This section includes topics for both essay assignments as well as a short exercise and its sample answer.

First Essay Topics

Deadline for drafts: Ses #18
Deadline for final essay: Ses #14

  1. 'The proper problem of pure reason is contained in the question: How are a priori synthetic judgments possible?' (B19) What does Kant mean by this question, and why does it present a problem? Evaluate Kant's proposed solution to the problem in the Critique of Pure Reason.
  2. What, in your view, is the chief strength of Kant's theory of space, and what is its chief weakness? In your answer you should evaluate at least one of Kant's arguments in the Transcendental Aesthetic (other than the passage set for the Short Exercise). You should make clear exactly which argument you are discussing.
  3. In the Second Analogy of the Critique, Kant argues that we must apply the category of causality to experience. Explain and evaluate his argument. To what extent, if any, does Kant provide a reply to the sceptic about causality?

Second Essay Topics

Deadline for final essay: Ses #23
Last deadline for (optional) drafts: 11.00 a.m., one day before Ses #21

  1. What, in your opinion, is the most plausible interpretation of Kant's distinction between phenomena and things in themselves? Compare this interpretation to at least one alternative, assessing their comparative strengths on textual and philosophical grounds.
  2. Why does Kant attempt to 'refute' idealism, when he is happy to describe himself as a kind of idealist? Explain and evaluate at least one of his 'refutations of idealism' in the Critique of Pure Reason. (You may also draw upon other texts, such as the Prolegomena, if you wish.)
  3. Describe Kant's account of matter. What are its merits and disadvantages, as a philosophical account, and as a serious physical theory?
  4. A topic of your choice, arising from the course, with approval from the course-giver. If you wish to take this option, make sure it is confirmed and approved by Ses #18.


You are not required to submit a draft for the final essay, but I am happy to give comments on drafts, and indeed I thoroughly recommend, for your own benefit, that you submit one. If you do, please let me have it before 11.00 a.m., one day before Ses #21.

Short Exercise

Due Date: in Ses #6

"Space is a necessary representation, a priori, which is the ground of all outer intuitions. One can never represent that there is no space, although one can very well think that there are no objects to be encountered in it. It is therefore to be regarded as the condition of the possibility of appearances, not as a determination dependent on them, and is an a priori representation that necessarily grounds outer appearances." (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A24/B39, Guyer and Wood translation)

Same passage, different translation:

"Space is a necessary a priori representation, which underlies all outer intuitions. We can never represent to ourselves the absence of space, though we can quite well think it as empty of objects. It must therefore be regarded as the condition of the possibility of appearances, and not as a determination dependent upon them. It is an a priori representation, which necessarily underlies outer appearances." (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A24/B39, Kemp Smith translation)

Choosing one or the other of the above translations, write 2 pages providing an analysis of the passage. See if you can find a way to put the argument in the form of numbered premises, and conclusion. Feel free to use your own wording. You may not need to use every part of the passage in reconstructing the argument; and you may need to supply a premise, or a conclusion, that is not explicitly stated. Note that there may be may be more than one defensible interpretation. After stating the argument, briefly explain it in your own words, and comment on its cogency. Which premises are true or plausible, which false or implausible? Is the inference, as you've described it, a valid one?
It may be useful to consult the general philosophy resources in the related resources section, in particular Jim Pryor's helpful advice about how to read philosophy, and write a philosophy paper.

Short Exercise Sample Answer (PDF)