Introduction to Philosophy Assignments, Fall 2014


For 12/2. Reading, Russell, Problems of Philosophy, chapters 1 through 3. Papers (Lee, Littlejohn, Luke, Santavicca)
  1. Explain and evaluate Russell's argument for the existence of the external world.
  2. Explain and evaluate Russell's argument for the nature of matter (in particular, what he says about colors).

For 11/20. Reading: David Hume, "Of the academical or sceptical philosophy." Papers (Vickers, Baird, Goli, Harris, Kouassi):
  1. Explain Hume's objections to skepticism that is "antecedent to inquiry" (like Descartes'). So you agree?
  2. Explain the sources of akepticism that is "subsequent to inquiry." Do you agree with Hume that these skeptical problems are insuperable>
  3. How does Hume object to 'Pyrrhonian' or extreme skepticism? Do you agree with this objection?
  4. How does Hume propose to overcome skepticism? Do you agree>

For 11/18. Readings: Meditations on First Philosophy. Meditation 2.

Paper topics (Nguyen, Patel, Reynolds, Robsinson, Tribu):

  1. How is the Cogito (Descartes' proof that he exists: "I think, therefore I am") supposed to work? Why is it certain? How does it escape the hypothesis of the evil deceiver? Do you agree that one can know this with certainty? Why, or why not?

  2. Why does Descartes conclude that he is a thinking thing? What does mean by this? Do you find his arguments for this convincing? Why, or why not?

  3. Why does Descartes think that he can be more certain that he has a mind than that he has a body? Do you agree?


For 11/13. Readings: Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy. Meditation 1.

Reading response papers (Humphrey, Jackson, Johnston, Jones, Mendoza, Morgan)

  1. What are Descartes' arguments for why the senses cannot be trusted at all? Do you agree with him? Why, or why not?

  2. Why does Descartes engage in his method of 'hyperbolic doubt' (i.e., 'engaging in the general demolition' of his opinions by withholding his assent from all opinions that are not completely certain and indubitable)? Is this a reasonable procedure? Why or why not?

  3. Is there anything that you are so certain of that you could not possibly doubt it? If so, how can you be certain of it in the face of Descartes' 'dreaming hypothesis' and 'evil deceiver hypothesis'?


For 11/11. Read David Hume, "Liberty and Necessity." NOTE: It's just section 8 of the part posted, starting on page 40! Don't read the whole thing. Papers (Cotliar, Echols, Edmundson, Hadar, Haugabrook):
  1. What argument does David Hume for human actions being necessary? Do you agree?
  2. Hume argues that the fact that people sometimes act in unexpected ways gives us little reason to think that their actions aren't necessary. Explain and evaluate his argument.
  3. Hume argues that human beings have 'liberty' in what they do. Explain what he means by liberty and why he thinks we have liberty in that sense. Then evaluate.
  4. According to Hume, liberty and necessity are compatible. How so? Explain and evaluate.

For 11/6. Read Roderick Chisholm, "Human Freedom and the Self" (skip section 3). Papers (Bamaca, Bernal, Bolton, Burden, Cerenko, Choate):
  1. Chisholm argues that, if determinism is true, we are not responsible agents. Explain and evaluate his argument for this.
  2. Chisholm argues that, if indeterminism is true, we are not responsible agents. Explain and evaluate his argument for this.
  3. What is 'agent causation' (aka 'immanent causation'), how does it differ from 'event causation' (aka 'transuent causation'), and how does it allow us to be responsible agents? Explain and evaluate what Chisholm says.
  4. Chisholm claims that there can be 'no science of man.' Explain what he means by this and why he thinks it's true. Do you agree with him? Why, or why not?

For 11/4. Read Baron d'Holbach, "I Am Determined." Papers (Kouassi, Lee, Littlejohn, Luke, Santavicca):
  1. d'Holbach believes that we have a will, but not a 'free' will. Explain and evaluate one of his arguments for this claim.
  2. What goes on in deliberation, according to d'Holbach? Explain and evaluate his story.
  3. d'Holbach beleieves that we can be justified at being angry with others and for punishing others, even if they don't have free will. Explain and evaluate his arguments.
  4. d'Holbach claims that the 'fatalist' will be more forgiving and humble. Explain and evaluate his reasons for asserting this.

