Assignments

Guidelines for Papers

  1. All papers should be neatly typed. Be sure to include your name on your paper. For safety, keep copies of your papers. Please number your pages. Papers should be turned in at the time and date indicated on the syllabus and on the paper topics.
  2. All papers should be within the length guidelines specified. If you have more to say than you can fit within the page limits, pare down your discussion: make sure you have stayed on topic, focus your discussion on the most important points for your argument. However, note that because this is a HASS-D course, you must write a total of 20 pages over the course of the term.
  3. Essay topics must be taken from the list distributed in class, and your paper should be on one topic only. Stick closely to the topic; be sure you address the question asked. On some occasions your TA may approve an alternative paper topic. If you are interested in writing on a topic of your own, speak to your TA well in advance of the paper deadline.
  4. If you wish to attribute a position to a philosopher we have discussed, be sure to check that the text supports your attribution. On controversial points you should cite textual evidence, e.g., by quotation, or by giving the line numbers of relevant texts in parentheses. It is imperative that you indicate when you are quoting or paraphrasing an author, and when you do you must cite references to the original text. Failure to do so counts as plagiarism and will be handled accordingly. However, points made in lecture or in class handouts are “common property” for students in this class and may be relied upon in your papers without citation. (More on plagiarism, see below.)
  5. Although quotes are helpful, please keep quotation to a minimum. The paper should be, by in large, in your own words.
  6. You do not need to consult additional secondary sources. If you do, this must be acknowledged in the paper. If you quote or paraphrase a secondary source, this must be attributed to the author; if you relied on texts in your preparation which were not assigned in class, include reference to them in a bibliography at the end of the paper (even if you don’t quote from them). (More on plagiarism, see below.)
  7. Papers are due at the date and time specified. After that time papers will be considered late and will be penalized. If you foresee special difficulties with the deadline, speak to the instructor well in advance.

Plagiarism

To put it bluntly, plagiarism is theft and fraud–it is the theft of someone else’s ideas, words, approach, and phrasing; it’s fraud because the writer is trying to profit (a grade) by claiming as his/her own someone else’s work.

Plagiarism results in a zero for the work submitted, so it’s crucial to understand the concept. Just as scientists demand complete and accurate information about experiments so that they duplicate and check those experiments, so scholars and readers demand complete information so they can check your use of sources and accuracy in reporting what others said. In all academic writing, then, you must give complete citations (e.g., author, title, source, page) each time you use someone else’s ideas, words, phrasing, or unusual information. An insidious form of plagiarism is the “patchwork paper”–some words and ideas taken from source A are stitched together with words and ideas from source B and source C and….

Your essays should be your own work, although you are encouraged to seek writing advice from the Writing and Communication Center. If there is any question about whether the student’s paper is his or her own work, TA’s have been directed to bring the paper directly to the professor. Every effort will be made to determine whether the paper is plagiarized. This is an attempt to be fair to the teachers and the other students in the course.

There are 4 guidelines for using sources in your essays:

  • There is never a good reason to paraphrase a source–either summarize it in your own words or quote it exactly (citing the source in either case).
  • When you quote, quote exactly, use quotation marks, and cite the source.
  • When you use information that might not be considered common knowledge, cite the source.
  • When in doubt about whether or not to give a citation, always give a citation.

Additional Information

Citing and Using Sources

Topics for the First Paper

Write a short essay of 4-5 pages (1200-1500 words) on one of the following topics. Papers are due 2 days after Lecture 10. You may hand in your paper (note that the office closes at 5pm!), or email it to me, preferably as a Word attachment. In writing your papers, please attend to the guidelines handed out in lecture. Students may write on a topic of their own design if it is submitted in writing and approved in advance.

  1. In the Apology, Socrates maintains that if the jury were to let him off on the condition that he stop philosophizing, he would nevertheless disobey the order and continue philosophizing (e.g., 29d2-4). In the Crito, however, Socrates claims,     

    Is your wisdom such as not to realize that your country is to be honored more than your mother, your father, and all your ancestors…? You must either persuade it or obey its orders, and endure in silence whatever it instructs you to endure, whether blows or bonds, and if it leads you into war to be wounded or killed, you must obey. To do so is right… (51a6-6)     

    Is there a contradiction between the position Socrates defends in the Apology and the one he defends in the Crito? Is it possible to reconcile the two views? If so, explain how. If not, how do you explain Socrates’ apparent willingness to contradict himself? Would Socrates have behaved justly if he had continued to philosophize against the order of the court?

  2. At several points in the dialogues Socrates suggests that it is not possible to harm a good person. E.g., he says in the Apology, “…keep this one truth in mind, that a good man cannot be harmed either in life or in death. (41c8-d1, also 30c7-d5) Explain Socrates’ reasons for this surprising claim. Do you agree? Why or why not?

  3. In the Euthyphro, Socrates asks the question “what is piety?”. Euthyphro’s proposes that the pious is what is dear to the gods (7a1). Discuss Socrates’ arguments against this answer. In doing so, indicate what requirements Socrates places on definition, and how Euthyphro’s answer fails to meet these requirements.

