Thanks to the generosity of Mr. Bruno Pasquinelli, a long-time friend of the Honors College, we have been able to offer an award of up to $3000 to winners of an essay contest. There are several winners every year. The competition seeks to recognize students who think and care about ethical questions. It is expected (but not required) that winners will take, or will have taken, Honors College courses that address social and ethical topics. Welcome to the 2023 essay competition.
Are moral values social constructs? We claim to be able to tell good from bad and most of us agree on what sorts of actions are to be pursued and avoided. Broad consensus about what’s good and what’s bad has kept us from inquiring closely into why certain behaviors are good and bad, and even why there is such broad consensus about these values. Certain norms (such as the prohibition of murder) have held constant over time, while others (infanticide for example) were once acceptable but now are not. This essay competition asks you to think about that problem.
The question: What is the grounding of ethical norms?
The essay: Present an argument in favor of one of the following propositions.
(a) Moral values are universal, grounded in a transcendent and unchanging source, associated in some cultures with the divine; and the thought of changing them is a deviant idea.
(b) Each culture generates and is defined by an ethical code, transmitted over generations to acquire the “semi-permanency” of appearing constant yet being capable of evolving.
Your discussion should be a logically coherent and well-developed argument based on your knowledge of cultural traditions and your reflection about the unwritten codes according to which we live and coexist. A successful entry will not be a research paper on ethics and culture, with none of your own view; nor will it be a mere opinion piece without serious engagement with other thinkers. It should be something uniquely your own, the product of close reading and critical thought.
There is no right answer, but uncritical repetition of a conventional position will be a wrong one. Entries will be judged on cogency and clarity, your careful use of material and the orderly progression of your argument.
Submissions should be 1000-1500 words (3-5pp), double spaced, with parenthetical references instead of footnotes. In your introductory paragraph(s) you should have a clear thesis statement and indicate in some form what sources you are going to use and how you plan to unfold your argument.
The essay will be due via SNaP by the end of the day on Monday, March 27th and the winner(s) will be announced before the end of the semester.