Thought Paper 2: Instructions and Topic
Please read all of the instructions for your second thought paper. It is very important that you
follow the instructions and write on the topic provided here. If you have any questions, either
post those questions on the course Webpage Discussion Board or send me an e-mail with
I. Thought Paper Instructions
1. Thought papers must be double-spaced, 12 point type, Verdana, Arial or Times New
Roman font, black font type, with 1″ margins. Your name and “PHIL 301 – Thought
Paper 2” must appear in the upper left-hand corner. You must include a total word
count in the upper left-hand corner, and your must properly number the pages of your
thought paper. Do not have a separate cover page; begin your thought paper on page
1. Failure to follow these directions may result in a 5-15% grade reduction on the
2. You may approach the thought paper in whatever way you feel best reflects your
own style, interests and beliefs about the topic. What is important is that you use
ideas/concepts from the required readings (you must use and refer to at least two of
the required readings) as well as stating and explaining your own views relating to the
question. If you use any writings or ideas from other people (e.g., from books,
newspapers, WebPages, journals, etc.) you must provide the appropriate citation. You
may use whatever referencing style you are most familiar, though you must include
all the relevant bibliographical information as well as the relevant page numbers. Your
thought paper must be at least 1000 words (excluding your name, references, page
3. You must have an opening paragraph that summarizes the problem with which you
are going to deal in your paper and the approach you will take in dealing with the
problem. You also need a closing paragraph at the end of your paper that summarizes
the principal finding(s) in your paper, and that clearly states your own opinions about
the topic with which your paper dealt. Thus, to some degree, the closing paragraph
will mirror your opening paragraph, though it does go beyond it in summarizing the
conclusions of your analyses and your own final opinions.
4. Two of the criteria for assigning grades to your thought papers are spelling and
grammar. For this reason, I strongly recommend that you write your thought paper
using a standard word-processing package (e.g., MS WORD) and run both the “spell
check” and the “grammar check”. Doing this will not necessarily catch every error (in
other words, do not use these tools “blindly”), but it will help. In general, remember
that grammatically simple, straightforward sentences are good to use.
5. A good, general guideline for writing philosophy papers is Jim Pryor’s “Guidelines
on Writing a Philosophy Paper”, online at:
6. You need a “Bibliography” at the end of your paper. I recommend using the MLA
format for your bibliography. You can find an online version that has most of the
formatting information that you need at:
(scroll to the bottom of the page and look at the “Works Cited” links for the specifics).
In addition, if you quote or use the ideas of someone on the body of your paper, then
you will need the appropriate embedded reference.
7. There are many ways that you can approach the topic of the thought paper. I leave
it up to you to discover the format that best captures your own voice and thoughts.
However, an important part of the thought paper is to explain (that is, critically reflect
upon and justify) you own opinions. One standard way to approach the thought paper
(a) Identify, clarify and explain the concepts and methodologies that are
relevant to the thought paper topic. In this paragraph, you should clearly state
the principal ethical issues with which you will deal in your paper. This is your
(b) State your own opinions about the topic and explain why you have those
opinions. This is, after all, a thought paper whose intent is to have you develop
more fully and thoughtfully your own opinions.
(c) In the context of (b), make the strongest case you can in support of your
opinion. Think of it like a courtroom in which you are trying to convince a group
of impartial jurors that your opinion is the correct one and that opposing
opinions are the wrong ones. Obviously if you are doing this, simply saying,
“That’s the way I was brought up”, or “That’s what all my friends think” is not
going to win you the jury. Moreover, using the ideas/concepts of one or more
of the required readings will help you “build your case”.
(d) At the end of your thought paper, you should have your final, closing
paragraph that includes a summary statement about your opinion. Remember
that the goal of your paper is NOT simply to state your opinions. Stating your
opinions is part of your goal, but it is not the entire goal. A very important part
of your goal is to reflect thoughtfully on the topic, and then to use critical
reasoning to explain what you believe and to provide some appropriate
justification for your opinions.
II. The Topic for Your Second Thought Paper
The article below, a blog from Scientific American, discusses the question of whether
homosexuality is a choice. It also deals with attitudes toward homosexuality. The article
raises issues such as:
How much of our identities is determined by our sexuality? (For example,
suppose that you are a male and suddenly awoke, one morning, in the body
of a woman. Would that affect your identity as the person you are?
Conversely, suppose that you are a woman and awoke, one morning, in the
body of a man. Would that affect your identify as the person you are? Finally,
imagine that your consciousness could be transferred to a machine/computer
– see the movie “Transcendence” if you want an example of this. Would this
affect your identity as the person you are?)
What choices do we have in deciding “who we are”?
If we could change a person’s sexual orientation, should we? What if the
person wants to change his sex or gender or orientation?
Can/should we hold a person “accountable” (in some sense) for the choices
she or he makes if those choices are the result of something over which we
do not have any control?
Please reflect critically on these and the other issues raised in the article below. Tie these
issues to the assigned readings for the course and discuss the ethical issues. Please be
certain to state your own opinions, and why you have the opinions you do (not what caused
the opinions, but the reasons/justifications for your opinions).
