Copyright © 2012 Bruce W. Hauptli
You are to critically respond to one of the following topics. Such a critical examination should: (1) indicate the nature of the position being examined; (2) clarify the argument for and/or against the position; (3) examine the strength of the argument by considering possible responses, counter-arguments, or counter-examples; and (4) offer your own critical assessment of where the arguments for and against the position being considered leave us—should we accept, reject, or remain neutral regarding this orientation, view, or position?
One of my purposes in having you write these papers is to offer you the opportunity to perfect your ability to describe carefully a complex position and argument to others. Toward that end, I require that you consider your intended audience for these papers to be other philosophy students who have not read exactly the material you have read or heard exactly the lectures which you have heard. They can not be expected to immediately know the intricacies of the positions you are discussing, and must first have the central aspects of the position which are relevant to your paper clarified to them. They must also be presented with carefully elaborated arguments for and against the position if they are to be able to follow your critical assessment of it.
Another of my purposes here is to provide you with the opportunity to engage in critical reflection upon the readings (or upon related readings and issues), and to provide you with feed-back on your critical scrutinies. This goal can not be met if you confine yourself to a neutral exposition of the views under consideration. In my supplement Writing Philosophy Papers,“ I describe a number of different sorts of papers which might be submitted to fulfill this requirement (as well as a number of other points regarding composition and grader’s marks. The detailed characterization of such papers in that supplement should help you understand my expectations (those desiring high grades will endeavor to approach the highest ideal, while those who are not so motivated may choose to set their sights somewhat lower).
Your papers should be approximately 2000 words long (eight double-spaced typewritten pages of 250 words per page). This indication of length is meant as a guide to the student—papers much shorter than the indicated length are unlikely to have adequately addressed one of the assigned topics. Papers may, of course, be longer than the indicated length. The papers should:
address an assigned topic in a manner that clearly displays its purpose, thesis, or controlling idea,
clarify the relevant elements of the philosopher’s theory so that they can be understood by other students taking such philosophy courses,
support the thesis with adequate reasons and evidence,
show sustained analysis and critical thought,
be organized clearly and logically, and
show knowledge of conventions of standard written
The papers should be "typed" and are due by 4:15 on Monday, October 1 (they may be turned in to my office [DM 341 D], the Philosophy Department Secretary [DM 347], or my mail-box [DM 340A (room open 9:00-5:00)]). I am giving you the paper topics now so that you have at least two weekends to work on the paper. If you plan to wait till the last moment to write your paper, I recommend you review the Course Syllabus regarding penalties for late papers. Please review my policy on extensions, late papers, and plagiarism (contained in the course syllabus).
I will be happy to read rough drafts and to discuss your ideas for your papers with you (I will not read drafts after 3:30 on Friday, September 28 however).
1. Critically examine Descartes' "evil genius" argument inquiring into whether you could be "universally" deceived. You are to resolve, then, the question: "How great a deception could one be subjected to?" You should, of course, consider Descartes' own way of indicating that complete deception is impossible—explain how/whether his cogito argument shows that the "evil demon's" project is impossible. Are there other ways of showing that the evil demon cannot universally deceive us? You may find O. K. Bouwsma's "Descartes' Evil Genius" helpful—it is on reserve in the library in Meta-Meditations, edited by A. Sesonske and N. Fleming (originally in The Philosophical Review v. 58 (1949)).
2. Critically examine Descartes' "dreaming argument." Is it indeed the case that all of our experiences might be dreaming experiences? Is such a “deception” possible? Can you tell which state you are in, and does this ability allow one to avoid the sort of skepticism which Descartes offers? You may find the following helpful: "Can I Know That I Am Not Dreaming?" by D. Blumenfeld and J.B. Blumenfeld, in Descartes: Critical and Interpretive Essays, edited by M. Hooker which is on reserve in the Library, and "Dreaming and Skepticism," by N. Malcolm which is on reserve in Meta-Meditations, edited by A. Sesonske and N. Fleming and also in Descartes: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by W. Doney.
