PHL100 Problems of Philosophy, past assignments
26 January: read pages 1-36 in Sober.
28 January: read pages 114-116 in Sober. Be sure that you
know the five ways that Aquinas cites -- they'd be a great quiz
question. Also, try to reconstruct Aquinas's arguments, and ask
yourself (1) are the arguments valid, (2) do you accept the
premises, and (3) what does the argument prove, if it is valid and
you accept the premises? For help, you may also want to read
pages 37-52, which is Sober's explanation of the text.
31 January: read pages 125-128. Can you recreate Anselm's
argument in a brief outline form? For help, you may also want to
read pages 82-90.
2 February: read pages 116-118 in Sober. Helpful also are
pages 52-60. Ask yourself, what kind of argument is this? What
is the difference between the cases of the rock and watch?
2 February: reading quiz 1.
4 February: read pages 98-105 in Sober. Can you recreate
a 2x2 grid showing the options in Pascal's Wager?
7 February: read pages 201-208 in Sober. This is a
passage from a dialogue, a kind of philosophy play, written
by Plato. As you read it, ask yourself: What is the
naive view of knowledge that Socrates criticizes? What
alternative view, if any, does he offer?
11 February: read pages 208-220 in Sober. This is a
selection from Descartes's Meditations. What is
Descartes's task in this book, as described in Meditation 1?
What does Descartes find, in Meditation 2, that he cannot doubt?
Why can it not be doubted?
11 February:quiz 2.
14 February: read pages 220-230 in Sober. What work
does God do for Descartes's philosophy? Can you summarize
Descartes's argument for the existence of God? Is it a valid
16 February: read pages 230-235 in Sober. Why does
Descartes have a problem with error now? How does he solve this
18-23 February: review our notes on the nature of
23 February: hand back your answers to the question sheet
for the documentary. The questions were: 1. Identify at least
two examples of an unfalsifiable claim in the documentary. Note
that it is OK if you describe what you believe is an implicit
claim -- that is, sometimes people were clearly asking you to
believe something without stating it, and you can state the claim
you believe is at stake. 2. Identify at least two examples
where a supernatural explanation fails to beat out a scientific
explanation, judging by one of the criteria for choosing between
theories (predictive power, consistency with existing theory,
simplicity). Here are some potential answers:
- Unfalsifiable claims:
- Whatever was written on the horoscopes
given out in class. It worked just as well
for each person as it did for any other.
- The predictions of the palm reader. He
found that if he said what he wanted, or just
the opposite, people believed him equally well.
- The claim that the water at the clinic
in Russia was empowered with some measurable
force. Every attempt to test the measurement
resulted in them claiming it could not be
- Applying the three criteria:
- The theory that Poppoff talked to God is more
less simple than the theory that he depends solely
upon messages from his wife (since we know in both
cases he gets messages from his wife).
- The theory that Geller bends the spoons
beforehand is more consistent with existing
scientific theories than is the theory that he
bends them with his mind.
- The theory that some people can reach inside
others and do "psychic surgery" is less consistent
with scientific theory than is the theory that
they fake the "psychic surgery".
- The theory that we cannot influence peoples
blood pressure with thought alone has less
predictive power than the theory that we cannot,
as shown by the fact that the latter better
predicted the test results in the double blind
28 February: we start talking about the philosophy of
mind. Read Descartes in Sober, page 239-249. What are some of
Descartes's arguments that the mind is not the body?
2 March: read Smart in Sober, pages 339-343. What is the
position that Smart is arguing for? What objections does he consider?
What are his answers to these objections?
7 March: read Turing in Sober, pages 343-364. What is the question
that Turing is considering? What is the test or criterion that Turing
suggests (in sections 1 and 2)?
9 March: first in class exam. Topics will include:
11 March: play with Eliza
before class, and read the Chinese room thought experiment
handout. Be able to describe the thought experiment and what it
shows (according to Searle).
- What are some of the branches of philosophy? What
are the questions each addresses?
- What is a valid argument?
- What do philosophers mean when they refer to "a
- What are Aquinas's five arguments for the existence
- Describe Anselm's ontological argument. Is it valid?
