The paper (6-8 pages long) is due, as an attachment, via the “Assignments” tool on ecommons, by midnight Tues., June 11. However, an introductory paragraph and brief outline (approximately one sentence per paragraph of the proposed complete paper) is due (via the same tool on ecommons) at some time on or before Tues., June 4. Your TA will send this back to you as soon as possible with suggested changes, which you should take into account. This preliminary assignment will not be separately graded, but if you do not hand it in at all or if it is wholly unsatisfactory, your grade on the final paper will be reduced by one half step (e.g. A to A-).
The below topics are suggestions. If you want to write on another topic, feel free to do so. It might be a good idea, however, in that case, to check with me and/or your TA first (i.e., even before writing your introductory paragraph and outline).
Note that the topics tend to have many sub-questions. You need not (and probably should not) try to answer all of them. (You certainly should not just answer them one after another in order -- that would make a bad paper.) I put them there to suggest various directions for thinking about the topic, and in particular to head off superficial or excessively simple ways of thinking about it.
All of the topics below require you to make substantial use of material from at least two of our main authors (Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz). You can also write about all three if you feel it improves your paper (but you will not get extra credit just for including a third author). If you want to write about a topic which involves only one of the three, you should check with me or with your TA about it.
I don't expect any of these papers to use the ancient and medieval material from the beginning of the course. You're free to quote it if it seems useful, but I don't necessarily recommend trying that (you will not get extra credit just for throwing it in). On the other hand, if you can use traditional metaphysical terminology -- and use it correctly -- in your discussion of the early modern authors, that might well be helpful. (But this doesn't mean: try to get in as much Aristotelian terminology as you can for extra credit. It means: use it if and when it enables you state your point more clearly or concisely.)
You can also use other outside material if you think it helps your paper (though, again, I don't necessarily recommend that). If so you must of course make it clear exactly what you are using and how. Also, it should still be clear that the paper was written for this course.1
The intent of the paper is to discuss the views or attitudes manifested in the reading, rather than your own opinions on the topic. That is: you should ideally come up with something interesting and original to say (not mere summary), but it should something interesting and original about what our authors mean. (In particular: I don't expect or encourage you to reach a judgment about whether what they say is correct or not.) If you are upset by something one of our authors says, or find it ridiculous, you should use that as an excuse to try and understand better why someone would say such a thing. If you can't manage that, you should try to write about a topic which doesn't touch on the problem area.
For a good comparison paper, remember that the comparison should be interesting. This means, for example, that the paper should not read like two shorter papers (one on each author) stuck together. Also it should say something non-obvious about their similarities and differences. (It is always possible to make any two positions sounds similar if one is vague enough. But that isn't interesting.)
If you're using the editions I ordered, you can refer to the readings just by giving the page number. If you use a different edition and/or some other source, please give at least enough bibliographical information that I and/or your TA can find it if necessary. There's no need for a separate bibliography or title page.
You can find answers to some commonly asked questions about my assignments and grading at http://people.ucsc.edu/~abestone/courses/faq.html.