Exam Study Questions

  1. What was Locke's theory of personal identity (as presented in class)? What was Reid's objection to it (as presented in class)? What was Butler's objection (according to Parfit's first interpretation in section 80 of Reasons and Persons)? How can the theory be fixed to avoid these problems? Explain how the case of someone who suffers from total amnesia presents a problem for the revised theory. Is there a fix? Is any kind of neo-Lockean theory of personal identity plausible?
  2. The "people photocopier" produces one exact duplicate of the person who walks into it, instantly and painlessly destroying the original in the process (so you do not survive walking into the people photocopier). According to some theories of personal identity, there could not be a people photocopier: if the copier produces one exact duplicate, then the original person was not destroyed--she is the duplicate. Explain what these theories are (hint: consider some different candidates for Parfit's "relation R"). Are they all false, or is one true? Suppose that there is a people photocopier, and that your dear friend could be copied in her sleep without her knowledge, the duplicate receiving some great reward. It's your call: do you allow you friend to be copied (without consulting her) or not? Why or why not?
  3. According to Parfit, "personal identity is not what matters" (p. 255). What does Parfit mean by this? Is he right that I would not survive a successful "double brain transplant" in which half of my brain goes into body A and half into body B? Why or why not? Is he right that I would survive an unsuccessful "double brain transplant" in which the half of my brain intended for body B is instead accidentally crushed? Why or why not? Is he right that I would have reason to prefer the second outcome, if personal identity mattered? Why or why not? Do you agree with Parfit that the second outcome is not intrinsically preferable? What do you conclude from all this?
  4. Assuming that identity indeed does not matter, how should our attitudes change? Should we be less concerned about our own deaths? Should we withdraw our support from medical research aimed at prolonging human life? What other changes are indicated?
  5. Thomson says that a fact is "operative" relative to a given effect if it helps to explain that effect. According to Thomson, are moral facts ever "operative" relative to non-moral facts? Does Sturgeon agree? Who do you think is correct, and why? How does your answer bear on the possibility of moral knowledge?
  6. What is emotivism? What does the emotivist think we are doing when we call an outcome bad or an action wrong? Set out what in your opinion is the strongest argument for emotivism, and the strongest argument against. Which do you find more convincing? Why?
  7. People disagree on the question of whether abortion is morally permissible. Yet the dispute appears intractable: the arguments advanced by each side rarely (if ever) persuade anyone to change his or her mind, let alone resolve the issue. What are some possible explanations for this? What is the relativist's explanation? Why aren't there similarly intractable disagreements about velocity if, as Harman says, moral claims resemble velocity claims in being relative to a particular point of view?
  8. What is the difference between Popper's "deductivism," also known as "falsificationism," and the usual "inductivist" view of science? What are the advantages Popper sees for his own proposal? What are some of the disadvantages that Putnam sees? Which view do you think is more plausible, deductivism or inductivism? Why?
  9. Kuhn thinks that debates over paradigm choice are characterized by "an incompleteness of logical contact." He says in a similar vein that "Schools guided by different paradigms are always slightly at cross purposes." What are some of the specific obstacles Kuhn sees to direct debate about the relative merits of old and new paradigms? Do corresponding problems ever arise outside of science? Try to explain the kinds of obstacle Kuhn has in mind in your own words, using examples from science and ordinary life. How in practice do people attempt to work around these obstacles?
  10. "What does Kuhn mean when he says that (i) "[t]he transfer of allegiance from paradigm to paradigm is a conversion experience that cannot be forced," and (ii) "[i]nsofar as he is engaged in normal science, the research worker is a solver of puzzles, not a tester of paradigms"? Elaborate on these claims. Do you think they are plausible? Why or why not? Suppose claims (i) and (ii) are correct. Should we conclude that a new scientific theory is not a more faithful or accurate representation of the world than the theory it replaces?


Week 15 (but don't take my word for it, check the schedule).

The exam is open book, closed notes, and will consist of three of these questions, chosen by us.

NB: you will be penalized for answering a question by quoting, or lightly paraphrasing a quotation, from the readings or the handouts. Try to answer in your own words. Good luck!