Are any of our beliefs about the future rational? Is the mind a non-physical substance, a physical substance such as the brain, or neither? Can personal identity be analyzed in terms of memory? Does teleportation preserve personal identity? Is human free will compatible with determinism?
Topic: Choose one of the five topics below. If there is another topic that you would like to write about, please consult your TA.
Length: 1200-1500 words. This is about 4–5 double-spaced pages in 12-point Times New Roman with 1² margins. Please indicate the word count in your paper (Microsoft Word has a “Word Count” feature.) The word count should not include the title or any information extraneous to the body of the paper, such as the word count itself, your name, the date, the name of the course, the instructors’ names, or the bibliography (if you include one).
Sources: At the end of the paper, you must provide a list of “Works Cited”, including all the sources you use in your paper.
Method of submission: The paper must be submitted electronically through Canvas. Save your work in one of the following file formats before uploading it to Canvas:
- Microsoft Word document (.docx or .doc) — preferred
- PDF/Portable Document Format (.pdf)
If you use another format or application to write your paper (such as Google Docs or Pages for Mac), please save your paper in one of the formats above (preferably .docx or .doc) before uploading it to Canvas.
Points: The paper is worth 300 points (out of 1000 for the whole semester).
Lateness penalty: 10 points per day. For example:
Sat 11/17 (any time) –10 points Sun 11/18 –20 points
Mon 11/19 –30 points
Three topics are below, each followed by some suggestions for content. Following the suggestions is not required but is strongly recommended, as it is more likely to result in a good paper.
(1) Are any of our beliefs about the future rational?
This topic is about the riddle of induction, first posed by Hume. Explain why Hume says that inductive beliefs about the future (or anything else) are based on custom or habit, not on reasoning — even the ones we would usually consider to be excellent scientific predictions. Support your explanation with well- chosen (short) quotations. Do you agree with Hume? Why or why not? Describe and evaluate Strawson’s response to the riddle of induction. Does his view allow for the possibility of rational beliefs about the future? Is it a successful solution to the riddle? Can Hume offer a rebuttal to Strawson’s position? Which one, if either, do you side with? Is there another solution to the riddle that you prefer to Hume’s “sceptical solution” and to Strawson’s?
You must include a list of “Works Cited” at the end of your paper. (See below for instructions on how to do this.)
Sources: Use Hume and Strawson from the textbook.
Optional additional source: Of the two other readings in ch. 4, Gilbert Harman’s “The Inference to the Best Explanation” (starts on p. 201) is relevant to this topic.
(2) Is the mind a non-physical substance, a physical substance such as the brain, or neither?
Indicate at the beginning of your paper which view you will defend. In the rest of the paper, give arguments for your view, raise potential objections and defend your view against it, and give arguments against competing views.
Here are some competing theories, discussed in the assigned readings and lectures. (Don’t copy and paste any of the following into your paper!) Of course, it’s fine if you choose to defend a view that’s not described below, as long as it is coherent, clearly stated, plausible, and well-supported.
- Substance dualists think that the mind is a non-physical (immaterial) substance.
- Physicalists disagree about what “the mind” is, or if there is such a thing, but all agree that substance dualists are wrong in saying the mind is a non-physical
- Some physicalists say that the mind is identical to the brain (or the central nervous system); this would be a version of identity
- Some physicalists deny that the mind is a substance at all, whether physical or non- physical. Although there are mental events, and these are physical events of some kind, there is no single entity “the mind” that is the subject of all mental Someone who holds this view might be an identity theorist, a behaviorist, or a functionalist.
- A functionalist who accepts the existence of “the mind” might explain that the mind is not a substance but a Probabilistic Automaton, an idealized program that specifies how mental states are causally connected to each other and to sensory inputs and behavioral outputs. In short: software rather than hardware, so not a
You must include a list of “Works Cited” at the end of your paper. (See below for instructions on how to do this.)
Recommended sources: some or all of the assigned readings on the mind-body problem (Descartes, Elisabeth of Bohemia, Arnauld, Ryle, Smart, Putnam). Some of these might be more relevant than others, depending on which thesis you are defending. You should use at least two, but don’t use any that aren’t directly relevant just for the sake of using them.
