PHL100 Problems of Philosophy, past assignments



0. Preliminaries.

27 January
A conception of philosophy. The branches (logic, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics) of philosophy. Using and understanding arguments (basic concepts of logic).

29 January
The Allegory of the Cave. Read the selection that I sent you, and be prepared to explain it to the rest of us.

Question 1: Can we have certain knowledge?


31 January
CLASS MOVED TO Campus Center room 232!

Read Meditation I.

This meditation is very brief, so it's not hard to read it before our next class. Be sure you can answer the following questions when you are done (re-read the meditation if you cannot):
  • What is Descartes trying to do? What is his goal here?
  • Descartes says he's willing to assume he's not mad, but what human activity makes him worry that he may be systematically deceived?
  • Why does he say that his argument shows composite things are to be doubted? What are composite things, anyways?
  • What is the "evil genuis"? What role does it serve in Descartes's task?
Our library has The Matrix. If you go to the second floor you can ask them to borrow it and you can even watch it on one of the TVs there. If you've not seen Descartes's favorite movie, take some time this week to watch it.

3 February
Read Meditation II.

Homework: Write a brief but clear account, in your own words but in clear and complete sentences, of what Descartes claims (here in Meditation II) that he cannot doubt. Is he right? See if you can reconstruct his argument. This should only take a page, preferably typed. Due at the beginning of class.

5 February
We'll review coherentism and some other alternative concepts to Descartes's approach.

I'll have office hours today 1:45 to 3:00

7 February
We'll discuss scientific method and coherentism. I won't have office hours today 1:45 to 3:00

10, 12 February
Read before class Meditation 4 (we're going to skip Meditation 3 and come back to it next week).


14 February
We will continue to discuss Meditation 4, and also review epistemology.

17 February
Brief quiz, and then we'll discuss Aristotle's unmoved mover. The quiz will be about such questions as:
  • What are the four branches of philosophy?
  • What is foundationalism?
  • What is coherentism?
  • What is scientific method?
  • What is rationalism?
  • What is empiricism?
  • What do we mean by "consequence"?
  • What do we mean by "coherence"?
  • Describe how a foundationalist, coherentist, and scientist would address the question of whether a particular belief is justified.
  • How does Descartes explain the fact that we make errors in our judgments?

Question 2: Can we prove there is a god?


19 February
Read before class Meditation III.

In class: review of quiz; review of Logic and reductio ad absurdum arguments. Anselm's ontological argument.

21 February
Discussion of Meditation III. The design and cosmological arguments. Pascal's wager.

24 February
The design and cosmological arguments. Pascal's wager.

Read Meditation 5.

Interlude: looking ahead to question 6


26 February
Reading before class: Meditation 5.

In class: Background on Hamlet and Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. More on our second question if time permits.

In the evening: Hamlet. 7:30 p.m. in Tyler.

27 February
In the evening: Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. 7:30 p.m. in Tyler.

28 February
Discussion of Hamlet and Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Time permitting, we'll return to our question 2.

3 March
A reading to do before class.

Read the selection from the correspondence between Princess of Bohemia and Descartes, September 1645. I have downloaded for you the two letters I would like you to read; they are available as a PDF if you click here. We are concerned with the Princess's letter; read that first if you like. But she is responding to the letter before from Descartes.

We'll discuss this exchange, and also Descartes's other argument for the existence of god.

Question 2 continued: Can we prove there is a god?


5 March
A reading and a homework due.

Read chapter 3 of Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard. This is some weighty philosophy, and it requires you to know the story of Isaac and Abraham. It is available here.

Homework due at the beginning of class: consider one of the arguments for the existence of god that we have discussed together. Write a brief paper (2 or more pages) that does the following:
  • Summarize the argument.
  • State whether you think the argument is valid.
  • If you believe the argument is not valid, state where you think it makes errors in reasoning. Explain. Can the argument be fixed and made valid?
  • If you believe the argument is valid, state whether you believe it is sound.
  • If you believe the argument is valid but not sound, state which premise(s) you believe are false, and why. Can the argument be fixed?
  • If you believe the argument is valid and sound, consider what you think is the most likely objection to the argument, and defend the argument against that objection.
For advice on writing papers, see my notes here.


Question 3: Is the mind a kind of brain activity?


7 March
Homework and a reading.

Homework: you must bring the paper you are reviewing with your review sheet to class, stapled together. You have to get this in! No delays, please! So neglect your other classes!

Reading: Read Meditation 6 before class.


10 March
Homework due and a reading.

Homework! Hand in (1) your first draft of your paper, (2) the sheet of advice you received, and (3) a new revised version of your paper (revised both based on the advice you received and also based on you having time to re-read your work).

Here's a linke to an APA style citation guide that may prove useful: https://www.library.cornell.edu/resrch/citmanage/apa.

Reading: Read the selection from the correspondence between Princess of Bohemia and Descartes, May 1643 and following. I have downloaded for you the letters I would like you to read; they are available as a PDF if you click here.

