Possible Essay Questions for the First Exam
Great Questions of Philosophy, Spring 2009

The first exam will be on Thurs., February 12. There will be a review session, Tuesday Feb. 10 4:00-5:00 in Aderhold 314. 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 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, 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. The Problem of Evil and the Free Will Defense. Explain how the Problem of Evil is supposed to show that God does not exist. (Make sure you specify what kind of God!) Then explain how the Free Will Defense is supposed to provide a theodicy to the Problem of Evil, and why the existence of natural evil seems to pose a problem for the Free Will Defense. Finally, give your own reasons for why you think that the Free Will Defense either does, or does not, provide a successful theodicy. (NB: for the sake of this question, you do not need to discuss God's foreknowledge and human freedom.)
  2. Foreknowledge and Freedom. Imagine that an omniscient God exists and that He knows everything that has occurred, is occurring, and will occur, including what choices we made, are making, and will make. Is the existence of such a God compatible with us having free will? Explain the arguments on both sides of this issue that we studied. Then explain the proposal (made by Dave Cohen in the book) for limiting God's knowledge to knowledge of future possibilities, and why he thinks that this is consistent with God being omniscient. Finally, explain which position (regarding both the scope of God's knowledge, if He is omnscient, and whether omniscience is compatible with free will) you think is best, and why.
  3. Is death annihilation? Explain the arguments of Epicurus and of Hume for why death is annihilation, the arguments of Clarke for why there is an afterlife, and how Hume criticizes those arguments. Then do one of the following: (1) Evaluate Epicurus' arguments, explaining why you find cogent or not. (2) Evaluate one of Clarke's arguments and Hume's objection to it, explaining which you find more convincing and why.
  4. 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?
  5. 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 levelled against that position by one of the two other philosophers, and why you think that that objection does not succeed.
Return to the Great Questions of Philosophy page.