Possible Essay Questions for the Final Exam
Philosophy of Religion, Spring 2017

The final exam will be Tuesday April 25 at 10:45 a.m. in the classroom. 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 since the second exam, even that which isn't part of the essays. Please make sure to 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 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. If death is annihilation, is it bad? Imagine that I leave the classroom after the final exam, and I'm hit by a car on my bike and instantly killed. Explain the arguments that Epicurus and Lucretius give for why my death isn't bad for me, and why we shouldn't fear death. 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 either) do you find most convincing, and why?
  2. Feinberg on posthumous harm. Imagine that that my (supposed) friend has promised me that he'll take care of my children after I die, managing the trust that I have set up for that purpose. But after I'm killed after the final exam, he steals all of the money, and my children suffer great hardship as a result. Explain Feinberg's arguments for how my friend's action harm me, and how they're supposed to respond to the Epicurean arguments. Whose position (if either) do you find most convincing, and why?
  3. Inclusivism and pluralism. According to the Dalai Lama, in what sense can there be 'integration' between differing religions, such asa Buddhism and Christianity, and in what sense can't there be? Why does he think this? How does this compare to what Rahner says about 'anonymous Christians' (as discussed in class)? How does Hick criticize the 'inclusivist' position? According to Hick, what do (almost) all religions have in common? And how can competing religions, with apparently inconsistent claims, all be true? Then do ONE of the following: (1) Evaluate Hick's criticisms of inclusivism. (2) Do you think Hick is right that apparently inconsistent religions can all be true? Why or why not?
  4. Plantinga vs. Hick Plantinga argues that it is not self-servingly arbitrary or arrogant for a religious believer to think that his beliefs are true and those of others (when they are inconsistent with his) are false. He also thinks that pluralists (like Hick) who charge the exclusivist with being arrogant refute themselves. Explain his reasons for thinking this. Plantinga also thinks that the (supposed) fact that I would have had different religious beliefs than I do if I had been born elsewhere is no grounds for thinking that my beliefs are unjustified. Explain his reasons for thinking this. Do you agree with Plantinga? Why, or why not?
  5. Omnipotence. Anselm, Aquinas, and Geach all think that God cannot do the following: (i) Create a square circle, (ii) change the past. Explain their reasons for thinking this. Geach also thinks that God cannot (iii) create an artifact he cannot destroy or (iv) do anything wicked. Explain his reasons for thinking this, and for why we should say that God is 'almighty' rather than 'omnipotent.' Finally, do one of the following two things: (1) evaluate whether you agree with the arguments in one of cases (i) - (iv), (2) agree with Geach that we should say that God is 'almighty' rather than 'omnipotent.'
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