Descartes is a substance dualist, and he says the mind is an immaterial substance that causally interacts with physical substances (such as the body). Elisabeth of Bohemia raises the objection: How is this possible? Arnauld objects that Descartes’ argument for substance dualism is not valid. (But these objections tell us very little about what their positive answers to the question would be.)
Ryle attacks substance dualism, and his argument about the “category mistake” supposedly made by substance dualists suggests that he is in the second category of physicalist above: the mind is, if anything, just a collection of mental experiences, not a substance that has those experiences.
Smart is a type identity theorist but does not explicitly say that the mind is identical to the brain (only that mental event types are identical to physical event types). What he says in the reading assigned for class would be compatible both with the view that the mind is identical to the brain (as some identity theorists have argued), and with the view that there is no such substance as the mind.
Similarly, Putnam does not explicitly commit to the existence of a mind, but his view would be consistent with (although it does not require) the functionalist view described above, on which “the mind” is a kind of functional organization, so not a substance.
If you try to describe all of these authors one after another, your paper is not going to be well- organized. Instead, I would recommend structuring your paper in terms of a thesis statement, defense of your thesis (including responses to objections), and some criticisms of opposing views. Your discussion of (some or all of) the authors should arise naturally in the defense and counter-criticism sections.
(3) Can personal identity be analyzed in terms of memory?
Indicate at the beginning of your paper which view you will defend. If you agree with some version of the memory criterion for personal identity, give your preferred version, the one that you will be defending in the paper. If you don’t think memory can be used to analyze personal identity, say so and very briefly indicate why.
In the body of your paper, state your position in more detail, give supporting arguments, and defend it against objections. Does Locke’s analysis of personal identity in terms of memory work? Why or why not? If not, is there a similar version (e.g., using psychological connectedness) that will work? If you don’t think personal identity can be analyzed in terms of memory, you need to defend your position with arguments, but presenting a different positive theory of personal identity would be optional.
You must include a list of “Works Cited” at the end of your paper. (See below for instructions on how to do this.)
Recommended sources: Locke and Parfit especially, and Williams. You should definitely use Locke and Parfit, but Williams may not be as relevant, depending on which thesis you are defending. Don’t use a source that isn’t directly relevant just for the sake of using it.
Locke defends the memory criterion; Parfit says Locke’s original version is implausible but develops a similar view involving psychological connectedness.
Williams tentatively defends the bodily identity criterion instead of any psychological criterion, including memory. If you are defending the memory criterion, you should consider their objections and respond to them. If you are attacking the memory criterion, you may want to use one or the other to do so.
If you try to describe all of these authors one after another, your paper is not going to be well- organized. Instead, I would recommend structuring your paper in terms of a thesis statement, defense of your thesis (including responses to objections), and criticisms of opposing views. Your discussion of the authors should arise naturally within this structure. (Of course, where each author would appear would depend on which view you are defending.)
(4) Does teleportation preserve personal identity?
Indicate at the beginning of the paper what view you will defend. In the body of the paper, briefly describe how teleportation is supposed to work, then answer the question and defend your answer. You might want to consider whether (some or all of) the following factors would affect your answer:
- whether the same matter is used to reconstitute the body at the receiving end
- what happens if the information is accidentally sent to two places simultaneously, resulting in two copies, and whether this affects whether identity is preserved in the single-transmission case [This one is important!]
- whether there is any such thing as personal identity over time, or an enduring self
In order to be able to defend your answer adequately, you will probably need to start by formulating a fairly precise view about what constitutes personal identity, then work out what that view implies about whether teleportation preserves identity. Make sure you offer a defense of the view.
If you can’t commit to a specific theory of personal identity but have definite views about teleportation, try to justify those views and then explain what theories of personal identity would be compatible with them.
Recommended sources: Parfit especially; also Williams and Locke
Parfit explicitly discusses teleportation, including fission cases, so his work is essential for this topic. None of the other authors do, so their views on teleportation must be inferred from their overall theories.
Locke is closest to Parfit, so depending on your view, you may not need to discuss him (it might not add anything new to your paper).
Williams tentatively suggests that bodily identity is more important than any psychological criteria. It’s not clear exactly what this implies for teleportation, as he’s only considering cases where the identity of the body is not in any doubt, and thus he isn’t in the position of having to give criteria for the identity of bodies over time. But a fairly natural position for him to take would be to say that bodily identity over time requires at most only small changes in composition over time. If he were to adopt this requirement, then teleportation would not preserve bodily identity (if different matter is used at the other end), and thus would not preserve personal identity. You may not need to bring up Williams, depending on your thesis.