For 10/30. Read Thomas Nagel, "What is it like to be a bat?" and Patricia Churchland, "The Hornswaggle Problem. Papers (Trimor):
  1. Nagel argues that a complete knowledge of all of the physical and 'objective' facts about an organism would not let us know the subjective character of experience, for example, what it's like to be a bat. Explain why he thinks this, and state whether you agree with him and why.
  2. Churchland thinks that the division between the supposedly 'hard' problem of subjective consciousness and various 'easy' problems is bogus. Explain and evaluate her reasons for this claim.
  3. Churchland thinks that Nagel-type arguments commit a fallacious appeal to ignorance. Explain and evaluate her reasons for this claim.
  4. Churchland develops an analogy between the position of people like Nagel and 'vitalists.' Explain the point of the analogy, and say whether you think the analogy effectively discredits Nagel's position.

For 10/28. Read Peter Carruthers, "The Mind is the Brain." Papers (Tribou, Vickers, Williams, Baird):
  1. Explain and evaluate Carruthers' argument that the causal efficacy of mental states gives us good reasonable to believe the identity theory
  2. Carruthers presents and responds to several objections to the identity theory. Explain the objection and why Carruthers thinks it does not give us good reason to reject the identity theory. Do you agree with Carruthers? Why, or why not?
  3. Carruthers thinks that an identity theorist can explain the 'intentionality' of mental states. Explain what 'intentionality' is, and why Carruthers thinks the identity theorist can explain how mental states can be intentional. Do you agree with Carruthers? Why, or why not?


For 10/23. Read Nagel, "Death." Papers (Nguyen, Patel, Reynolds, Robinson):
  1. Explain and evaluate one of Nagel's criticisms of the Epicurean argument.
  2. Explain and evaluate one of Nagel's positive reasons for thinking death is bad.
  3. If death is bad for the person who has died, *when* is it bad? Explain and evaluate what Nagel says about this.

For 10/21

Read Lucretius on mortality, Lucretius on the fear of death, and Epicurus on the fear of death, as well as this brief summary of the Epicurean arguments.

Paper (Johnston, Jones, Mendoza, Morgan):

  1. Set and and evaluate one of Lucretius' arguments for why death is annihilation.
  2. Set out and evaluate, in your own words, one of the Epicurean arguments on why death is 'nothing to us,' and why we should not fear it.

For 10/16. Read Peter Singer, "Down on the Factory Farm," plus Alasdair Norcross, "Puppies, Pigs, and People: Eating Meat and Marginal Cases." papers: (Harris, Haugabrook, Humphrey, Jackson):
  1. Explain Alasdair Norcross's main argument (appealing to Fred's basement) for why it's morally wrong to eat meat that's from a factory farm. Then evaluate it: do you agree, and why or why not?
  2. Explain Norcross' deployment of "marginal cases" to undermine the "rationality gambit." Then evaluate Norcross: do you agree with his argument, and why or why not?
  3. What central confusion does Norcross think afflicts philosophers like Kant make who think rationality is needed to have moral standing? Explain and evaluate what Norcross says.

For 10/14. Read the selections of the the Epicurean poet Lucretius on justice and Porphyry's exposityion of the Epicurean on animals and justice. Also re-read Epicurus, Principal Doctrines 31 through 40. Then, read Kant on duties to animals. Papers (Edmundson, Evers, Goli, Hadar):
  1. What is justice, according to the Epicureans, and why does it arise? Do do you think this account is plausible? Why, or why not?
  2. What reason does the wise person have to be just? What about the foolish person? Are the reasons the Epicureans give for the wise person to be just compelling?
  3. Why is there no justice with regard to non-human animals? Explain and evaluate the Epicurean arguments in favor of this thesis.
  4. Kant: explain either why Kant thinks that we have no direct duties to animals or why we have indirect duties towards animals. Then say whether you agree with Kant, and why or why not.

For 10/7. Read Chapter 3 of Utilitarianism.

Reading response papers (Cerenko, Anna-Maria; Choate, John; Cotliar, Ava; Echols, Darnell)

  1. What are the internal or external sanctions of morality (or both), as described by Mill? Do you agree with him that these sanctions give good reason to act along utilitarian lines?
  2. How would Kant criticize what Mill has to says about the sanctions of morality? Explain and evaluate what he would say.

