History of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy Final Exam Essay Questions

Here are the essays which might appear on the final exam. Out of the following essays, you will have to write on two. The final exam is on Monday, May 10, at 12:30 p.m. in the classroom. The review session will be at 10 am Tuesday 5/4 in the philosophy dept. conference room, on the 5th floor of Arts & Humanities. Please bring a blue book.

Each of these essays is designed to give you the opportunity to demonstrate to me how well you understand the class material. In order to do this, imagine that you are trying to explain the subject to your intelligent, but ignorant, roommate. That is, state things clearly enough, explaining any technical terminology, offering examples where they are needed for illustration, and expanding on any cryptic or compressed remarks, so that a person not already familiar with the material would understand what you mean. By doing this, you'll show me that you understand what you're talking about. However, don't go off into irrelevant areas or offer information that is not needed to answer the question; don't pad.

In each of the essays below, I give a number of points that I want you to touch upon. However, please do not simply answer them one-by-one, in a disconnected, "bullet-point," manner. Incorporate your discussion of each of the points within a continuous, coherent, flowing essay on the topic. The parts of the essay do not necessarily need to be treated in order in which I mention them.

To prepare for the exam, work through the answers to the following essay questions. A good way to do philosophy is to talk about it with other people, so studying with others in the class may be useful.


  1. Epicurus' ethics. Explain some of the main features of Epicurus' ethics by answering the following questions. Why does Epicurus think that the only thing that is intrinsically valuable is one's own pleasure? Explain Epicurus' division of pleasure into two types, and desires into 3 classes, and give his arguments for accepting these divisions. How do these relate to his recommendations about how to achieve happiness? And what is the relationship, according to Epicurus, between being virtuous and being happy? Evaluate one or more of Epicurus' arguments on the questions above.

  2. Epicurus on Justice. Write an essay explaining Epicurus' theory of justice. Make sure that you explain the following points along the way: what is justice, according to Epicurus? What reason does the wise person have to be just? What about the foolish person? How does Epicurus' theory of justice fit into his overall ethical views? His materialist metaphysics?

  3. Skepticism and tranquility. Sextus Empiricus argues that it is possible to live without beliefs and that suspending judgment about all things will lead to tranquility. Explain how one arrives at suspension of judgment, according to Sextus, on what basis one then acts, and how this leads to tranquility. Epicurus, on the other hand, thinks that knowledge of what is good by nature and of the way the world works is necessary to attain tranquility. Briefly explain why Epicurus believes this. Then explain which if the two you agree with on the issue of what role knowledge (and/or belief) plays in attaining happiness, and why.

  4. Augustine on faith and skepticism. Explain Augustine's conception of faith. Make sure that you include a discussion of the relationship betwen faith and reason, and faith and understanding, and (of course) his justifications for his positions. Also discuss how his conception of faith relates to his attack on the Academic Skeptics. Why does Augustine think that the Academic Skeptical position is not only false but also profoundly damaging? Then try to imagine how Sextus Empiricus might criticize Augustine, and evaluate the cogency of that criticism.

  5. Knowing God and happiness. Arguing from a basically Aristotelian ethical position, Aquinas argues that full human happiness consists in knowing God. Explain his reasons for thinking this (and how it fits within his Aristotelianism), then indicate whether you agree, and why (or why not).

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