  4. In the Meno, Socrates develops his doctrine of recollection at least in part as a response to the paradox of inquiry. What is the paradox of inquiry? What is the doctrine of recollection? Does the doctrine of recollection solve the problem posed by the paradox of inquiry? Can you offer a better solution?

  5. In the Meno, there is a passage that begins and ends as follows: 77c: Socrates: Do you not think, my good man, that all men desire good things? Meno: I do not… 78b: Meno: You are probably right, Socrates, and no one wants what is bad.    
    By what steps does Socrates persuade Meno to change his mind between 77c and 78b? Do you agree with the conclusion? If not, what do you think is wrong with the argument?

  6. In the Phaedo, Simmias argues that the soul might be like a harmony, something invisible and without body, yet dependent on an instrument such as a lyre, just as our soul is dependent on our body. He continues,     

    If then the soul is a kind of harmony or attunement, clearly, when our body is relaxed or stretched without due measure by diseases and other evils, the soul must immediately be destroyed, even if it be most divine, as are the other harmonies found in music and all the works of artists, and the remains of each body last for a long time until they rot or are burned. Consider what we shall say in answer to one who deems the soul to be a mixture of bodily elements and to be the first to perish in the process we call death. (86c2-d2)     

    What arguments does Socrates provide in response to this challenge? Is he able to establish in the Phaedo, contrary to Simmias’s suggestion, that the soul is not like a harmony “the first to perish”, but is immortal? Critically evaluate Socrates’ response; is there something Simmias might have said in response? Do you find Socrates’ arguments convincing? Why or why not?

Topics for Second Paper

Write a 5-7 page (1500-2100 word) paper on one of the following topics. Papers are due 2 days after Lecture 18 (you may email it to me). 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. Remember that as an interpreter it is your responsibility to show Plato’s ideas in their strongest and most plausible form, while remaining true to the text.

  1. In Book II of the Republic, Glaucon uses the story of Gyges (359c-360b) to take up the challenges presented by Thrasymachus in Book I. Glaucon suggests that most would take the story to show that,     

    [O]ne is never just willingly but only when compelled to be. No one believes justice to be a good when it is kept private, since, wherever either person thinks he can do injustice with impunity, he does it. Indeed, every man believes that injustice is far more profitable to himself than justice.” (360c4-8).     

    Over the course of the Republic, however, Socrates undertakes to defend the view that injustice is not more profitable than justice, and that justice is good both for its own sake and for its consequences. What is Socrates’ argument? Does it convincingly show that a person with Gyges’ ring would benefit more from behaving justly than behaving unjustly?

  2. Explain and discuss Plato’s argument for the division of the soul into three parts (Republic 434d-441c). Do you find his arguments convincing? Considering his theory of the tripartite soul, discuss one of the following two questions:     

    • Does his division of the soul into three parts enable Plato to solve the problem of weakness of will (akrasia), i.e., to show how weakness of will is possible?
    • How does Plato’s division of the soul into three parts fit into the broader argument of the Republic for the conclusion that justice is an essential component of the happy (human) life? (If it were to turn out that the soul is incomposite, would that undermine the broader argument?)
  3. In the Republic, Plato sketches a state employing carefully controlled media, restrictions on private property, with a rigid social hierarchy justified by a “noble lie” (414d-415d). This is in stark contrast to what many of us would regard as the most just state. Explain and evaluate Plato’s arguments for thinking that an ideally just state would require such restrictions. (You may choose to focus on either censorship, property, or the “noble lie”, though your discussion should address the broader issues which Plato thinks justifies the whole range of restrictions.) Would his “Republic” promote the happiness of all of its citizens? Do you think that a more democratic state (such as ours) is better equipped to promote the happiness of its citizens? Why or why not?

  4. State and explain the premises of the “Third Man Argument”, showing how each premise plays a role in the theory of Forms. Then show how the premises generate an infinite regress. Should Plato take this to be a refutation of his theory of Forms? Are there assumptions underlying the argument which Plato could reject to save his theory? What assumptions of the argument would Aristotle reject, and on what grounds? What response to the argument do you find most reasonable, and why?

  5. Aristotle believes that something’s nature will enable us to explain its regular behavior, i.e., its characteristic activities and natural changes. In Physics II, Aristotle suggests that some are tempted to think that something’s nature is its matter. E.g., he says,     

    Some people think that the nature and reality of a thing which is due to nature is the primary constituent present in it, something unformed in itself. Thus in a bed it would be the wood, in a statue the bronze. (193a9-11)     

    Although Aristotle is willing to acknowledge that something’s nature may include both matter and form (see 199a31-33), he believes that form “has a better claim than the matter” to count as something’s nature (see 193b8). Explain Aristotle’s reasons for rejecting the proposal that something’s matter has the best claim to being its nature, and explain why he thinks that form is a better candidate. Note that in offering your explanation it will be important to explicate Aristotle’s doctrine of four causes, and his views on the roles of matter and form in explanation. Do you think Aristotle is right that form has the better claim to being something’s nature?