3. Critically consider whether Descartes' reasoning in "Meditation III" is circular when he maintains that he may not be certain of anything until he establishes that god exists (and is not a deceiver) and then bases his proof upon certainty regarding his own existence. It may help to read any of the following:
Alan Gewirth, "The Cartesian Circle," The Philosophical Review v. 50 (1941); H. Frankfurt, "Descartes' Validation of Reason," in Descartes: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. W. Doney which is on reserve in the Library; H. Frankfurt, Demons, Dreamers, and Madmen (~p. 28 ff.) which is on reserve in the library; Frederick Copleston, History of Philosophy v. 4, pp. 114-119; Bernard Williams, Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry (~pp. 189-204); and Louis Loeb, "The Cartesian Circle," in The Cambridge Companion to Descartes, ed. J. Cottingham which is on reserve in the Library.
4. Consider the status of the cogito—is it an argument, an intuition, or what? You may find the following helpful:
J. Hintikka, "Cogito Ergo Sum: Inference or Performance?" which is on reserve in Meta-Meditations, edited by A. Sesonske and N. Fleming and also in Descartes: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by W. Doney; A.J. Ayer's "`I Think, Therefore I Am'" which is on reserve in Descartes: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by W. Doney; A.J. Ayer's The Problem of Knowledge (pp. 45- 54); Bernard Williams, Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry (pp. 72 ff.); Bernard Williams, "The Certainty of the Cogito," which is on reserve in Descartes: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. W. Doney; Frederick Copleston, History of Philosophy v. 4, pp. 100-107; and Peter Markie, "The Cogito and Its Importance," which is on reserve in The Cambridge Companion to Descartes, ed. J. Cottingham.
5. Critically consider the appropriateness of Descartes' appeal to the "natural light." On this score you may find J. Morris' "Descartes' Natural Light," in the Journal of the History of Philosophy, v. 11 (1973), pp. 169-187, helpful.
6. Critically consider Descartes' proof for the existence of a deity in "Meditation III." You will find Bernard Williams Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry, pp. 130 ff. helpful.
7. Critically consider Descartes' version of the "ontological argument" in "Meditation V." You may find William Alston, "The Ontological Argument Revisited," which is on reserve in Descartes: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. W. Doney, helpful.
8. Critically consider Princess Elisabeth's criticism of Descartes' discussion of mind and body in her correspondence with Descartes [in the Atherton text]. You may want to look at Ruth Mattern's "Descartes's Correspondence with Elizabeth: Concerning the Union and Distinction of Mind and Body," in Descartes: Critical and Interpretive Essays, edited by Michael Hooker (which is on reserve in the library), and Daniel Garber's "Understanding Interaction: What Descartes Should Have Told Elizabeth" (in The Southern Journal of Philosophy v. 21 (1983, pp. 15-32).
9. Read John Ryan, “The Wager in Pascal and Others;” Ian Hacking, “The Logic of Pascal’s Wager;” Thomas Morris, “Wagering and the Evidence;” or Jeff Jordan, “The Many Gods Objection” (all of which are on reserve in Gambling On God; Essays on Pascal’s Wager, ed. Jeff Jordan). Clarify and critically consider the criticism(s) made of Pascal’s argument, and indicate whether they are could pose either minor or major problems for his philosophical system. Do not try and write a paper on all of these articles!
10. Read William Lycan and George Schlesinger, “You Bet Your Life: Pascal’s Wager Defended” (this is not on reserve, but is widely available, and I can loan a copy to you should you like). Clarify and critically consider the criticism(s) they discuss of Pascal’s argument, and indicate whether they are could pose either minor or major problems for his philosophical system.
11. Read James Cargile, “Pascal’s Wager” (in Introduction to Philosophy, edited by John Perry and Michael Bratman). Clarify and critically consider the criticism(s) made of Pascal’s argument, and indicate whether they are could pose either minor or major problems for his philosophical system.
If you would like to write on another topic, you must clear such a choice with me first!
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File revised on 09/17/2012.