BUSINESS LAW 810
LAW & ETHICS for BUSINESS
Fall 2018 – Section 12963
First Essay Assignment
Due Date: 11:59 p.m., Thursday, September 29, 2018
One of the underlying themes of ethical philosophy, economics, politics, psychology, sociology, and business ethics, is the question of self-interest versus altruism. What is our motivation in helping others? Is it due to a genuine empathy for their wellbeing? Or is it because helping others makes us feel good? Is it a combination of the two? And where does altruism come from?
As we will discuss in class, empathy is a core principle in being ethical in our private lives and also in business. So is social context – we are social creatures and we recognize the need to fit in and be a good family member, friend, co-worker, and citizen. And one of the foundational principles of capitalism, attributed to Adam Smith, is that we are self-interested (selfish), and that our desire to increase our own wealth will benefit society more than government. That view underlies much of the American financial system, and has lead in some circles to a celebration of rational selfishness. But what if that view is wrong? What if in fact we are generous and altruistic by nature and that extrinsic rewards (salary, bonus, stock options, etc.) does not motivate us?
The purpose of this assignment is to have you read and analyze three articles that address the core issue of egoism versus altruism. Your paper is due before we discuss these issues in class in detail, and the reason for that is I want you to look at this issue as a “baseline” – before we dig deep. The first articleyou should read is from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy called “Psychological Egoism.” It provides an overview of the egoism vs. altruism debate, defining terms and summarizing some of the leading thinkers and arguments.
Then read the article from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Adam Smith. He remains the most influential economic thinker in American capitalism and politics due to his book The Wealth of Nations, but as you will see, he also wrote a book called The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which is concerned with the question about whether humans are altruistic.
The third article is from a speech by Ayn Rand in 1961. She advocated rational self-interest in connection with her Objectivist Ethics philosophy.
Scope of the Assignment
You are to rely solely upon these three articles. While it is admirable to do separate reading to help your understanding, you will not receive any extra consideration for grading by citing other sources, and in fact, I do not want you to cite any other sources. You do not need to use citations or footnotes. This is an analytical paper, comparing and contrasting the views and arguments discussed in these articles. The paper should be written as though your audience is essentially uninformed about the subject matter of the paper and the contents of the articles. That requires both deep understanding and analysis, but also clear explanation.
You are required to use “bolded” section and sub-section headings, with an introduction and conclusion in addition to the “body” of the paper. The introduction should inform the reader about the theme of your paper. What is the paper actually about? What questions are you examining? And an introduction should always provide a summary of the outline of the paper – the structure of what you will cover. It is to be a preview, a road map, of the paper.
The body of the paper (DO NOT CALL IT “BODY”) should consist of several section headings, and each section should have sub-section headings. Be creative about the titles for the section and sub-section headings, and how it is organized. In the first section of the body you are to summarize your understanding of the content of the Psychological Egoism article. Provide sufficient detail to inform the reader about the concepts and the differences between the two[lg1] .
The next two sectionswill summarize the respective views of Adam Smith and Ayn Rand on these issues. Go into enough detail to demonstrate a sound understanding of the principles. In discussing these views you should address the following questions at a minimum: (1) are we humans inherently selfish, or are we born with altruistic tendencies; (2) what motivates us to do good things generally; (3) is self-interest a good thing for society (and the economic system) or a bad thing, and be sure to explain why.
The final section of the paper, the conclusion, is to be your own take on Smith vs. Rand. Explain what arguments of each you agree with and which ones you disagree with and why. Which person’s views are most consistent with yours, and which one is the most persuasive. Be specific and detailed. There is no right or wrong here, it is your opinion, but it needs to be based on the content of the articles and backed up by explanation.
Use a cover sheet with your name, the name of the assignment, and date. Double space the paper and use Times Roman, 12-point font, and Microsoft Word. Indent new paragraphs. I do not like to provide page requirements because some students will repeat points, stretch margins etc. to get the “minimum.” I like to say that it should be long enough but not too long – it needs to be long enough to ensure adequate coverage of the subject without unnecessary repetition or verbiage.
The essay is worth up to 100 points. I once had a student who received a 96 out of 100 points for a paper ask me what was “wrong” with the paper. I noted that she had one of the two highest grades in the class. I realized that some students assume they begin with a perfect score and we teachers take off “points.” The proper way to look at it is that you start out with 0 points and need to earn points. Grading papers is of necessity subjective.
I rarely give “perfect” scores because I have not seen too many perfect papers. I compare your paper not only to your classmates, but in a sense to other papers in the past for this class. In other words, how does your paper stack up against students at this level generally? You are to demonstrate that you have expended real effort in reading and understanding these articles, and in providing references to the articles to support your analysis and conclusion.
While grading I do not take off points for any specific thing. I make an overall assessment of the quality of the paper based upon the quality of analysis, organization, writing (sentence structure, word choice, grammar), and editing. Some papers are quite good on content, but poorly written, with little effort in editing. The grade will suffer accordingly. Other papers are very well written in terms of flow and structure, but have little substance. The best papers are those that are very good in all categories. One thing that will affect your grade is the extent to which you follow the guidelines for required elements, such as use of footnotes and bolded headings, among other things.
Here are some tips for improving the quality of the writing. Avoid long paragraphs. A paragraph should contain one idea. When you move to a new idea or thought have a paragraph break. Use relatively short sentences and minimize the use of pronouns and extraneous words (e.g., they, there, their, with, etc.) DO NOT USE CONTRACTIONS IN PROFESSIONAL WRITING (e.g., doesn’t, isn’t, it’s). Begin sentences with strong nouns and action verbs.
And edit, edit, edit. Not just for typos, comma placement, etc. In every written thing you do in class and in business (including emails), do one last thorough edit in which you ignore content and focus only on cleaning up wording. For each sentence ask yourself this question “what words can I cross out without changing the meaning?” If the words are unnecessary to your meaning, then they are not necessary – so no need to use them. But more to the point, unnecessary words clutter up your writing, obscure your meaning, and detract from the overall impact.
Also, a company or organization is a singular entity, not a plural. Although in today’s world people often use “their” to signify individuals and companies, I want you to always use “it” for an organization, not “they” or “their.” Second, in editing your papers try very hard to virtually eliminate the pronouns “they” and “their,” as well as the phrase “There are.” You will rarely need to start a sentence “there are.” Instead, start a sentence with a strong verb or action word.
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