Is Homosexuality a Choice?
Online at: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/is-homosexuality-a-choice/
By Marcia Malory on October 19, 2012
Ask this question, and you will probably receive one of two
Yes. People choose to be gay. They are making an immoral choice, which government should
No. Sexual preference is biologically determined. Government should protect gay people from
discrimination because homosexuality is an unalterable aspect of their identity.
These two answers have something in common: With both of them, the science conveniently
supports the moral decision.
“Being gay is bad. How wonderful it is that nobody has to be gay!”
“Homosexual behavior should be allowed to take place. Isn’t it fantastic that, by an amazing
coincidence, there is no way to stop it?”
What if neither answer is right?
Perhaps sexual preference can be changed – and people have the right to engage in gay sex and
have homosexual relationships if they choose to do so. (The fourth option, that gay people have
no choice but to be gay, but should be punished for it anyway, is morally unthinkable.)
What does science tell us about sexual preference?
We know, from many twin and adoption studies, that sexual
preference has a genetic component.
A gay man is more likely than a straight man to have a (biological) gay brother; lesbians are
more likely than straight women to have gay sisters.
In 1993, a study published in the journal Science showed that families with two homosexual
brothers were very likely to have certain genetic markers on a region of the X chromosome
known as Xq28. This led to media headlines about the possibility of the existence of a “gay
gene” and discussions about the ethics of aborting a “gay” fetus.
There have also been headlines about an “alcoholism gene”, which makes people become
alcoholics, and a “warrior gene”, which makes people unusually aggressive.
Genes can’t control behavior completely, though. Genes regulate the production of amino acids,
which combine to form proteins. The existence or absence of a protein can have an effect on
things like alcohol tolerance or mood.
Affecting something is not the same as having complete control over it.
Environment, like genetics, plays an important role in how our behavior develops.
Alcoholism runs in families not only because there is a genetic component to alcoholism, but
also because children learn how to cope with stress by watching how their parents and their older
siblings behave in stressful situations.
If you come from a culture where alcohol consumption is forbidden, it will be difficult for you to
become an alcoholic, no matter how your body metabolizes alcohol.
There are factors besides a “warrior gene” that contribute to aggression. Children learn to behave
aggressively when they witness aggression being rewarded.
If you grew up in a family or as part of a culture where aggression was not well accepted, you
would be less likely to be aggressive. You would learn, from an early age, how to control your
Your environment affects your sexual and romantic relationships.
Throughout history, marriages have been influenced by family relations and by economic needs.
People adhere to cultural constraints of monogamy despite being attracted to people other than
Your culture affects your views on homosexuality.
In some societies, homosexuality is accepted, in others, it is frowned upon but tolerated, in yet
others, it is a serious criminal offense, possibly punishable by death.
Male homosexual behavior was expected in ancient Athens. Today, ritual male homosexuality
plays an important role in some cultures in New Guinea.
Your upbringing can influence what you find desirable and what you find repulsive. Most
Americans would be probably be nauseated if they learned that, when they thought they had been
eating beef, they were, in fact, eating dog, even though there is nothing inherently unhealthy
about dog meat.
What you have learned about homosexuality as you were growing up will affect whether you
consider engaging in homosexual acts to be desirable or disgusting.
Some people might argue that if you are “genetically gay” but the thought of homosexuality
nauseates you, then you just haven’t accepted the fact that you really are gay. That argument is
based on the assumption that sexual preference is purely biological; therefore, it has no place in a
discussion about the possible causes of homosexuality.
The structure of the brain might influence sexual preference.
In 1991, a study published in the journal Science seemed to show that the hypothalamus, which
controls the release of sex hormones from the pituitary gland, in gay men differs from the
hypothalamus in straight men. The third interstitial nucleus of the anterior hypothalamus
(INAH3) was found to be more than twice as large in heterosexual men as in homosexual men
This study was criticized because it used brain tissue obtained at autopsies, and all of the
homosexual subjects in the study were believed to have died of AIDS.
A later study, which was performed in 2001, showed that HIV status has no significant effect on
the INAH3. This study, which also used brain tissue from autopsies, did not reveal any
significant difference between the size of the INAH3 in gay men and straight men. It did,
however, show that in gay men, neurons in the INAH3 are packed more closely together than in
PET and MRI studies performed in 2008 have shown that the two halves of the brain are more
symmetrical in homosexual men and heterosexual women than in heterosexual men and
homosexual women. These studies have also revealed that connections in the amygdalas of gay
men resemble those of straight women; in gay women, connections in the amygdala resemble
those of straight men. The amygdala has many receptors for sex hormones and is associated with
the processing of emotions.
Some studies have shown that the corpus callosum – the main connection between the two
halves of the brain- has a different structure in gay men than in straight men. However, other
studies have found no difference.
Gay women and gay men are more likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous than straight women
and straight men, according to a number of different studies. Some researchers have suggested
that this difference in handedness – preference for one hand over the other can be observed in
fetuses – is related to differences in the corpus callosum.
