Possible Essay Questions for the Second Exam
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.
Origins of Western Philosophy, Fall 2014
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, since time is limited, 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 the 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. Out of the following essay questions, you will have to write on two. (either 2 out of three, or 1 each out of two groups of two).
- Consider the lives of the following two people. Lenny, an accountant, successfully embezzles millions of dollars from his company. He flees to the Caribbean, where he spends the rest of his life dedicated to the pleasures of food and drink. He also enjoys carousing with his 'friends,' and a succession of girlfriends, who, unbeknownst to him, really despise him, since he's an obnoxious boor and bore. However, they like sponging off of him. He dies at a ripe old age. Aristo is a pupil of Plato, who admires his virtue and intelligence. He enrolls in the Athenian army at 18 for two years of training. He is called up for military service in his mid-20s, and captured by a group of bandits. They torture him in order to get information about the defense of Athens. He refuses to break, and after several months, he dies in agony.
Did Lenny have a happy life? Did Aristo? Explain what Socrates (as depicted in the Apology and/or Republic) and Aristotle would say about these two cases, and why. Then evaluate what they say about one of the two cases. Who (if either) is correct, and why?
- Greg is a virtuous person, and he lends his virtue-friend (who is in need) $1000. Explain why Greg does what he does, according to Aristotle. In what sense is Greg's action 'selfish,' or an expression of self-love? In what sense isn't it? Relate your discussion to Aristotle's doctrines of friendship, of what happiness is, and of the place of friendship in the happy life. Then answer whether or not you think Greg is selfish in some objectionable way, and why or why not.
- Explain Aristotle's doctrine of the 4 causes. Then explain how Aristotle applies this doctrine to the explanation of biological phenomena--such as the location, material composition, and frequency of beating of the heart--in particular. (Somewhere along the way, relate this discussion to Aristotle's contentions that organisms exist 'by nature' and are substances.) How would Epicurus criticize Aristotle? How would Epicurus account for the charteristics of the heart? With whom (if either) do you agree, and why?
- Epicurus advances a mechanistic view of the world, in which all events and objects can be explained in terms of the non-purposive interaction of atoms. In Epicurus' view, there is no intrinsic teleology of an Aristotelian sort, nor do things occur because of the providence of god(s). Explain Epicurus' arguments in support of the above world-view. Then explain how either Aristotle or Plato would object to Epicurus. Finally, evaluate the arguments.
- Epicurus on the mind. Explain Epicurus' conception of what sort of thing the mind (the psyche, sometimes translated as 'soul') is and his arguments in support of this theory. How does Epicurus' philosophy of mind relate to his general metaphysical views? Finally, given his views on the mind, why does he believe that death is annihilation? Evaluate either his arguments on the nature of the mind, or his arguments for why, given what the mind is, death is annihilation.
Return to the Origins of Western Philosophy page.