First Paper Topics
Write a 7-8 page paper on one of the following topics. The paper will count for 25% of your final grade. Be sure that your paper has a clear and comprehensible thesis; that it contains arguments for that thesis; and that it anticipates and responds to likely criticisms. Papers are due six days after lecture 9, by email or via the course website, whichever you prefer.
- Explain the problem of natural classes. Compare Armstrong's and Lewis's solutions to the problem. What do you think is Armstrong's strongest argument against Lewis, and vice versa? Which position do you prefer, and why?
- Explain and evaluate one of Lewis's attempts to apply the natural/unnatural distinction to an outstanding philosophical problem. Your choices are the problem of (i) characterizing intrinsic properties, (ii) specifying which generalizations are laws, and (iii) formulating a materialist worldview.
- Should we agree with Meinong that there are objects which do not exist, but have instead some lesser sort of being? Is Parsons right that consideration of "lifelike conversations" suggests that we talk as though we agree with him? Can you think of "lifelike conversations" in which we don't talk this way? What does the way we talk have to do with the truth of Meinong's view? What are some of the principal objections to Meinongianism? Are there problems, for instance, with the distinction between nuclear and extranuclear predicates? Do you agree with Russell that Meinongians lack that "robust sense of reality" which is crucial even in the most abstract studies?
- Explain Russell's theory of definite descriptions as "incomplete symbols." How is the theory supposed to help with the problem of nonbeing? How does Russell propose to deal with existence claims and nonexistence involving names? Is his solution plausible? Does Meinong have an advantage over Russell when it comes to other claims about nonexistents, e. g., "Pegasus is a mythical horse," "Real detectives are not as smart as fictional ones like Sherlock Holmes." Whose view do you find more plausible, and why?
- "To be is to be the value of a bound variable." How according to Quine should we decide what there is? What results do you think Quine's method is likely to deliver? Will a Quinean believe in numbers, for instance? What about properties, or meanings? Do you think the Quinean method is the right one? Why or why not?
- Carnap says that philosophical existence-claims are neither true nor false, but rather avowals of one's acceptance of a linguistic framework. See what you can do to clarify this (surprising) claim. What evidence can be offered in its support? What considerations does Quine advance against it? Who do you think is right?
Final Paper Topics
Write a 10-12 page paper on one of the following topics. Papers to be submitted six days after lecture 24, by email.
- Explain Mackie's INUS theory of causation, paying special attention to the notion of a causal field. What kinds of objections would Mackie be open to if causal fields had been left out? More generally, what kinds of help are they supposed to provide? Do causal fields function as advertised?
- One can think of Mackie's INUS theory as a sophisticated form of the "nomic" or "regularity" approach. A supposed advantage of Lewis's counterfactual theory is the way it deals with the problem of effects and the problem of epiphenomena; these are closely related to what Mackie calls the problem of causal priority. What is this problem and what do you think of Mackie's and Lewis's responses?
- Another crucial problem for causal theories is that of preemption. Explain Lewis's approach in terms of dependency chains (441-2). Explain Mackie's in terms of necessity post factum or after the fact (418-9). Does either strategy offer advantages over the other?
- Kripke claims that one can't explain away the apparent contingency of "pain = c-fiber firings" the way one explains away the illusion that "water = H2O" is contingent? Why is his argument for this claim? Is he right? If not, where does his argument go wrong? If so, has he succeeded in establishing dualism: the view that pains are one thing, c-fiber firings another?
- Discuss the role of "exceptions" in Fodor's analysis. Is he right that special science laws are bound to have exceptions? What form do they take, then? All Fs are Gs other things equal? Some would say that this trivializes the laws; they cannot be falsified because we respond to counterexamples by saying that other things weren't equal. Others would say that "other things equal" laws can be highly significant. Who is right?
- Fodor claims that we can have token physicalism without type physicalism. What are these two varieties of physicalism? Is he right that we can have the one without the other? Why would that be desirable? What would Kim say about this claim of Fodor's? Who do you think is right, and why?
- Does Kim think that the example of jade shows that all multiply realized kinds are disjunctive and so unnatural? Do you? If all are unnatural, then what are we to make of multiply realized kinds in physics, for instance, energy, electromagnetic force, damped harmonic oscillator? If on the other hand not all multiply realized kinds are unnatural, what does this do to Kim's argument? Could pain be a multiply realized natural kind?
Examples of Student Work
Student work appears courtesy of the author and is used with permission.
Kate Stafford - The Structure of Carnap’s Linguistic Frameworks (PDF)