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 Thursday, Dec 8, 1:30 p.m., in the classroom. Please bring a blue book. There will be a review session Tuesday Dec. 6 at 1:30 in the philosophy seminar room (1151), on 11th floor 34 Peachtree. The essays will be the main portion of the exam, but there will also be a section of short answers, so please make sure that you are familiar with all the material we covered in class, even that which isn't part of the essays.

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' divisions of the different types of pleasure, and different types of desires. 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? What would Epicurus say if confronted with the story of the Ring of Gyges? How does Epicurus' theory of justice fit into his overall ethical views? Then evaluate some aspect of Epicurus arguments regarding either (a) what justice is, or (b) why one should be just.

  3. Augustine on evil Explain Augustine's basic position on evil. Along the way, answer the following questions: What is evil? What is the cause of evil? And why did God give people free will? Finally, how do the answers to the preceding 3 questions show that the existence of evil is compatible with (an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful) God creating the universe? Evaluate Augustine's answer to one of the preceding four questions.
  4. Augustine on foreknowledge. Explain Augustine's basic position on foreknowledge and free will. Along the way, answer the following questions: What is the cause of a person choosing to do evil? Why might foreknowledge appear incompatible with free will? How does Augustine argue that they are compatible? How does he argue that God was right in creating those that He foresaw would act wrongly and sin, even those that would persist in sin go to hell, and that these people have nothing to complain about? Do you think that Augustine's argument for the compatibility of foreknowledge and freedom succeeds? Why, or why not?
  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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