If you are able to present it accurately and integrate it well into your argument, I would recommend using David Lewis’s “Survival and Identity” (posted on Canvas, at the end of the Module entitled “Metaphysics”). Lewis says that Parfit draws the wrong conclusions from fission cases. The upshot would be that teleportation does preserve personal identity, even in fission cases! The editors of the textbook summarize Lewis’s argument against Parfit at the end of ch. 11, under “Analyzing the Arguments”,
point 4 (pp. 541-542). Depending on what thesis you are arguing for, Lewis’s paper may be more directly relevant to your paper than Williams or Locke.
(5) Is human free will compatible with determinism?
Indicate at the beginning of the paper what view you will defend. Your answer might be “Yes” (compatibilism). Your answer might be “No” (incompatibilism), in which case you should say whether this means that determinism must be false because we have free will (libertarianism), or that we have no free will or moral responsibility (hard incompatibilism). (Theoretically, it might be possible for you to be an incompatibilist without being committed either to libertarianism or to hard incompatibilism. Your thesis would then just be that compatibilism is false. But it would be hard to sustain this line of argument without choosing between libertarianism and hard incompatibilism, and I wouldn’t recommend this strategy.)
In the body of your paper, explain your view in more detail (especially if you choose compatibilism), motivate it, and defend it against objections.
Recommended sources: Galen Strawson, Chisholm, Ayer. You should use all of these, as each is directly relevant to the question asked.
Galen Strawson is a hard incompatibilist and argues that there is no true moral responsibility or free will.
Chisholm argues that free will and determinism are incompatible, hence (since we know we have free will) determinism must be false.
Ayer argues that free will and determinism are compatible, and that (in many cases, though not all) our actions can be free even if they are causally determined.
List of works cited
You must include a list of “Works Cited” at the end of your paper. If you don’t do so, you will be asked to rewrite your paper, and a lateness penalty will apply. Obviously, the list must match the works you actually mention in your paper, whether you quote directly from them or just use the ideas from them.
Below are guidelines on how to format items in your “Works Cited” list. (If you prefer, you can call it a “Bibliography”.)
(a) Readings from the textbook
For a reading from the textbook, whether assigned for class or otherwise, go to the “Credits” section at the end of the book. Original publication information is listed here for each reading in the textbook, alphabetically by author. For any reading that you use in your paper, give the original publication information first, then the information about the excerpt in the textbook. For example:
René Descartes, “Meditation II” and “Meditation VI” from
, translated by John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, Dugald Murdoch, Cambridge UP, 1984. Reprinted in Gideon Rosen, Alex Byrne, Joshua Cohen, Elizabeth Harman, and Seana Shiffrin (eds.),
, 2nd ed. (Norton, 2018), pp. 312-319.
The green text (original publication information) comes from the “Credits” section; the blue text shows that the textbook is the source you actually used in writing your paper, not the original translation by Cottingham et al., so page numbers refer to the excerpt in the textbook. The blue text should be the same for each reading except for the page numbers at the end. (“Eds.” stands for “editors”.)
Include both the original publication information and the reprint information for each reading from the textbook that you put in your list of “Works Cited”.
If the piece you are using is not included in the “Credits” section, that means that it was specially commissioned for this textbook and published here for the first time. In that case, cite the work as follows.
Alan Hájek, “Pascal’s Ultimate Gamble”. In Gideon Rosen, Alex Byrne, Joshua Cohen, Elizabeth Harman, and Seana Shiffrin (eds.),
, 2nd ed. (Norton, 2018), pp. 74-84.
(b) Other print sources
If you are using some print source other than an assigned reading, include all the following information under “Works Cited”:
- the author’s full name [this is essential]
- the title of the journal article, book, or anthology contribution [this is essential]
- (for journal articles) the title and volume number of the journal
- (for anthology contributions) the editor and title of the anthology
- (for books and anthology contributions) the city of publication and publisher
- the date of publication [this is essential; if you can’t find it, ask your TA for advice]
- (for journal articles or anthology contributions) the range of page numbers for the whole article or contribution
In the body of your paper, you can use an inline citation, “(Author, p. ##)”. Since full information about the source is listed in “Works Cited” at the end of the paper, there’s no need to include a footnote with the same information.