If not, what might be wrong with it? If so, are all the
- What is the design argument? What kind of argument
- What is knowledge, according to Theatetus in Plato's
dialogue? What are some problems with this view? Does
Socrates come to an answer about what knowledge is?
- What is the first thing that Descartes finds he
cannot doubt? (This occurs in Meditation 2.) Describe
why we cannot doubt it, according to him (Descartes
argues that doubting it is contradictory -- show how this
- Why does Descartes's argument for the existence of
God require then an explanation of error? (This is the
main issue of Meditation 4.) And how does error arise,
according to Descartes? Explain his notion of both
understanding and of will.
- What is rationalism? What is empiricism? What is
- What is the deductive nomological method with
falsificationism? Use an example to illustrate the method.
- What does it mean to say that a scientific hypothesis
must be falsifiable? What is an example of an unfalsifiable
claim? Why is an unfalsifiable claim about nature problematic,
according to scientific method?
- Let us understand a theory to be (at least) a
collection of hypotheses. Let us understand a scientific
theory to be one that has been created through
application of the deductive nomological method with
falsificationism. There can be more than one scientific
theory to explain some phenomenon. What are the criteria
that we use to chose between such theories, in rank order
of their importance? Illustrate each with an example of
two theories that differ by such a criterion. Your
theory examples can be very simple -- the point is to
show you understand what the criteria actually mean.
- What is the Duhem thesis? Explain it, perhaps with
an example. How does it alter the deductive nomological
method with falsificationism?
21 March: review of exam 1. If time: philosophy of mind
review. Chinese room thought experiment.
23 and 25 March: no class. I'm out of town on March 23,
and classes are canceled campus-wide on March 25.
28 and 30 March: we may review philosophy of mind, but we
also want to move on to the topic of free will. Please read Hume
in Sober, pages 364-378. This would be a great day for a quiz on
Hume, to get us back into the swing of things. While reading
Hume, ask yourself:
You may also find it helpful to read Sober's discussion on
- According to Hume, are the material operations
of the world fully determined? That is, are their
- Why does Hume believe any necessity in nature
may apply to human behavior?
- Hume argues that we need to get more clear about
the meaning of "liberty." What is his definition?
Read page 372 carefully.
30 March: Quiz 3.
1 April: read Campbell in Sober, pages 378-389.
4 April: read Skinner in Sober, pages 378-389.
6 April: we review free will, if there is anything
left to discuss, and then we start a discussion of ethics.
8 April: we will have a brief, in class exam, before
beginning our discussion of Plato's discussion of the Divine
Command Theory and the relation of ethics to religion. Topics for
the exam are philosophy of mind and free will. The test will be
some combination of multiple choice and short answer questions. I
may ask a question from the first exam. New study questions
In addition, please read Plato, selection from the The
Euthyphro, in Sober pages 466-478. While reading, ask
- What is interactive substance dualism? Explain
each term as you explain this view. Descartes is
our best example of such a theorist.
- What is materialism (that is, physical monism)?
Smart was our best example of such a view.
- What is the Turing test? What question is
it meant to avoid, and what is the test meant to
- What is compatibilism? How does Hume define
liberty (free will) so that he can claim compatibilism?
- What is libertarianism (about free will)? What
evidence does Campbell see for the belief that we have
- What is determinism? What reasons does Skinner
offer to believe we are not free (in the usual sense
- What is the question that Socrates ask
Euthyphro to answer for him (see page 469)?
- Do Socrates and Euthyphro finally conclude
that piety is what the god's love?
11 April: please read the selection from Mill's
Utilitarianism in Sober pages 486-497. While reading,
You will also find it very helpful to read Sober, pages
- What is the good, according to Mill?
- How do we decide how to act, according to Mill?
- What is utilitarianism?
15, 18 April: read Kant in Sober, pages 520-529. While reading,
You will also find it very helpful to read Sober pages 446-454.
- What is good, according to Kant?
- What is the Categorical Imperative?
22, 25 April: read Sartre in Sober, pages 478ff.