  6. In discussing the nature of the soul in De Anima II: 1, Aristotle claims:     

    Being awake, then, is <a second> actuality, corresponding to cutting or seeing. The soul is <a first> actuality, corresponding to <the faculty of> sight and to the potentiality of the instrument <to cut>; and the body is potentially this…It is clear, then, that the soul is not separable from the body.     

    What does Aristotle mean in claiming that the soul is the “first actuality” of the body? On this account, is the soul separable from the body? Why or why not? (It may be useful to compare this account of the soul with the view Plato presents in the Phaedo.) Suppose a materialist is someone who believes that all that exists is material objects and their material properties. Would Aristotle’s account of the soul be compatible with materialism? (Note that you may have to clarify for your purposes what you will mean by “material”.)

Students may write on a topic of their own if it is approved by the instructor in advance.

Topics for Third Paper

Write a 5-7 page (1500-2100 word) paper on one of the following topics. Papers are due 2 days after Lecture 26 (you may email it to me). 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. Remember that as an interpreter it is your responsibility to show the author’s ideas in their strongest and most plausible form, while remaining true to the text.

If you did not write on one of these two topics from the second set of paper topics, you may write on one of them for your third paper:

  1. Aristotle believes that something’s nature will enable us to explain its regular behavior, i.e., its characteristic activities and natural changes. In Physics II, Aristotle suggests that some are tempted to think that something’s nature is its matter. E.g., he says,     

    Some people think that the nature and reality of a thing which is due to nature is the primary constituent present in it, something unformed in itself. Thus in a bed it would be the wood, in a statue the bronze. (193a9-11)     

    Although Aristotle is willing to acknowledge that something’s nature may include both matter and form (see 199a31-33), he believes that form “has a better claim than the matter” to count as something’s nature (see 193b8). Explain Aristotle’s reasons for rejecting the proposal that something’s matter has the best claim to being its nature, and explain why he thinks that form is a better candidate. Note that in offering your explanation it will be important to explicate Aristotle’s doctrine of four causes, and his views on the roles of matter and form in explanation. Do you think Aristotle is right that form has the better claim to being something’s nature?

  2. In discussing the nature of the soul in De Anima II: 1, Aristotle claims:     

    Being awake, then, is <a second> actuality, corresponding to cutting or seeing. The soul is <a first> actuality, corresponding to <the faculty of> sight and to the potentiality of the instrument <to cut>; and the body is potentially this…It is clear, then, that the soul is not separable from the body.     

    What does Aristotle mean in claiming that the soul is the “first actuality” of the body? On this account, is the soul separable from the body? Why or why not? (It may be useful to compare this account of the soul with the view Plato presents in the _Phaedo.) Suppose a materialist is someone who believes that all that exists is material objects and their material properties. Would Aristotle’s account of the soul be compatible with materialism? (Note that you may have to clarify for your purposes what you will mean by “material”.) OR, you may write on one of the following:

  3. Like Socrates and Plato before him, Aristotle believes that the happy life is the life of virtue. Aristotle maintains that happiness, i.e., human good, “turns out to be activity of the soul in conformity with excellence, and if there are more than one excellence, in conformity with the best and most complete”. (NE I:7 1098a16-18) What does Aristotle mean by this, and what reasons does he offer for this conclusion? Do you find his reasons convincing? Does it follow from this view that the life of contemplation is the best and most virtuous life for humans?

  4. Aristotle clearly believes that one cannot be taught virtue, or excellence, simply through a course of philosophical study. Eg., he says,     

    It is well said, then, that it is by doing just acts that the just man is produced, and by doing temperate acts the temperate man; without doing these no one would have even a prospect of becoming good. But most people do not do these, but take refuge in theory and think they are being philosophers and will become good in this way…[but they] will not be made well in soul by such a course of philosophy. (1105b8-18)   

    Explicate Aristotle’s definition of excellence (see 1106b36-1107a2), explaining why he thinks that one cannot learn to be virtuous simply through philosophical inquiry. On his view, how do we become excellent and virtuous? If philosophical study is not a method for becoming virtuous, why does he write the Nicomachean Ethics, ie., what is its point? Indicate the strengths and weaknesses of Aristotle’s position. (Note that it may be helpful to consider Aristotle’s position in light of Socrates’ view that philosophy is morally therapeutic.)

  5. According to the Epicureans, atoms are: (1) unchangeable and indivisible, (2) eternal, (3) continuously moving, and (4) have shape and weight but no color; moreover, some of them also “swerve” (e.g., On the Nature of the Universe, Bk 2). Present the arguments supporting the attribution of each of these characteristics to the atoms, indicating the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments. Given that the Epicureans believed that experience is the foundation for all knowledge, can they consistently claim that we know that there are atoms (and that they have features (1-4)), even if we don’t experience them? Why or why not?

  6. Plato in the Phaedo and Lucretius in the On the Nature of the Universe, (Bk 3) each claim that we should not fear death, though they believe this for different reasons. Compare and contrast their views on death and the arguments for them. Do you find either of their views plausible? Why or why not?

Students may write on a topic of their own if it is approved by the instructor in advance.

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