(c) Web sources
You should generally avoid using internet sources (e.g., Wikipedia, blogs, professors’ handouts or lecture notes), because they are of unreliable quality and rarely represent original research. A notable exception is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which is written by professional philosophers who are experts on the topics in question, and is highly respected. If you do use a website, you must provide the full URL address so that readers can find the original source, and also give the date on which you accessed it.
[Author if available.] “Title of Web Page.” http://www.example.com/philosophy/hume. Accessed on November 1, 2018.
Planning and writing your paper
Read “Some Guidelines For Writing Philosophy Papers”, pp. 1089-1092 in the textbook, and follow all the advice closely.
WRITING STYLE: A philosophy paper is different from other types of paper you may have written, especially in the humanities. The main requirement is clarity, both in style and in organization. Your thesis must be stated clearly in the opening paragraph of the paper. It can be very effective to have an opening paragraph that states both your thesis and (a concise summary of) your main arguments in support of it. Each paragraph in the paper should have a well-defined role in the overall structure, and each sentence should contribute towards the point of the paragraph.
In philosophy, it’s fine to use the word “I”, and to repeat words and phrases, especially key terms.
Clarity wins over florid style. In this respect, your paper should resemble a scientific report more than an essay in comparative literature. For example, you can state your thesis by saying, “I will argue that …,” or “My thesis is that …”; and if you are writing a paper on knowledge, just use the word “knowledge” every time instead of consulting a thesaurus.
Avoid grandiose, pompous, or trite openings and closings, such as: “Since time immemorial, man has striven to understand his place in the universe.” These add nothing to the philosophical content of your paper. Just get down to business immediately at the start of your paper, and at the end conclude simply.
Avoid sexist language, such as the use of “man” or “mankind” to refer to all human beings, or the use of the supposedly generic “he”, which is not truly gender-neutral. Use either “he or she” or “they”. If you use an example with two people, make one of them female (it’s much easier to keep track of pronoun referents that way).
USE OF SOURCES: In your paper, you should engage with the articles you have read that are relevant to your paper topic. Discuss the views and arguments that are most relevant to your paper. The guidelines for each paper topic mention the sources that you should include.
PHIL 101 is certified for ACE 5 (Humanities) credit. The full statement of Student Learning Outcome 5 is: “Use knowledge, historical perspectives, analysis, interpretation, critical evaluation, and the standards of evidence appropriate to the humanities to address problems and issues.” In philosophy, this means analyzing, interpreting, and critically evaluating philosophical texts, not just stating your own opinions. Engaging with written texts is not merely a University general education requirement, but a
crucial part of the practice of academic philosophy, and of the humanities in general. If you don’t use any sources, you are failing to exercise and demonstrate these skills, and the content of your paper is likely to be much less rigorous than if you discuss arguments that have been developed by professional philosophers.
It is usually a bad idea to cite class handouts, as this suggests that you didn’t consult the original source (the assigned reading). Instead, you should go to the original source and find evidence for the relevant views in the text.
CITATIONS: You must cite any source from which you use an idea, whether you use a direct quotation or paraphrase. If you use one of the assigned readings, you may use a simple inline citation: just put the author’s name and the page number(s) in parentheses, in the middle of the text. Here are two examples.
Strawson says that “The demand for a justification [of induction] is mistaken” (Strawson 181).
Hume argues that the fact that infants and non-human animals form beliefs based on experience shows that induction is not based on reasoning. (Hume 172-173).
In the first example, quotation marks are used to indicate that the words (as well as the idea) are Strawson’s. Square brackets are used to insert words that are not in the original text, at least in that location, but are necessary for a proper understanding of the rest of the sentence. In the second example, Hume’s exact words are not used, but his ideas are, paraphrased. Page numbers are included to indicate where he makes the claims attributed to him. If you prefer, you can include the abbreviation “p.”, in which case the citations would read “(Strawson, p. 181)” or “(Hume, pp. 172-173)”.
Direct quotes are formatted in one of two ways, depending on the length. A quotation that is three lines or shorter can be included in the body of your paper, inside quotation marks. A quotation that is four lines or longer must be in a free-standing block of text (its own paragraph), with the left margin indented one extra inch, and with no quotation marks. Some styles require offset quotations to be single-spaced, but this is optional. Avoid lengthy quotations from or paraphrases of a single author. The paper should reflect your views and not merely summarize someone else’s. If your word count includes very long quotations, that means that you have provided less original content, so you should expect this to affect your grade.
