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Philosophy Paper !

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1) In Plato’s Crito, Socrates puts forth the position that one should never return a wrong with a wrong. He argues that his escape from the prison in Athens would be returning a wrong with a wrong, and so he decides to stay. Do you agree with Socrates that retaliation is always wrong? Be sure to explain his reasoning and your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing. If you disagree with Socrates, then explain when/where/why revenge or retaliation is ever permissible. If you agree, then explain how you would respond to a critic who thinks that “an eye for an eye” is a just, fair policy.

2) One of the reasons Socrates gives for not escaping from prison is that it would be a violation of the law. Is Socrates correct in holding such a rigid position when it comes to following the law? Are there times when breaking the law is morally permissible? If you think the answer is yes, then provide at least one example of when it would be permitted and explain why it would be permitted. If you agree with Socrates and think that one should never break the law, then explain how one should handle a situation where the law is in conflict with one’s sense of morality.

3) Kant claims that a good will is “good without qualification”–that it is good regardless of the results of its actions. J.S. Mill, a Utilitarian philosopher who we did not cover, seems quite opposed to this idea and focuses primarily on consequences in his moral assessments (Aristotle takes a similar stance). Who do you think is correct? Should we only consider an agent’s intentions when making moral judgments, as Kant suggests? Or are results just as (or more) important? For example, can we praise somebody whose actions constantly fail to produce good results so long as they have good intentions? How far can we take this? What is more important in our moral assessments: intentions or consequences? Pick a side and defend.

4) Imagine that you are an astronaut working on the international space station and that an alien spacecraft makes contact with you. The aliens want to destroy all life on Earth but are willing to listen to your pleas. If you are able to convince them with an argument, then they will spare all life on Earth. Pick one of the philosophers we have covered this semester and write and argument to the aliens which utilizes the views of the philosopher you have chosen.

5) Imagine that you are in a crowded market in India, and you see an assassin heading straight for Gandhi with a pistol in his hand. You happen to be armed with a rifle and have a very clear shot of the assassin’s head. Also, assume that you are an excellent marksman (or woman) and that there is no chance of harming any innocent bystanders (also no chance of pinning the assassin down before he takes his shot or of injuring him non-fatally). What do you do? Would you shoot the assassin? Would you jump into the path of the bullet? Or would you just stand by and watch? What is the right thing to do?

6) Was Nietzsche correct when he said that “God is dead?” (We discussed what he meant by this in class). In other words, do you feel that faith/religion/spirituality no longer plays the prominent role it once did in society as a whole and in the everyday lives of individuals? If this is the case, then has another “God” replaced the old one? Also, is it possible to find meaning and value in a universe without “God” (in Nietzsche’s sense of the word—God as a guiding, universal doctrine/principle that transcends our temporal existence)? Or is Sartre correct to claim that “without God, everything is permitted”? Explain.

7) In Sartre’s lecture “Existentialism is a Humanism” he makes the claim that humans are endowed with a radical freedom – that man is “condemned to be free.” Are we as radically free as Sartre claims? Or are there certain limits to freedom that Sartre fails to mention? Simone de Beauvoir explains that women and certain minorities have limits to their freedom which Sartre failed to explore. Is she right? (Do not forget that Sartre mentions two limits to our freedom: (1) facticity and (2) other freedoms.)

8) At the beginning of the second reading of de Beauvoir’s (Ch. 3 from her Ethics of Ambiguity), she makes a qualified critique of technology. She says that if it attempts to make up for the “lack” which is at “the very heart of existence, it fails radically, but it escapes all criticism” if through it there is “an opening of ever new possibilities for man.” What does she mean by this? What forms of technology would she approve of, and which ones would she condemn? You can focus on one particular form of technology if you like (the internet, cell phones, etc.). Does this form of technology attempt to “make up for a lack at the heart of being” or does it “open up new possibilities for man”? What do you think she would say about it? Do you agree with this critique? Why or why not?

9) How does Aristotle define happiness? How does he distinguish his definition of happiness from other possible definitions? How do you understand the term “happiness”, and how is your understanding of happiness different from Aristotle’s conception? Do you think that Aristotle’s usage of the word is different from (or similar to) the way in which “happiness” is typically used in our culture today? Explain. Do you think that Aristotle’s conception of happiness and virtue is still relevant, possible, or even desirable in today’s world? Why, or why not?

10) Imagine that a ship is sinking and that the seas are very rough. All but one lifeboat has been destroyed. The lifeboat holds a maximum of six people. There are ten people that want to board the lifeboat. The four individuals who do not board the boat will certainly die. The ten people are made up of one woman who thinks she is six weeks pregnant, one lifeguard, two young adults who recently married, one senior citizen who has fifteen grandchildren, one elementary school teacher, two thirteen-year-old twins, one veteran, one nurse, and the captain of the ship. What should be done in this situation? Who should be saved, and why? Assume that there is NO WAY for all of them to survive and that at the very least there will be four people who will NOT survive. Pick at least one philosopher we have studied this semester, and explain how they might address these questions. What do YOU think should be done? Why?

Paper Instructions:

1. INTRODUCTION: In the first paragraph, you’ll mention a specific issue or topic that you’ll be focusing on. Then you’ll mention two possible responses to this issue. Not too much detail here, just

the basics are necessary. Most importantly, you need to clearly state your thesis. Something along the

lines of: “My contention is that Philosopher Y’s theory is far superior in dealing with issue Z to that of Philosopher X, and in what follows I will demonstrate why.” You may also mention briefly the

possible objection(s) that you’ll be dealing with. 

2. INTRODUCTION (CONT – optional): Briefly elaborate on the specific philosophical issue you’ll be dealing with (if necessary).

3. THE OPPOSITION: After the Introduction, you need to explain the viewpoint that you’ll eventually be opposing. Be sure to give it a fair hearing, and don’t make it sound weaker than it

actually is (don’t build a “straw man”). Be sure to point out at least some of the benefits of such a


4. YOUR CRITIQUE AND SOLUTION: After explaining the view of the opposition, it’s time to attack. Point out flaws in the opponent’s theory and explain how the theory that you are supporting effectively deals with these problems. Be sure to fully articulate and express your position before you do this.

5. OBJECTION – REPLY: Now it’s time to respond to at least one possible objection. Are there

any flaws that an opponent might find in your position? Think of at least one and present an effective response to it. This section, along with your thesis statement, is probably one of the most important elements of your essay.

6. CONCLUDING REMARKS: Once you have explained your topic, clearly articulated your

opponent’s position and your own, and responded to at least one objection to your position, now it’s time to quickly wrap things up. Provide a short re-cap. Something along the lines of: “Above I have shown that Philosopher X’s position regarding issue Z is far superior to that of Philosopher Y, and despite objection W, Philosopher X’s theory is still intact.” Optional: You may also want to use this section to acknowledge some unanswered questions or further issues that need to be explored in light of your position.

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