years (though the authors suggest that some of those people may find new work elsewhere in the economy—like a former factory worker who gets a job at Walmart.)


In the past, new industries arrived to employ people who lost their jobs due to mechanization.  Factories, for example, employed people who no longer worked on farms or made craft goods by hand.  However, some experts believe we might not be so lucky this time, for the new industries that are coming along use relatively few workers.  (For example, Google has roughly 74,000 workers and dominates the web browser market, while General Motors, which shares the auto market with several other huge companies, has 180,000 workers.)


For purposes of this part of the exam, we’re going to imagine that, 20 years from now, 3 out of 10 working Americans are permanently unemployed due to automation.  That may or may not happen, but for the sake of discussion let’s imagine a world where it does.


Many people have proposed to deal with such a situation by giving people a “universal basic income.”  Here is one common version of this idea: you get $1700 a month if you have no income or assets, and progressively less the more you make, with nothing at all for people making more than $30,000.  (In other words, if you made $20,000 a year, you would get something in addition to that, but less than $1700 a month.)  Imagine that this would be funded from the profits of businesses who have automated and laid off workers (so that part of what they used to pay workers is now paid in taxes to fund the basic income payments).



FOURTH TOPIC: Is it ethical to crack down on illegal employment?

Your assignment is to discuss this opinion piece by Tom Homan published on November 7th 2020 in The Hill, an online political news website, then take a position on whether he is right, wrong, or partly right and partly wrong.  Argue for your position.  You can use the moral practice checklist if that helps.  You can also talk about how Wellman’s argument about what sovereign states can do applies to this proposal if you want to.

Homan is a Senior Fellow at the Immigration Law Reform Institute, which appears to be focused on reducing illegal immigration.  Here is the weblink:

As I’ve said so many times, the fact that I’ve assigned something for you to read doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with it.

To Stop Illegal Immigration, Crack Down on Illegal Employment

“Let’s be honest. Economic opportunity is the main force driving migration. Therefore, since illegal employment is a magnet for illegal immigration, it only makes sense that the United States government must find ways to take that magnet away.

Notice I specified “illegal employment.” As I’ve argued, if we need temporary workers or those with specialized skills, let’s find ways to employ those individuals legally. Taking away the enticement of illegal, “off the table,” employment will not only cause a reduction of illegal migration, it will also save lives and take money away from criminal cartels. It is also more imperative now since American unemployment is so much higher in our new COVID-19 environment.

Most Americans don’t understand that many illegal aliens have to steal the identities of U.S. citizens by using their Social Security numbers. Identity theft is rampant within illegal employment. Many citizens have not only had their identity stolen, but have had their credit rating ruined by this practice.  [Note from your professor: I haven’t been able to ascertain whether such cases are numerous, so I don’t know whether the statements in this paragraph are true.  You can form your own conclusions about that.  Here is a link to the only nonpartisan news article I’ve been able to find on how widespread such cases may be you’re not sure one way or the other, then you can leave this particular issue out of your paper if you wish.]

The next time someone questions why Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is conducting a worksite operation, they need to ask themselves a few questions. How many U.S. citizens’ identities were stolen by those who were arrested? How many of those people had their credit ruined and what will it cost to fix it? How much money did the company that hired those illegal aliens fail to pay the U.S. government in required taxes, unemployment insurance, and workers compensation?

Many large-scale worksite enforcement operations involve a criminal investigation into the company for tax evasion. But let’s not overlook the human cost of these crimes; many illegal alien employees are exploited by these companies.

Employers do not hire illegal aliens out of the goodness of their hearts. They hire illegal aliens to pay them less and work them harder — often under terrible working conditions. Many employers use the threat of calling ICE if the illegal employees complain.

Employers hire illegal aliens so they can undercut their competition. The competition that employs American citizens. Countless citizens have lost their jobs because their company could not compete with those companies that cheat the system.

As a real example, when I had to have my home’s roof repaired because of storm damage, I had to call several companies until I found one that would guarantee me a legal workforce. When the contractor arrived he explained to me that he only does small roof repairs now and no longer employs more than a dozen U.S. citizens because he was being undercut by the companies who had illegal alien employees that they paid much less. He had to lay off all his employees because he couldn’t compete. He not only paid his employees a fair wage, he also paid his employment taxes, which many companies that have illegal alien employees don’t because they pay their employees under the table.

In my many years as an agent and investigator, almost every illegal alien I arrested had some sort of job in the United States — either unlawfully employed at a legitimate business or making money while involved in criminal activity. When I became ICE Director, I knew illegal employment was a major draw for those seeking to enter the United States. I immediately pledged to increase worksite enforcement by four hundred percent, and we accomplished the goal in our first year. (We actually hit 420 percent.)

The solutions are, as usual, straightforward and based on common sense, but many members of Congress continue to fight against them. We must continue to step up work site enforcement, which requires Congress to fund more law enforcement positions for ICE to actually investigate companies across the nation. And because identity-fraud is so rampant with illegal alien employment, the Social Security Administration (SSA) database must be updated to make sure people are not using someone else’s Social Security number.

The fix is not rocket science. Whenever the SSA finds someone using a number that doesn’t belong to them, they can immediately send that information to ICE for follow-up. Not only would this provide ICE with valuable leads to investigate criminal behavior, it would help address identify theft.

But first and foremost, E-Verify needs to be mandatory. E-Verify is an online system which compares information on Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification) to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and SSA records to confirm authorization to work in the U.S.

By law, the I-9 form must be filled out by every employee; it requires documented proof of identity and work eligibility. The problem is, E-Verify is still optional for most businesses. It is mandatory for citizens and businesses to file taxes, so why don’t we require businesses to make sure their employees have the legal right to work here?

This program would save tens of millions of dollars annually in enforcement operations by making it much more difficult to use fake identities. E-Verify is the best tool available, and currently prevents a significant amount of unauthorized employment. The system is not perfect and can be improved to fix the few loopholes that exist.

Ending the enticement of illegal employment is the right thing to do for this nation, regardless of who is president.”

Tom Homan is the former Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and a senior fellow at the Immigration Reform Law Institute.

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