There are three parts to this assignment.
One, you have to submit a tentative thesis.
Two, you have to submit a brief description of a plausible counterexample to that thesis, which we have not discussed in class and was not in the readings.
Three, you have to say how you want your two papers to be weighed.
You will be graded as follows: If you submit a thesis that follows the standards of the paper assignment and a counterexample, you get 100% (this is one homework grade). If you have a counterexample but leave off a thesis, or your thesis isn't at all formatted according to the paper assignment, you get 50%. If you have a correctly formatted thesis, but no counterexample, you get 70%. Your grade does not depend on how plausible your thesis is. You can get full credit submitting a thesis that is not pre-approved, even if I don't approve it, as long as it is formatted correctly (it is two conditionals).
I am going to send you some suggestions/feedback. You want the thesis and counterexample you turn in to be as good as possible, so that the suggestions/feedback are actually helpful. What you actually turn in will be very short. But it requires a lot of work to produce.
First, look at the paper assignment and pick a general topic. It will make your life easier if you pick one that you have strong views about. Think hard about what you believe about this topic. Try to put this into words - try to pick a thesis that reflects your beliefs. You definitely want to pick a thesis that you think is true, because anything else will be too hard to write about. If you can articulate your views on this topic, and put them into conditionals, then you have a tentative thesis already.
Students often misrepresent their views because they try to make their thesis overly simple. But there is no reason why your thesis has to be simple or short. Instead, they might look something like this: [Topic] is morally wrong when x and y are true, or when a, b, and c are true. Otherwise, [topic] is permissible. If a long, complicated thesis better expresses what you think, then use a long, complicated thesis.
What should you do if you aren't sure exactly what you believe? Pick some examples (relevant to your topic) where morality clearly says one thing - e.g. cases where such-and-such is clearly wrong - and examples where morality clearly says another - e.g. where such-and-such is clearly permissible. Once you have a few examples on either side of the issue, ask yourself what all the examples on one side have in common that differentiates them from the other side. For example, what do all the wrong cases have in common, that separates them from the permissible cases? This will give you a tentative thesis.
Once you think you have a tentative thesis, look back at the paper assignment and check to make sure your proposed thesis is in the right format. It has to look exactly like one of the approved theses on the list. If it does not, then you have to get it approved by me in writing.
Your job is not done once you have a tentative thesis in mind. This is because, in most cases, you do not actually believe that this thesis is true. To check this, see if you can easily think of any counterexamples to your thesis that you are convinced by. If you can, then you should change your thesis. Try to slightly revise the one you've already given so that it doesn't say the thing you think is false. If you can't do so, pick a new thesis and start over.
Once you have a thesis that avoids this counterexample, try to find a new counterexample to your new thesis. Again, you are looking for a counterexample that you find convincing. If you can find one, then you have to modify your thesis again. Do this over and over until you have a thesis that you can't easily show is false. This is vital: if you can see a clear problem with your thesis, the person grading your paper can see it too. If you catch the obvious problems with your ideas now, then writing the actual paper is going to be much easier.
Now you have a thesis. As you have probably noticed in class, whatever your thesis says, someone is going to disagree with it, even if you think you are correct. Ask yourself, what would someone else think is a good counterexample to your thesis? Pick a specific counterexample to your thesis, that we didn't talk about in class, and write that down. You are not going to be convinced by this counterexample, since you believe your thesis is true, but you should be able to think of a counterexample that someone else might be convinced by.
Weighing your grades
We will have two papers due in this class - this one, and a second which will be due (approximately) the last week of the semester. The second paper will be structurally the same as this one, just with different topics. I know that different people have different schedules, and learn in different ways. So I want you to decide how these papers should be weighed in determining your final grade. You are only deciding for yourself, not for anyone else. But you have to decide now. This is because (research suggests) most students need certain amounts of incentives in order to get motivated, especially given how much work you are asked to do in college. When things are too flexible - when you can change your mind about grading down the road - people do not feel as incentivized.
Homework is worth 25% of your final grade, and quizzes worth 15%. This means that the two papers together have to be worth 60%. You can divide that between the two papers as you choose, with one constraint. The papers are on interesting topics, and will help you think about these topics, and it would undermine the goals of the class to let you totally write off either of the papers. So the least a paper can be worth is 15%. If you do not tell me how you want the grades divided, or the math isn't correct, I will make the first paper 30% and the second 30% of your final grade.
Summary: For your homework, submit your proposed thesis. If it will not be clear to me what your thesis means, explain it. Then briefly explain what someone else would think is the main counterexample to your thesis. Finally, state how you want the papers weighted.