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 8, 10:45 a.m., in the classroom. Make sure to bring a blank blue book to the 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.

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. The Stoics on fate and freedom. Briefly explain the Stoics' conception of what fate is. (What is god like, for the Stoics, and how does he fate things?) Then explain the 'lazy argument' argument for why the Stoics' notion of fate threatens our freedom (in particular, the rationality of deliberation and action). Finally, explain Chrysippus' response to the 'lazy argument.' Evaluate Chrysippus' response: does he successfully refute the 'lazy argument'? Why, or why not?

  4. Stoic ethics. Consider the following case: Annie is poor and suffers from a serious auto-immune condition. She has a good character and does the best she can under the circumstances, trying to look after her health and giving what she can to charity when she can spare it for those even less fortunate than herself. But she can spare very little, and her illness is painful, debilitating, and leads to her death at a fairly young age. Was Annie happy? Explain what the Stoics would say, and why, comparing it to what Aristotle would say (and why). How would the Stoics respond to Aristotle? With whom would you agree (if either), and why? (When answering this question, make sure to discuss what happiness is for the Stoics, how it relates to virtue, and their notion of 'indifferents' of various sorts.)

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