Possible Essay Questions for the First Exam
Introduction to Philosophy, Fall 2010

The midterm exam will be on Thursday, October 9. 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. Please make sure to bring a blue book and your student ID (as you will be putting your ID# and not your name on the exam).

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. Ethical relativism and FGM. What reasons does Ruth Benedict give for thinking that ethics (what's right and worng) is relative to the standards of a culture, and how would her position apply to the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM)? What basic mistake does Louis Pojman think that the conventional ethical relativist makes? (Note: you do not have to go through all of the unwelcome implications that Pojman thinks follow from the doctrine; focus on his distinction between cultural relativism and ethical relativism.) Finally, what reasons does Martha Nussbaum give for condemning female genital mutilation, even though it's widely practiced and accepted in some cultures? Do you agree with Nussbaum? Why, or why not?
  2. Divine Command Theory. Explain the Divine Command Theory by answering the folllwing questions. What is the nature of right and wrong, according to William Paley, and why are we obligated to obey God? Why does Phillip Quinn think that the 'immoralities of the Patriarchs' supports the Divine Commands Theory? Then explain the 'Euthyphro objection' to the divine command theory. Finally, evaluate ONE of the following: (i) Paley's explanation for how God's commands create moral obligations and why we are obligated to obey them; (ii) Quinn's contention that the 'immoralities of the Patriarchs' supports the Divine Commands Theory, or (iii) the 'Euthyphro objection.'

  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. Invasion of the Body-Snatchers. I'm a doctor in a hospital, with 5 patients in my care, each of whom are deathly ill, and each of whom needs a single organ to survive. In walks the Domino's pizza delivery guy. I know he's a match for all of my patients, and I think it's very likely that I can chloroform him and cut him up for parts, saving the lives of my five patients. (I also think that I can dispose of the remains of the body without getting caught.) What would Kant tell me to do, and why? What would Mill tell me to do, and why? (Be clear about which of the specific doctrines of each philosopher would lead him to answer as he does.) How would Kant criticize Mill, and how would Mill criticize Kant? Evaluate the cogency of one of these two criticisms.

  5. Kant. Explain Kant's theory through answering the following questions: What is it to act 'from a good will'? What is a categorical imperative, and how does it differ from a hypothetical imperative? Present and compare the two formulations of the categorical imperative we studied: the 'universalizing' formulation and the 'end-in-itself' formulation. Explain the procedure that one must follow in universalizing a maxim to apply the categorical imperative. While explaining Kant's theory, make sure that you give his reasons for believing what he believes. Then, explain how you think either Epicurus or Mill would criticize Kant. Finally, evaluate the cogency of this criticism.
  6. Utilitarianism. Explain what utilitarianism is. In deciding a course of action, what procedure should a utilitarian follow, according to Bentham, and according to Mill? How does Mill's utilitarianism differ from Bentham's? What reasons does Mill give for acting in accordance with utilitarianism? Then, explain how you think Kant would criticize Mill's reasons for acting as a utilitarian. Finally, evaluate the cogency of this criticism.

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