Any source that you use in your paper should be included in the list of works cited; see above for what information you need to include.
PLAGIARISM: Using someone else’s ideas without attribution is plagiarism, even if you change the wording. You must properly cite any sources you use. Plagiarism is a very serious breach of academic integrity. It will result in automatic failure of the course at the very least, and possibly further disciplinary action.
You are very welcome to consult your professor, your TA, or the Writing Center for advice on your paper. However, ultimately the paper you turn in must represent your own work. Collaborating with another person on your paper (e.g., two students working together on the assignment and turning in substantially similar papers) will be regarded as a breach of academic integrity.
ADDITIONAL RESEARCH: For some of the topics, there are additional readings in the textbook that are relevant; these have been indicated above. It is not required or expected that you read these, but if you do and incorporate them into your paper skillfully, this will improve your grade.
Independent research beyond the assigned readings (or the additional readings in the textbook) is also not expected. However, if you find and read additional relevant sources, and you use them effectively in your paper, this will improve your paper and hence your grade. Effective use of additional sources means:
- The views discussed are directly relevant to the topic of your paper, but do not merely replicate material that’s already in the paper (from the assigned readings for class).
- You describe the authors’ views accurately, clearly, and
- The additional material is well-integrated into the body of your paper, and strengthens your defense of your thesis by: providing an additional argument in support of your thesis; providing an objection to a rival view to your thesis; or introducing a counterargument to your position that you successfully
- You carefully evaluate the additional material, rather than merely summarizing
However, if you use your additional sources ineffectively, then you will not improve your paper. You might even make it worse, by diluting the overall quality of the paper. This can happen if:
- You misrepresent what those sources say (e.g., by egregiously misinterpreting them).
- Your explanation of what they say is unclear and hard to
- The new material is of dubious relevance to your
- Your discussion of those sources is not well-integrated with the rest of your paper, and is just tacked
So if you do include material not discussed in class, you need to be sure that you understand it completely, can explain it accurately and concisely in your own words, and are able to tie it in closely with the rest of your paper.
To find sources relevant to your topic, you can consult the textbook for additional reading suggestions; search the UNL Library catalog for books; or use the electronic database The Philosopher’s Index (search the Library catalog for “Philosopher’s Index”), which lists every publication in philosophy, including journal articles and anthology contributions.
As a general rule of thumb, you should not use internet sources (e.g., Wikipedia, blogs, professors’ handouts or lecture notes), with a notable exception being the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The reason is that there is little quality control for internet sources. Very few present high-quality original research (apart from peer-reviewed journal articles accessed online, usually requiring a subscription).
Most are summaries, which you should not be relying on or quoting from — it is your job to summarize the views you are presenting, and in any case many such summaries either are factually inaccurate or include interpretive choices made by the writer.
GRADING CRITERIA: The factors below will result in a better paper and a better grade.
- Your paper has a clear thesis.
- You offer supporting arguments for your thesis. (A supporting argument must be potentially capable of persuading someone who doesn’t already hold the same view that you are arguing for. For example, an autobiographical explanation of why you happen to hold the view you are defending is not an argument for that )
- You discuss at least one objection to your view, or to an argument you give for your view, and respond to it — even if your response is just that you aren’t able to refute it but it’s a good objection that needs to be taken
- Your paper is well-structured. Typically, this means:
- You have a clear thesis statement at the beginning of the
- Your supporting arguments, objections and replies are organized in a way that makes sense and is easy for the reader to
- When you discuss an objection to your view, it is clear that you are discussing an opposing viewpoint, and it is clear where the objection ends and your response to it begins.
- Your paper is written clearly and concisely, without ambiguity, undue repetition, or “filler content” that either adds nothing new or adds irrelevant
- You use all the assigned readings that are relevant to the topic, and no irrelevant ones. You represent them accurately and sufficiently fully for the purposes of your paper, mostly in your own words, and evaluate them
- If you use additional sources beyond the readings assigned for class: the sources selected are relevant, you present them clearly and accurately, they add significant new content to your paper, and you evaluate them
- You synthesize the material from the sources you use in a thoughtful, original
- You develop original arguments or objections that are well-considered.
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