Introduction to Philosophy, sample thesis statements


The final paper is a position paper, in which you give arguments for a position; it is not a research paper. If you want to bring in additional material from outside the class readings, you may do so, but only if it contributes to your argument. (However, you might want to check with me to see whether the material is appropriate.) You don't need to bring in additional material, and I don't want this paper to be an exercise in finding out and explaining what other people thought about the philosophers and topics we've studied. Instead, this is your chance to give your own arguments about the material we've studied. (In particular, I strongly discourage people from plugging search terms into Google to find other papers and webpages on the material we've been looking at; this 'research' method often leads to plagiarism.)

I want you to give your opinion. However, you need to give reasons for your opinions, and your discussion should take, as its starting point, the arguments of the philosophers we've studied this semester. In addition, it should demonstrate an understanding of these arguments.

As always, you should explain things clearly enough that somebody not already familiar with the class material, like your ignorant but intelligent roommate, would understand what you're saying. Another good technique is to try to think of possible objections to what you're saying and to reply to those objections. What would Paley, or Epicurus, or Kant, or Norcross say against you? Having an actual ignorant roommate (or a classmate) look over your paper to raise objections, and to spot obscure passages, can be very helpful.

I've also posted additional paper writing guidelines

Note: These are only suggestions for possible paper topics, to get you thinking, plus some of the questions it might be helpful to address during the course of your paper. However, these aren't binding; feel free to adapt these to your own needs. Many of the reading response paper topics would also be a suitable starting point for longer papers.

  1. Morality and the Desire for Happiness. Kant would say that the actions of somebody who acts 'justly' because of a desire for happiness or pleasure have 'no moral worth.' In fact, even if that person acts justly because of a desire for the happiness of others, Kant would still say that person's actions have no moral worth. Why does he think this? How do you think Epicurus would respond to Kant? Evaluate what both Kant and Epicurus would say. With whom do you agree (if either), and why? What do you think is the proper place of desire in one's motivations to act morally? (For this question, you can also bring in Mill if you wish, and what he says about the external and internal sanctions of morality.)
  2. Material Goods and Happiness. Epicurus says that he can be as happy as Zeus if he has bread and water, and he thinks that the pursuit of luxury is incompatible with attaining happiness. Epicurus is down on 'materialism' (in the ethical, not the metaphysical sense). Why is that? Give his arguments. Do you believe that the pursuit of material goods, wealth, etc., is an impediment to achieving happiness? Why or why not? If you disagree with Epicurus, make sure that you say why. What is the proper place of material goods (and the pursuit of material goods) in the happy life? Consider (and reply to) the strongest objections to your position that you can think of.
  3. Epicurus' ethics. Look at some area of Epicurus' ethics in particular, and evaluate what he says. Some possible topics include:
  4. Eating factory farm-raised meat. Or you can look more broadly at what sorts of moral obligations (if any) we have towards animals, exploring what Epicurus and/or Kant have to say about the subject.
  5. Divine Command Theory
  6. Ethical Relativism
Some sample thesis statements:
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