Possible Essay Questions for the First Exam
Ancient and Medieval Philosophy, Spring 2008

The first exam will be on Tues., February 19. 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, 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).

  1. The Apology. Socrates claims that he is wiser than the other citizens of Athens, even though he is ignorant. Why does he claim this? How doeshis 'human wisdom' relate to his god-given mission? Socrates also claims that what he is doing is highly beneficial to the citizens of Athens. Why does he believe this ? Evaluate either his claim that he is wiser than the other citizens of Athens or that he greatly benefits the citizens of Athens by questioning them as he does.
  2. The Euthyphro When Socrates asks Euthyphro for a definition of piety, what are his requirements for a good definition? Why is Euthyphro's first definition, "the pious is to do what I am doing now," defective? On what grounds does Socrates object to the definition "the pious is what all the gods love"? How does this objection relate to the requirements for an adequate definition? How does Socrates' questioning of Euthyphro show him carrying out the god-given mission that Socrates describes in the Apology? Do you think that Socrates actually is greatly benefiting the citizens of Athens by questioning them in this way, as he claims? Why or why not?

  3. Ring of Gyges and Justice.At the beginning of Book II of the Republic, Glaucon divides goods into three classes. What are the classes, and how is the story of the Ring of Gyges supposed to show that justice belongs to the third class of goods? At the end of Book IV, what does Socrates say that justice is (in the individual)? What arguments does he give for this conception of justice? How is this supposed to answer Glaucon's and Thrasymachus' challenge to Socrates? Do you think that it does actually adequately address that challenge? Why, or why not? (NOTE: a detailed discussion of why Plato favors the rule of the guardians in the ideal Republic isn't needed to answer this question. However, you might want to bring up the analogy of the self to the ideal state in your answer.)

  4. The Three Classes. What are the three different classes in Plato's ideal state, and what are the functions and characteristics of each? Why does Plato think that the Guardians should rule in the ideal state, and why does he think that this state is just? According to Plato, why is this state just? According to Plato, why is this state better than a democracy? Do you find his account of the ideal state and his criticisms of democracy convincing? Why or why not?
  5. Give a brief account of Plato's Myth of the Cave. What do the interior of the cave and the world outside of it represent, respectively? How does the cave map onto the Divided Line? What are the metaphysical and epistemological points that Plato illustrates with the Divided Line? In answering this question, give an account of what a Form is for Plato, and why he believes that they exist.

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