For 10/2. Read Mill, Utilitarianism, chapters 1 and 2.

Papers (Bamaca, William; Bernal, Amanda M.; Bolton, Crystal L.; Burden, Eboni K.):


For 9/30. Re-read O'Nora O'Neill on a simplified version of Kant's ethics, and Jeremy Bentham, 'Principles of Morals and Legislation,' Chapters 1 and 4. (NB: the link leads to a pdf of the whole book; please read just those 2 chapters, which on pages 14 and 31, respectively).

Papers (Littlejohn, Jazmin E.; Luke, Alexis T.; Santavicca, Matteo M.; Trimor, Paul N.)

  1. Why do Kant and O'Neill believe that it is always wrong to treat a person as a mere means'? (Explain what it means to do so.) Do you agree? Why, or why not?
  2. Bentham states, "Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure." Explain what he means by this and what impact he thinks this has on the standards of right and wrong. The evaluate: do you agree with claim and on the impact it (supposedly) has on the standards of right and wrong.
  3. In chapter 4, Bentham gives ways of measuring pleasures and pains. Give an example of evaluating two possible courses of action (for example, whether to keep a promise or not) using Bentham's 'utility calculus.' Do you think the 'utility calculus' gives the correct answer about which action to perform? Why, or why not?

9/25. Reading, Groundwork, second section, Onora O'Neill, "A simplified account of Kant's ethics." Papers: (Goli, Harsha; Harris, Minnae L.; Kouassi, Naomi B.; Lee, Choong):
  1. Kant says that morality must be based on categorical imperatives, not hypothetical ones. What does this mean, and why does kat believe? Do you agree with him? Why, or why not?
  2. O'Neill gives several examples of treating people as "mere means." Give one of examples and explain why it is a case of treating somebody as a mere means. Then evaluate: (i) whether you agree that the action is wrong and (ii) whether you agree that it is wrong because it involves treating somebody as a mere means.
  3. Why do Kant and O'Neill believe that it is always wrong to treat a person as a mere means'? (Explain what it means to do so.) Do you agree? Why, or why not?

9/23. Reading: Kant, Groundwork, First Section.

Papers: (Tribou, Tiffany N.; Vickers, Sakinah E.; Williams, Damian J.; Baird, Brendan J.)

  1. Assume that a merchant has a duty not to cheat his customers. Imagine a merchant who does his duty, and doesn't cheat his customers, but only because he believes that not cheating will help his business prosper. Kant would say that the merchant's actions (in this case) have "no moral worth." Now imagine that the merchant refrains from cheating, but does so because he really likes his customers a lot, doesn't want to hurt them, finds inner pleasure from spreading joy, and rejoices in the happiness of other people. Kant would say that the his actions still have "no moral worth." Why does Kant think that, in both cases, the merchant's actions have no moral worth? Explain Kant's arguments. Do you agree with Kant? Why or why not?
  2. Why would Kant argue that the actions of an Epicurean have no moral worth? Would you agree? Why, or why not?
  3. Kant says that only the good will is good without qualification. What does he mean by this, and why does he say it? Do you agree? Why, or why not?
For 9/18. Re-read Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus. Epicurus, Principal Doctrines, sayings 5, 10, 11, 12, 17, 27, 28. Cicero, On Ends, sections XIV until the end, and the sections of the on-line article on Epicurus dealing with justice and friendship.

Papers (Michelle Nguyen, Krishna Patel, Jodiann Reynolds, Alexis Robinson): set out and evaluate, in your own words, the Epicurean position on


For 9/16. Move on to Epicurus' ethics:
Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus. Epicurus, Principal Doctrines, sayings 3, 4, 8, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, 29, 30. Cicero, On Ends, book I, sections IX through XIII.

On-line article on Epicurus, section on his ethics, up through and including 'types of desire.'

Paper topics (Alan Johnston, Chance Jones, Bernado Mendoza, Jaames Morgan):

  1. Why does Epicurus think that only ones own pleasure has value? Give and evaluate one of his arguments.

  2. Why does Epicurus think that mental pleasures are greater than bodily pleasures? Give and evaluate one of his arguments.

