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Next: About this document ... Up: Phil. 100Bfinal_paper, Winter 12 Previous: Instructions

Suggested Topics

  1. Descartes's Meditator is afraid of being deceived. According to the authors we've read (including Descartes himself), is the Meditator right to fear this? In what ways, according to those authors, are we liable to deception (by our senses, by books, by other people, by God, by ourselves)? What steps, if any, can be taken to head this off? How, if at all, according to them, might or must potentially deceptive things (including, for example, but not limited to: dreams, fictions, history, traditional philosophy, logical arguments, the Bible, the sensible world, the Eucharist) nevertheless yield truth if properly used and/or understood? (In other words: to what extent is it our own fault if we are deceived?) Are there some kinds of deception which we can't and/or shouldn't want to avoid? (Note: some pieces of advice for avoiding deception are not surprising and therefore not interesting -- e.g. don't treat a fiction as if it were a history, don't trust your senses about very small or very distant objects. Also some are too vague to be interesting -- e.g., trust your senses and your reading and your reason, but only in the proper balance. If you think there's nothing more surprising than that in our authors, you should probably write about a different topic.)

  2. What if anything, according to our authors, is or should be the relationship between metaphysics and/or epistemology, on the one hand, and ethics and/or politics, on the other? For example: is correct (or incorrect?) thought necessary, according to them, for correct action? Or vice versa: is it possible, according to them, to think correctly -- to know what one knows, to have certainty, to know what (kind of thing) really exists -- without moral and/or political reform? How, if at all, can a human being, with human needs and desires, be a philosopher? How if at all, can the philosopher function within society as it now is (or: as it was in the 17th century, if that is relevantly different from now)? Is knowledge of what is right or just (proper moral judgment) useful, according to them, for determining what is true or what exists (proper theoretical judgment), and if so why and how?

  3. Included in the above, but you might want to focus on it in particular: according to our authors, what are the political implications of metaphysics and/or epistemology, and vice versa? See the above topic for some detailed issues, to which can be added here in particular: in what ways, if any, is the structure of our knowledge (and of “the sciences”), or the structure of beings in general (of the world as a whole) like that of a city/state, and in what ways if any is it different?

  4. Of these possible sources of human knowledge: the senses; logic and/or reason and/or the intellect; imagination (i.e., in some way producing or entertaining sense-like images which do not come directly through the senses); reading authoritative texts, which, according to our authors, is useful or reliable and which is not? What is the proper relationship between them? What is or might be or tends to be the actual relationship? (If the last two are different, that would mean that the actual relationship is or might be or tends to be not the proper relationship, i.e. that something is or might be or tends to be wrong.) What kinds of error stem from or affect the use of these alleged sources of knowledge, and how, if at all, is it possible to guard against them? (Note that a successful answer to this must be more than just a list of which sources are reliable and which are not -- you must find a single surprising and interesting point to make about how different authors relate to different sources.)

  5. How much, according to our authors, do we know about ourselves? Supposing we yield Descartes the point that I cannot (rationally) doubt my own existence, how about the argument which follows in the Second and Sixth Meditations, where he talks about essence (about what kind of thing “I” am)? In what sense, according to Descartes and others we've read, is it or is it not possible to know, to be certain, to doubt, and/or to be deceived about what kind of thing/person one really is, and/or about what kind of thing a human being (or human soul) is? Descartes claims that we know this about ourselves better (more distinctly) than about anything else (except God?). Do others agree with him, and why or why not? (If not, what do they think we know better, or just as well?) What are the implications for metaphysics and/or for ethics?

  6. In what ways, according to our authors, are we or is our world imperfect? Which of those imperfections, according to them, are imperfections only relative to some purpose or to some arbitrary preference on our part (so that they might look like perfections from some other point of view), and which, if any, are absolutely imperfect? How, if at all, according to them, can we know/be certain that there are imperfections (of either kind) in ourselves or in the world? Who or what, if anything, according to them, is to blame for imperfection? To what extent, if at all, according to them, can imperfections be corrected, and if so how and by what or whom? Are there imperfections that are better left uncorrected, according to them, and if so why? What are the implications for metaphysics and/or for ethics?

  7. In what sense (if any), according to our authors, are human beings free, or in what sense (if any) can they become free? In what sense (if any) can the become unfree? What is the relationship, according to them, between freedom and power? Between freedom and necessity? Between freedom and divine causation? Between freedom and divine foreknowledge? Between freedom and coercion? Between freedom and clear and distinct intellectual perception? Between freedom and correct or moral action? Between freedom and happiness? Between freedom and error or sin? What is freedom good for, according to them? Why does God make human beings free (if God does make them free, and if there is a reason)? Or why does God allow them to become free? Or why does God allow them to become unfree?

  8. How, according to our authors, can we know that God exists? What is it, according to them, that we know, when we know that? How much or little do we know about God's nature? About God's power? About God's will (its nature and contents)? Why, if at all, is this knowledge important, according to them? What, if anything, will it help us to understand about ourselves? About the world? About the proper course of action? How is the knowledge we gain in this way related to the human institution of religion (e.g. Judaism, Catholicism)? To the contents and interpretation of the Bible?

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Next: About this document ... Up: Phil. 100Bfinal_paper, Winter 12 Previous: Instructions
Abe Stone 2012-01-04