Possible Essay Questions for the Second Exam
Great Questions of Philosophy, Fall 2009

The second exam will be on Monday Nov. 2. Review session will be in class Wed. Oct. 27. 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. Radical Doubt. Explain the nature of Descartes' program of radical doubt in the first two meditations of his Meditations on First Philosophy. Make sure that you include discussions of the following points along the way: the reason that Descartes engages in his program of radical doubt, what the dream hypothesis and the evil deceiver hypothesis are supposed to cast doubt upon, and the Cogito. Then explain David Hume's reply to the 'Pyrrhonian' skeptic who would truly doubt everything and not believe anything, and how this relates to Descartes. Finally, evaluate Descartes by answering do folllwing questions: Do Descartes' arguments in Meditation I show that it is impossible to know whether there is an external world? If so, should we not believe that there is one?

  2. Russell. Explain Russell's argument in the first 3 chapters of the Problems of Philosophy by answering the following questions: How does Russell initially set up the problem of the relationship between appearance and reality? How does he try to establish the existence of matter? How is this supposed to constitute an answer to Descartes' skeptical worries? What is the nature of matter? Finally, do you believe that Russell has successfully rebutted Descartes' skeptical worries, and why or why not? Divine Command Theory. Explain Paley's version of the divine command theory. What is the nature of right and wrong, according to Paley? Why are we obligated to obey God? How do we determine God's will? Then explain the 'Euthyphro objection' to the divine command theory. Finally, evaluate one or more parts of Paley's position, or how successful you think the 'Euthyphro objection' is.

  3. 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' distinctions of types of pleasure, and of the 3 classes 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?

  4. 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.
Return to the Great Questions of Philosophy page.