Possible Essay Questions for the Final Exam
Great Questions of Philosophy, Fall 2015

The final exam will be on Thursday Dec. 10 at 10:45 a.m. for the 11 a.m. section, and on Tuesday Dec. 8 at 10:45 a.m. for the 1 p.m. section. 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 Alastair 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. Pascal's Wager. Explain Pascal's argument for believing in God. Along the way, address the following questions: What does Pascal mean when he says that you are forced to wager, and why does he say this? Why does Pascal say that it is impossible to know by reason whether or not God exists and what he is like? Why does Pascal think that 'betting' that God exists is a better bet as far as happiness is concerned? What does Pascal say to the person who replies that he cannot make himself believe that God exists through a decision to do so? How does Pojman criticize Pascal's notion of faith as bringing yourself to believe that God exists, and what alternative notion of religious faith does he propose? Finally, evaluate: which (if either) position do you find stronger, and why?
  6. James vs. Clifford on Belief. Explain Clifford's general reasons for thinking that "it is wrong in all cases to believe on insufficient evidence." Then explain how he thinks this is supposed to apply to religious beliefs in particular. James thinks that Clifford's general ethics of belief is incorrect. Explain why. In which cases is it permissible to believe based on our passions, and why? How is this supposed to apply to religious beliefs in particular? With whom do you agree, if either, and why?
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