  3. Why does Epicurus advocate the simple life? Give and evaluate one of his arguments.

  4. Explain Epicurus' three-fold division of desires. Do you find this division convincing? Why, or why not?


For 9/11. Read Phillip Quinn, "God and Morality," and Gottfried Leibniz against the divine command theory. Papers (Shardashiah Haugabrook, Pablo Huertes, Marketta Humphrey, Charlotte Jackson).
  1. Quinn gives four "legs" in support of the Divine Command Theory. Explain and evaluate one of them. Does it actually support DCT? (Note, any of the 4 is fine, but we will concentrate more on "legs" 3 and 4.
  2. Quinn discusses four "arrows" (i.e. objections) against the DCT and claims that none of them decisively refute it. Explain and evaluate one of them. Is Quinn right? Why, or why not? (Note: we will spend more time on "arrows" 1 and 4.)
  3. Leibniz argues that asserting that goodness is dependent upon God's will would actually undermine God's perfection. Explain and evaluate his argument for this.
  4. Explain and evaluate what Leibniz has to say about the relationship between God's will and God's understanding.

For 9/9. Read Paley's defense of Divine Command Theory, plus this brief explanation of the Euthyphro objection to the divine command theory. Papers (Ava Cotliar, Sadie Edmundson, Grayson Evers, Coral Hadar)

  1. According to Paley, why are we obligated to obey God's commands? (Make sure that you connect this with what Paley says about what obligates people generally.) Do you accept this explanation? Why, or why not?
  2. Paley believes that moral obligations must be based upon commands--in particular, upon God's commands. Why does he think this? Do you agree? Why, or why not?
  3. How does Paley distinguish between prudence and duty? Do you accept the way he distinguishes between them? Why, or why not?
  4. According to the Euthyphro objection, as explained by Taber, accepting the Divine Command Theory makes morality arbitrary. Explain why this is supposed to be so. Do you agree that the DCT has this consequence, if it is true? Why or why not?
  5. Taber claims (in his exposition of the Euthyphro objection) that it is "theologically sound" to say that torturing children is wrong and God would never will us to do anything wrong but that saying this involves abandoning the DCT. Explain why Taber thinks these things, and evaluate his arguments for them.


For Thursday, 9/4. Read Martha Nussbaum "Judging Other Cultures: The case of Genital Mutilation." Papers (Eboni Burden, Anna-Marie Cerenko, John Choate, Darnell Echols)

Nussbaum considers four arguments for the claim that we should not criticize the practices of another culture, such as female genital mutilation. Explain one of these arguments, and Nussbaum's reasons for thinking that it fails. Do you agree with Nussbaum? Why, or why not?



For Tuesday, 9/2. Read Ruth Benedict's defense of ethical relativism and Louis Pojman's criticims of it. Papers (Syed Abid, William Bamanca, Amanda Bernel, and Crystal Boltonm write on one of the prompts below; everybody else read papers and post a reply to one).
  1. Benedict argues that traits like having a sunny disposition and being kindly (which we regard as good) are abnormal and bad in some other cultures, whereas what we would regard as a paranoid fear of treachery are normal and good. Explain why she believes this. Do you agree with Benedict? Why, or why not?
  2. Benedict claims that "the concept of the normal is properly a variant of the concept of the good. It is that which society has approved." Explain what this means, and on what basis Benedict advances this claim. Do you think that her position is correct? Why, or why not?
  3. Pojman argues that "subjective ethical relativism" makes morality "a useless concept." What is "subjective ethical relativism," and why would it have this consequence, accordingto Pojman? Do you agree wth him? Why, or why not?
  4. Pojman argues that "conventional ethical relativism" does not give us any reason to be tolerant of other cultures. Why does he think this? Is he right? Why, or why not?
  5. Pojman argues that ethical relativism would imply that ethical reformers are always wrong. Why does he think this? Is he right? Why, or why not?
  6. Pojman argue that the "dependancy thesis" is false. Explain what the dependency thesis is, adn why Pojman thinks that it's fine to sometimes judge other cultures moralities. Then evaluate what Pojman says.

For 8/28.

Please read James Pryor's descriptions of what an argument is, of vocabulary describing arguments, and of some good and bad arguments.

In the 'vocabulary' section, please do the exercises and bring them to class. Please also log onto Desire2Learn, post a question to the bulletin board, and glance at the Benedict selection (just to make sure you can do so, no need to read it now).


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