14 March
Midterm on epistemology, arguments for the existence of god, and positions on mind. You will be permitted to bring your copy of The Meditations, assuming you've not written class notes in it! (If you have, I can lend you a clean copy -- but you have to let me know.) The test will be short answers, with possibly some multiple choice questions. Themes will include:
  • What is a valid argument? What is a sound argument?
  • What are the four primary branches of philosophy? Explain what each of them studies.
  • The traditional arguments meant to show from reason alone that we can prove the existence of god. Challenges to those arguments.
  • What is interactive substance dualism? What is an alternative view?
  • What is the first claim that Descartes finds he cannot doubt? Cite (that is, find an appropriate quote from) the Meditations to show how he makes this claim. Why is he trying to doubt things anyways?
  • Is Descartes a rationalist or an empiricist? (What are rationalism and empiricism?) Cite (that is, find an appropriate quote from) the Meditations that illustrates how he is one or the other. It might be wise to focus on an argument or bit of reasoning, to have an example of one of the other.
  • Is Descartes a foundationalist or a coherentist? (What are foundationalism and coherentism?) Cite a passage from the Meditations (maybe an argument or a way of reasoning) that illustrates how he is one or the other.
  • What is Descartes argument for the existence of god? Is it a valid argument? Is it sound? (What do those mean?) Cite the text, but also reformulate the argument in your own words.
  • Describe one of Descartes's arguments that the mind and body are different substances. Is his argument sound? Is it valid? Cite (that is, find an appropriate quote from) the Meditations to show how he makes this argument, but also reformulate the argument in your own words.

24 March
We'll review a materialist argument, and also a contemporary dualist argument: read the selection I will give you from Frank Jackson's epiphenomenal qualia. Read the handout!

Question 4: What is a person?


26 March
Homework! This is not to be graded, but is a favor to me. Send me if you can a digital image of yourself younger. For example, a baby picture, or something from when you were 5 or 10 or 15. This is relevant to our topic, I promise.
28 March
Reading: read chapter 27, paragraphs 5 through 11 of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding. You can find an online version here or here.
31 March
Reading: read chapter 27, paragraphs 11 through 25 of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding. You can find an online version here or here.

The homework assignment is here.

2 April
Homework due: I'll give you a homework in class on 31 March, and it will be due at the beginning of class.

The homework assignment is here.

Reading: read parts I, II, and III of Nagel's Brain Bisection and the Unity of Consciousness.
4 April
Reading: read parts IV, V, and VI of Nagel's Brain Bisection and the Unity of Consciousness.

In class we will (1) review the homework; (2) discuss Nagel's arguments; and then, time permitting, (3) introduce the idea of the free will problem.

Question 5: Are you free?


7 April
Reading and a short homework.

Reading: read the letter from Princess Elisabeth to Descartes written on 30 November 1645; focus on the second paragraph. Read Descartes's reply in the letter of January 1646; focus on the third paragraph. The letters are available here.

Homework: Write up briefly your answer to the following questions and hand this in at the beginning of class. What is the Princess's worry about free will? She has a concern that free will is incompatible with certain views about god. Explain. What is Descartes reply? Does he answer her worry? Explain.

In class, we'll review some of the basic position in the free will problem.
11 April
Reading and a homework.

Reading: read from Hobbe's Leviathan, chapter 21; read the first four sections (up to and including "Liberty And Necessity Consistent"). A nice online version is available here. Note that what Hobbes means by "liberty" is free will, and what he means by "necessity" is determinism.

Homework: Write a brief answer to the following questions, to hand in at the beginning of class. Hobbes view is now called "compatibilism," and many philosophers believe it. What is compatibilism? Show where in the text (by quoting him) he lays out the view. Do you agree with him? Is compatibilism a consistent position to hold, or would you instead defend incompatibilism?

In class, we'll continue our discussion of why some philosophers are incompatibilists. We saw Monday that determinism seemed to be inconsistent with free will (in the sense of, "I could have done otherwise"). But what about the fact that some people think there are random events in the world? Does that give us compatibilism?

Time permitting, we'll turn to compatibilism.

April 14
We'll discuss compatibilism and wrap up the free will problem.
April 16
We'll discuss compatibilism and review the free will problem. We'd left off discussing the question of addiction; let's raise that again.

I'll introduce our next topic: purpose. Read sections 1 and 2 of the Nicomachaen Ethics if you can.

Question 6: Does the universe, or do at least you, have a purpose?


21 April
In class, we'll discuss the religious answer to our question. And if you did not attend the plays, on reserve in the library now is the DVD of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Watch it!
23, 25 April
I'll be in Tucson. While I'm there, read sections 4 through 10 of Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals.

Also, start considering what you'll do for your final paper. It will be due on the day of our (brief) final exam. We'll talk about this paper some more, but roughly you'll be asked to write 4 pages on one of the following:
  • Are you free? Explain the various possible answers, and defend one.
  • Do you have a purpose? Why? Explain the various possible answers, and defend one.
  • Compare Nietzsche's answer to the question of purpose to Sartre's. Which is better? Why?
28, 30 April
Reading! Read sections 4 through 10 of Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals. We will discuss these in class. Understand that what Nietzsche is trying to do is to tell a story about the origin of our concepts of good and evil, and our concepts of good and bad.
2 May
Reading and a homework
Reading: Read Sartre's "Existentialism is a Humanism."
Homework: You must understand and apply Sartre's concepts of anguish, abandonment, and despair. The homework is to write up an example of each from your own life. That is, briefly describe a situation in which you felt what Sartre calls anguish; briefly describe a situation in which you felt what Sartre calls abandonment; briefly describe a situation in which you felt what Sartre calls despair. This should only take you three (perhaps long) paragraphs. Due at the beginning of class.
5 May
Watching and a homework
Watch this video of a performance of Sartre's play, No Exit.
Homework: Write up briefly your own interpretation of why Joseph, Estelle, and Ines don't leave the room at the end of the play.
7 May
Our last reading! Read Albert Camus's very short essay, The Myth of Sisyphus. We'll have a brief quiz about the reading at the beginning of class. Then, in class, we'll discuss Camus and also ask, is this the innate purposes view, reborn?