Possible Essay Questions for the Final Exam
Great Questions of Philosophy, Spring 2004

Here are the essays which might appear on the final exam. Out of the following essays, you will have to write on two. The final exam will be held Wednesday, May 5, at 2:45 p.m., in the classroom. There will be a review session on Monday, May 3, at 4:20. Please bring a blue book.

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, 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 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.

  1. Descartes' Philosophy of Mind. What is the mind, according to Descartes, and what is its relationship to the body? Make sure that you explain his reasons for believing what he believes. How would Epicurus criticize Descartes, do you think, and how would Descartes respond to this criticism? Evaluate their positions. With whom do you agree, and why? If neither, what sort of thing do you think the mind is, and why?

  2. Why Be Moral? Imagine that you've borrowed $100 from a friend last month, promising to pay him back this month after you received your paycheck. But since then, you've spent more money than you thought you would, and paying your friend back would be very burdensome for you (although not impossible). He's demanding that you repay him. Describe what Epicurus, Mill, and Kant would tell you to do, and why they'd tell you to do it. (Be clear about which of the specific doctrines of each philosopher would lead him to answer as he does.) Then, more generally, why would each philosopher tell you that you should bother to do what's morally right (like keeping your promises)? How do you think Kant would criticize Epicurus and Mill, and how would Mill criticize Kant? Which of the three (if any) do you agree with, and why?

  3. 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.

  4. 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 3 formulations of the categorical imperative we studied: the 'universalizing' formulation, the 'end-in-itself' formulation, and the 'autonomy' 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.

  5. Utilitarianism. Explain what utilitarianism is. In deciding a course of action, what procedure should a utilitarian follow? How does Mill's utilitarianism differ from Bentham's? What reasons does Mill give for thinking that utilitarianism is true? Then, explain how you think either Epicurus or Kant would criticize utilitarianism. Finally, evaluate the cogency of this criticism.

Return to the Great Questions of Philosophy page.