Philosophical Ethics Essay Plan

By Support


Assignment · 40% Total


You are employed at a tech company that recently developed a happiness machine. The machine induces in the user a passive dreamlike state in which they experience pure happiness. While the user does not have access to their rational mind for the duration of the experience, the machine is designed to wake up the user after a specified period of time or in response to urgent notifications. The machine includes features to prevent it from becoming addictive and to improve users’ ability to care for themselves and others. Rigorous tests have proven that it is safe for regular use.

There was, however, one exceptional case in which the user became incurably depressed after using the machine. While the user has a history of mental illness, they insist that the machine is responsible for making them depressed, and that the only way they can experience happiness now is by using the machine. The user signed a waiver accepting all risks associated with testing the machine. The company has ordered an independent investigation that found the machine had been tampered with before it reached the user, but as a lead engineer on the project you are skeptical that the machine could be sabotaged in this way. There are no active suspects and no causal explanation for the anomaly. The company is reluctant to do additional testing and asks you and your team to sign a non-disclosure agreement to prevent the story from leaking and potentially damaging the company’s reputation.

If you sign the NDA, the company will share the results of the investigation with you, but you will not be allowed to publicly discuss the details of the case without losing your job and being sued for breach of contract. If you don’t sign the NDA, you will lose your job immediately and will be unable to wield any internal influence over testing and quality control.

Should you sign the NDA? Why or why not? Explain your moral reasoning with recourse to the ethical and political concepts (e.g. utility, duty, virtue, justice, autonomy, etc.) we have discussed in this class. Do you have any additional ethical responsibilities above and beyond either signing or not signing the NDA, and if so, what are they?


The assignment comprises three parts:

1.    Essay Pitch

  1. Propose an idea for an essay based on the prompt
    1. 150-250 words
    2. Include a topical statement, thesis statement and directional statement
  2. Topical statement summarizes the dilemma
    1. In your own words
    2. Brief and attention-grabbing
  3. Thesis statement replies to the prompt, “Should you sign the NDA?
    1. g. “In this essay I will argue that I should…” (or just “I should…”)
    2. Any additional responsibilities?
  • State your position clearly and directly
  1. Directional statement sets out the reasons why you should do what you propose
    1. Moral reasoning
      • Virtue ethics? Utilitarianism? Deontology? A combination?
      • Be careful if you try to combine ethical theories
  • Don’t contradict yourself
  1. Three reasons/points corresponding to three body paragraphs in the five- paragraph essay format
    • You can dedicate one or more paragraphs to anticipating and responding to criticisms of your argument
    • g. “… not because it produces the most utility, or because I am selfish, but because the categorical imperative demands it”
  • Relevant and logically consistent

2.    Annotated Bibliography

  1. List five academic sources you will use to support your argument
    1. Peer-reviewed articles or books preferred
    2. Provide full bibliographic references using consistent citation format (e.g. Chicago, MLA, APA, Harvard, )
  2. Provide a brief annotation for each source
    1. 50-100 words
    2. Explain what the source contributes to your argument (e.g. the author offers proof of the same point you are trying to make)

3.    Essay Storyboard

  1. Complete the provided five-paragraph essay storyboard template
  2. Use ideas and sources from pitch and bibliography to construct an argument
  3. Each body paragraph includes a point, supported by proof, and an analysis that connects the point to the thesis of your argument


  • The question is asking for a normative reply, not a descriptive one
    • I want to hear what you should do
    • Not what you would do (e.g. “I would say and do nothing out of fear”)
    • What would you expect from someone else in the same position?
  • Your directional statement should answer the question, “Why?”
    • Three reasons (corresponding to three body paragraphs in an essay)
    • Make sure they connect back to your thesis
  • Refer to moral concepts when crafting your argument
    • Do you practice consequentialism or duty-based ethics?
    • What virtues should engineers strive to embody?
    • How might your argument be criticized? How would you respond?