Philosophy analytical report

The analytical report is a 1000 word report analysing arguments relating to an assigned topic. It is worth 30% of your total grade. In your report, you will provide an ‘executive summary’ of some key arguments relating to the topic you have chosen, along with an analysis of those arguments using the techniques we have studied in class.

You have a choice of two topics: Killer Robots or Designer Babies.

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Once you have chosen your topic, you must find at least two articles discussing that topic (see below for some suggestions). You will then write a report where you answer two questions regarding each article:

What is the author’s main argument?
Is this a good argument?

To answer the first question, you should write an ‘executive summary’ of the argument you have chosen. Note that this should not be a summary of the entire article, since the author may discuss more than one argument. The summary should be your own description of the author’s argument. In most cases, you will need to do some work to figure out exactly what the argument is: arguments rarely appear in ‘standard form’! So, ask yourself, “What is the author’s conclusion, and what are the premises?” and then try to reconstruct the argument as clearly as you can.

You should focus on whatever you think is the most interesting argument in the article. This might not be the best argument, since it will probably be easier to write a good report if you can describe flaws in the argument you have chosen.

To answer the second question, you should write an analysis of around 2-3 paragraphs, where you consider whatever features of the argument seem relevant. For example, you might consider any hidden premises, informal fallacies, problems of vagueness or ambiguity, etc. Is the argument valid? Is it sound? Does it depend on unreasonable assumptions? Does it depend on other arguments? Can the argument be interpreted in more than one way? Is there important evidence that’s missing?

Whatever you say in your analysis, make sure that you explain why the features you are describing are relevant, or why the argument has whatever flaws you think it has.

Some suggestions for articles on each topic are listed below, but you are free to use other articles provided that they are publicly available (online or in print) and that have been written by named authors (rather than anonymously). You can analyse more than two arguments if you like, although it’s usually better to focus on just a few (no more than three). If you try to analyse too many, you won’t have enough space to give a very detailed analysis.

You must submit your report as a PDF document. References must be provided using the Author-Date system (UOW Harvard). Look here for more information on how to provide correct references.

If you use articles that are not listed here, you should append a copy of the article(s) to your report.

Topic #1: Killer Robots

‘Killer Robots’ are autonomous weapons systems: they can select and attack targets without any need for human intervention or control. Many people have argued that developing and deploying such systems is morally unacceptable, and that research and development in this area should be banned. For example, The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is an international organisation that aims to stop the development of autonomous weapons systems. On the campaign’s website stopkillerrobots.org, you can find numerous publications addressing different issues within the debate, as well as news items, videos, and other information. Have a look here for some useful sources.

Here are some suggestions for recent articles on Killer Robots:

Ingvild Bode (2018), “AI has already been weaponised – and it shows why we should ban ‘killer robots’”

Susanne Burri and Michael Robillard (2017), “Why banning autonomous killer robots wouldn’t solve anything”

Bonnie Docherty (2018), “Ban ‘killer robots’ to protect fundamental moral and legal principles”

Rain Liivoja (2018) “Why it’s so hard to reach an international agreement on killer robots”

Mike Ryder (2019), “Killer robots already exist, and they’ve been here a very long time”

Toby Walsh (2018), “It’s not too late to save the world from killer robots”

Topic #2: Designer Babies

Here are some discussions of ‘Designer Babies’ / genetic selection. You can use them as sources for arguments or as starting points for finding other discussions with interesting arguments.

Philip Ball (2017), “Designer babies: an ethical horror waiting to happen?”

Lesley Chenoweth (2018), “Where should we draw the line on ‘designer’ babies?”

Olga Khazan (2014), “We’re Already Designing Babies”

Paul Knoepfler (2015), “You’re Only Human, But Your Kids Could Be So Much More”

Lanphier et al (2015), “Don’t edit the human germ line”

Hugh McLachlan (2015), “Why the case against designer babies falls apart”

Sheetal Soni (2020), “Human gene editing: who decides the rules?”

Tips on Analytical Reports

Tips:

To write a good report, you should look for arguments you think are interesting but perhaps flawed. The arguments should be interesting enough for you to want to think about them a bit and consider their premises and hidden assumptions. There should also be some flaws for you to discuss. If the only thing you can say is “this is a great argument!”, then you won’t be able to write a very interesting report. (An exception to this would be if you found an argument that somehow *seems* flawed, but where you could show that this was a mistake.
This is not an exercise is ‘persuasive writing’: you are analysing other people’s arguments, rather than presenting your own. You aren’t writing ‘for’ or ‘against’ Killer Robots or Genetic Selection: you are assessing the arguments that other people have given.
The arguments you choose should also be reasonably complex, since if they are too simple it will be probably be hard to say much in your analysis.
Don’t try to summarise an entire article – focus on particular arguments! Some articles will include many arguments, so choose one (or a few) that seem particularly interesting.
Remember that your executive summary should just summarise the argument: give the summary first, and then discuss the argument’s flaws. Make sure you explain the arguments you are assessing before you present your analysis. What conclusion is the author defending, and what reasons or evidence is being offered?
You can include quotes from the discussions as part of your explanation of the author’s argument. However, avoid using quotes that are not relevant to your analysis.
Use whatever concepts/techniques are helpful, and don’t use techniques that aren’t helpful. Sometimes it’s useful to identify fallacies, but sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it helps to draw a truth table, but sometimes it doesn’t. Choose the best techniques for the arguments you have selected.
Structure:

As a rough guide, your report should include the following elements, although these do not need to have separate section headings.

Component

Content

Length (approx.)

Introduction

Briefly explain the topic and introduce the two arguments you will discuss.

1 paragraph

Exposition of Argument 1

Describe argument 1

1 paragraph

Analysis of Argument 1

Analyse argument 1

1 – 3 paragraphs

Exposition of Argument 2

Describe argument 2

1 paragraph

Analysis of Argument 2

Analyse argument 2

1 – 3 paragraphs

Conclusion

Summarise analysis of arguments

1 paragraph

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