A 1992 study showed that the anterior commissure, a smaller connection between the brain’s two
hemispheres, is larger in homosexual men than in straight men. However, according to a study
that was performed ten years later, the size of the anterior commissure is not affected by sexual
We know from studying rats that exposure to sex hormones in the womb during a critical period
in brain development affects future sexual orientation. By manipulating hormone levels during
this time, scientists can make rats engage in homosexual behavior later on.
So your brain was influencing your sexual preference even before you were born.
This can explain why many gay people feel that they have always been gay.
Brain development does not stop at birth, though.
A large amount of brain development takes place during childhood, when you are learning many
new things – including how your family and the adults around you believe you should feel about
things and what they believe is acceptable behavior.
The education you receive as a child strongly affects how your brain will develop as you grow.
For example, children who are given musical training experience changes to areas of the brain
associated with hearing and motor control.
With the right experiences, your brain can change even after you have reached adulthood.
Both London taxi drivers and professional piano tuners show increases in gray matter in areas of
the brain associated with the skills needed for their professions. The size of the increase in gray
matter correlates with the numbers of years of experience.
In one experiment, elderly subjects showed increases in gray matter in certain parts of their
brains after they were taught to juggle.
With proper rehabilitation, people who have suffered brain damage from strokes can develop
new neural connections and regain some of their old skills.
It’s important to point out that the regions of the brain that have been shown to change because
of training and experience are not the parts of the brain that have been associated with sexual
However, women do experience changes to the structure of the hypothalamus – which is thought
to be associated with sexual orientation – throughout the menstrual cycle.
So far, attempts to “cure” homosexuality by operating on the brain – homosexuals were once
given lobotomies – have never worked.
(Attempts to eliminate homosexuality via hormone therapy haven’t been effective either. While
changes in hormone levels in the womb during a very specific time can have an effect on future
sexual preference, hormone levels have no effect on sexual preference afterwards. Gay men and
straight men have the same levels of sex hormones; sex hormone levels are the same in gay
women and straight women.)
Today, however, we know much more about the brain than we did when homosexuality was
considered a disease that required treatment, and the amount of knowledge that we have about
the brain is increasing.
Perhaps one day we will be able to adjust sexual preference via surgery – focusing on the
particular regions of the brain that are associated with sexual preference – or via neural implants
If Sexual Preference Can Be Changed
Even if gay people can never stop being attracted to members of the same sex, they can learn not
to act on their desires.
People already learn to stop smoking, to give up certain foods, and not cheat on their husbands or
If we define being gay as engaging in homosexual behavior (the concept of “gay” as an identity
is a Western cultural concept – people who have sex with both men and women may call
themselves gay, straight or bisexual, depending on the rules of their culture or subculture), then
people stop being gay as soon as they stop engaging in this behavior.
Should they stop?
If they could, should they change their brains (or have their brains changed) in order to make
I believe that people have the right to engage in any behavior that they choose, as long as their
actions do not harm others, and I believe that gay sex and gay relationships do not cause harm to
anyone. Therefore, people who are gay by choice have the right to remain that way
(Of course, there are abusive and unhealthy gay relationships that should not be tolerated, just as
there are unhealthy heterosexual relationships that should not be tolerated.)
If sexual preference can be altered, then people who support gay rights can’t rely on the
argument that gay people should be protected from discrimination because gay people have no
choice but to be gay – an argument that seems like an apology for homosexuality, as if
homosexuality is a disease for which there is no cure.
There is an element of homophobia in that argument– the implication that gay people would
become straight, if only they could. Supporting gay marriage becomes equivalent to supporting
the construction of wheelchair ramps. The “gays can’t help being that way” approach is
reminiscent of the old view of homosexuality as a psychiatric illness.
In a blog post for Slate, J. Bryan Lowder comments on Cynthia Nixon’s claim that her
lesbianism is a choice. Lowder agrees with Nixon that blaming biology “cedes a great deal of
control to bigoted people.”
You don’t have to defend a controversial action by arguing that you have no control over your
behavior. In fact, when we you do so, you reinforce the belief that your behavior is undesirable.
Nobody has to prove that biology forces them to vote for a particular political party, practice a
certain religion or follow a particular diet.
Just as gay people who are happy as they are should not be forced to change their sexual
orientation, gay people who want to be straight should have the right to change if they can – and
the correct word is “change” – not “cure”.
In his blog post, Lowder states, “Many critics will argue that appealing to biology is the only
way to protect against the attacks of the religious right.”
It might make these critics unhappy to hear this, but that’s not how science works.
Science doesn’t change in order to support political opinions.
Scientific beliefs change as we gain new information, and sometimes science tells us things that
we would rather not hear.
Get used to it.
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on female sexual orientation, childhood gender typicality and adult gender identity, PLOS ONE
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Photo credits: Vancouver Gay Pride Parade 2008 by ecodallaluna on Wikimedia Commons;
DNA by ynse on Wikimedia Commons; Brain fMRI by NASA.