Origins of Western 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 Thurs. Dec. 11 10:45 a.m. and Mon. Dec 15 10:45 a.m in the classroom. 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. 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. Freedom and determinism. Briefly explain Aristotle's argument for why the Principle of Bivalence (PB) threatens our freedom (in particular, the rationality of deliberation), and how he responds to this argument. Then explain (a) Cicero and Carneades' argument for why PB is not threatening to our freedom and (b) Chrysippus' argument for why causal determinism is not threatening to our freedom. Then explain which argument you agree with, if any, and why.

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