For students taking PHIL 471, two papers are required. Papers should range between 4-6 double spaced pages (1200-2000 words). Some latitude is allowed here, but less than three pages is unlikely to be enough to answer any of questions raised below. Similarly, you shouldn’t need much more than six pages to answer the prompt satisfactorily. Email me a copy of the paper by the due date. Papers should be in .docx format. Please include “PHIL 471 Paper #” in the subject line.

I expect papers to be:

  1. Clear: Write in short and complete sentences. Where possible, sacrifice elegance in favor of clarity. Signpost heavily. Avoid needless generality.
  2. Arguments: Your paper should have a thesis for which it argues. Autobiographical reportage should be kept to a minimum. Present reasons for your position, and present counterarguments where relevant.
  3. Appropriately Sourced: To the extent that you consult secondary sources (you are free to do so but not required) you must document them in a bibliography. This means any sources you consulted, not just what you explicitly quote. I also expect you to make appropriate use of the primary sources relevant to your discussion (e.g. Descartes’s Meditations, or Locke’s Essay). When referring to a figure’s ideas, cite the relevant area of the text in which this idea is expressed or referred to.

Paper 1 (Due 10/17)

  1. Descartes’s ‘cogito‘ argument aims at demonstrating at least the following two claims: (i) that the Meditator exists; (ii) the nature of the Mediator is that of a thinking thing. Is Descartes successful here? Why/Why not? You might discuss at least the ‘Lichtenburg’ objection, and the ‘Substance Theory’ proposal as outlined in the class notes.
  2. Descartes’s justification for the reliability of C&D ideas appears, on its face, circular. Explain the problem and discuss whether there is a “Cartesian circle” present in Descartes’s work. If there is, is there a way out for Descartes?
  3. Explain Locke’s criticism of our knowledge of essences. What is the difference between real essence and nominal essence? What role does each notion play in Locke’s account of knowledge?
  4. Explain Descartes’s and Locke’s differing views concerning the possibility of a science of nature. What reason do we have to favor one position over the other?

Paper 2 (Due 12/5)

  1. Leibniz is highly critical of the prevailing theory of matter of his time. Explain his critical arguments. Are they convincing? If not then explain why. If they are, explain why, and discuss the structure of his idealist theory in the Monadology. Is his positive position convincing?
  2. Explain Hume’s criticism of the concept <cause>. What is his positive proposal? Are his criticisms and positive proposal convincing?
  3. Explain Kant’s conception of the synthetic a priori. What examples are there of such knowledge. Are these examples convincing?
  4. Explain Kant’s defense of the concept <cause>. Does Kant provide a convincing reply to Hume’s criticisms?


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