Possible Essay Questions for the Final Exam
Great Questions of Philosophy, Fall 2014

The final exam will be on Tuesday Tues. Dec. 9 at 10:45 a.m. 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. Eating Factory-Farm-Raised Meat. Explain Alasdair Norcross' main argument for why it's morally wrong to eat meat that's from a factory farm. Then explain on what basis Kant would object to this argument, on what basis Epicurus would object to this argument, and how Norcross would reply to them. Then evaluate: which of them (if any) would you agree with, and why? Do you think it's morally acceptable to eat factory-farm-raised meat?
  2. If death is annihilation, is it bad? Explain the arguments that Epicurus and Lucretius give for why death isn't bad and why we shouldn't fear it. Then explain Nagel's arguments for why death is bad, and how these arguments are supposed to respond to the points of Epicurus and Lucretius. Whose position (if any) do you find most convincing, and why?
  3. Mind and body. Explain what the identity theory of mind is, and Carruthers' main argument for why we should accept an identity theory of mind. Then explain what consciousness is (for Nagel) and why he thinks it poses a major problem for theories like Carruthers'. Finally, explain like Churchland thinks that arguments like Nagel's commit a fallacious appeal to ignorance. Should we accept an identity theory of mind? Why, or why not?
  4. Free Will and Determinism. Explain the arguments of d'Holbach and of Hume for why determinism is true. Then explain d'Holbach's and Chisholm's arguments for why determinism is incompatible with free will, and Hume's argument for why the two are compatible. Next, explain Chisholm's notion of 'agent causation' and how he thinks it escapes the problems of both determinism and indeterminism. Finally, pick one of the three positions--d'Holbach's hard determinism, Hume's compatibilism, or Chisholm's libertarianism--which you find most plausible, explain what you think is the most serious objection that would be leveled against that position by one of the two other philosophers, and why you think that that objection does not succeed.
  5. 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 the following 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?

  6. 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?

Return to the Great Questions of Philosophy page.