Introduction to Philosophy

Choose two of the following topics (2-3-page each).

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Due 12/8/2020

1. Present the main transformations in consciousness –Humanism, Reformation, Science. Focus on and discuss one in particular. Explain your choice.


2. Present Descartes’ rationalist epistemology contained in the formula, Dubito ergo cogito, Cogito ergo sum (I doubt therefore I think, I think therefore I am) in relation to his metaphysical dualism of the res cogita (minds) and res extensa (bodies) (Descartes, Discourse on Method; Meditations on First Philosophy).

Descartes writes:

Accordingly, from the fact that I have gained knowledge of my existence without noticing anything about my nature or essence, except that I am a thinking thing, I can rightly conclude that my essence consists solely in the fact that I am a thinking thing. It’s possible that I have a body which is very tightly bound to me. But on the one hand, I have a clear and distinct idea of myself insofar as I am just a thinking and unextended thing, and, on the other hand, I have a distinct idea of my body insofar as it is an extended and unthinking thing. It’s certain, then, that I am really distinct from my body and can exist without it. (Rene Descartes, Meditation vi)


In this passage and the passage on the analogy human body-clock or machine Descartes articulates a position of metaphysical dualism. He identifies the essence of the human being as the thinking thing or substance and that of the body as the extended unthinking thing or substance, i.e., a clock/machine. According to Descartes, what is the difference between the body and the mind? What is the relationship of the body to the mind? Where do the two interact? Does Descartes’ theory make sense? Is it an adequate description of your own understanding of body and mind, your own experience or intuition? Give an example that would prove or disprove Cartesian dualism.


3. Present the main articulations of Locke’s epistemological empiricism: his denial of innate ideas, the theory of the mind as a tabula rasa, the common sense metaphysical assumption of the existence of the self, the world, and God (Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding)


4. Compare Descartes’ rationalism with Locke’s empirical position. Descartes considers that reason can find certain knowledge and truth, while Locke argues that the mind is a tabula rasa on which experience writes throughout life. What are the problematic, vulnerable aspects in either theory or both? Which one of these two theories of knowledge is more attractive and better fits your own experience? Explain and illustrate.


5) Below is an excerpt from the debate on the arguments for the existence of God between Cleanthes and Philo in Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion. Cleanthes represents the cosmological and teleological argument while Philo stands for Hume’s skepticism. Which position is stronger? Whose side would you take? Justify your choice. What would be your argument for the existence of God or against it?


Cleanthes: Look round the world: Contemplate the whole and every part of it: you will

find it to be nothing but one great machine subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines…All these machines…are adjusted to each other with an accuracy which ravishes into admiration all men…The curious adapting of means to ends throughout all nature resembles exactly though it much exceeds the productions of human contrivance: of human design, thought, wisdom and intelligence. Since therefore the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also resemble; and that the Author of nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man. (Dialogues, Part II)


Philo: Look round this universe. What an immense profusion of beings, animated and

organized, sensible and active…But inspect a little more narrowly these living existences, the only beings worth regarding. How hostile and destructive to each other! How insufficient all of them for their own happiness…The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle and pouring from her lap without discernment or parental care her maimed and abortive children…The true conclusion is that the original source of all things is entirely indifferent to all these principles and has no more regard to good above ill, than to heat above cold, or to drought above moisture, or to light above heavy. (Dialogues, Part XI)



6. Present Immanuel Kant’s Copernican Revolution in epistemology as a response to Hume’s skepticism. What is the self according to Hume? Is his argument cogent? Present the Kantian idea of the transcendental self conceived in response to Hume’s theory of no-self. Whose theory is more convincing, attractive, capable of explaining your own experience? Explain. Illustrate.


7. According to Immanuel Kant, what is problematic both in Cartesian rationalism and Lockean empiricism? What is the blind spot in Humean skepticism? How does Kant propose to solve this philosophical deadend? What is the role of the mind and its categories of understanding in our knowledge of the world? Explain his theory of numenon (things in themselves) vs. phenomenon (things as they appear for us).


8. Present Immanuel Kant’s argument from morality. Explain his notion of “the categorical moral imperative.” Do you agree with Kant that our moral sense supports belief in the existence of God? Justify your answer.


9. Present some of Nietzsche’s main doctrines and discuss two or three: Radical Perspectivism; Ressentiment (envy); Christianity as Platonism for the masses; Death of God; Master and slave morality; Transvaluation of all values; The Overman; The Myth of eternal recurrence; Amor fati.

Nietzsche’s doctrines are grounded in his radical critique of society, morality, religion, esp idealism and metaphysics, which he considered forms of ideology and interpretations (perspective). Like Socrates, he questioned all our assumptions and like Descartes who subjected all our ideas to universal doubt, he applied a hermeneutic of suspicion to our values and articulated a call to absolute transformation.

Explain you’re your choice. From the perspective of today or from your own subjective point of view, how do you find these doctrines: more interesting, truth-bearing, bizarre? Are you a Nietzschean?


10. Present Wittgenstein’s language games and forms of life. Reflect on his significance for theology, ethics, and everyday experience.


11. Explain Ludwig Wittgenstein’s seminal statement in the early Tractatus Logico-Philosophical:


“Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent.”


12. Present the verifiability and meaningfulness principles of Logical Positivists that considered Wittgenstein to be their main inspiration. Ayer concluded that since religious, metaphysical, and moral statements are not verifiable, they are meaningless nonsense. Do you dis/agree? Explain.


13. Discuss Heidegger’s main existential concepts—cares vs. Care, Angst (anxiety); being thrown in existence; fallenness; the they consciousness; authentic vs. inauthentic existence– in relation to your own experience, observations, and intuitions about human existence. Are you a Heideggerian?


14. Discuss two or three of Jean-Paul Sartre’s main ideas: existence precedes essence; the nothing of consciousness; condemned to freedom; self and others; alienation; bad faith vs. authenticity. Are Sartre’s claims pertinent? Disquieting? Intriguing? Are you a Sartrean?


16. As a lover of wisdom (philosopher), which figure, text or idea has left the deepest—whether positive or negative—impression on your mind? Present it and explain your reaction.

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