Writing 109HU--Topics for the Philosophy Essay

Due date: Thursday, April 20

General Instructions: The essay should be a four- to five-page interpretation of one of the philosophical works we have studied, and should incorporate at least two secondary sources. As for all essays, you should have a single, unified thesis that you prove logically and thoroughly. Your own experience and response to the work can guide your interpretation, but make sure that everything you claim is demonstrable, that is, supported by the text or a reliable secondary source. If you decide to use one of the suggested topics, keep in mind that you will need to narrow their focus considerably to make a strong thesis.

Stuart Glennan's Guide to Writing Philosophy Papers

Suggested Topics:

  1. In the Discourse on Method, Descartes states, "…my purpose here is not to teach the method that everyone ought to follow in order to conduct his reason well, but merely to show how I have tried to conduct my own" (2). Is the Discourse on Method therefore idiosyncratic, universal, or some combination of the two? What relation to other texts and belief systems does Descartes claim for his text?
  2. Both the Discourse on Method and the Meditations on First Philosophy rely on what is known as "Cartesian doubt," that is, a skepticism of everything except the mind’s capacity to think as the starting point for making truth claims. How does the text proceed from this doubt to any kind of certainty? What relation does this procedure have to claims for empiricism, that is, truth claims inferred from concrete, sensory evidence?
  3. In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke claims, "Our observation employed either about external, sensible objects, or about the internal operations of our minds, perceived and reflected on by ourselves, is that which supplies our understandings with all the materials of thinking." How does Locke support this claim, and what consequences does it have for our understanding of the mind? What structure for the development of the mind does this imply?
  4. David Hume, in A Treatise of Human Nature (2644), contradicted Locke’s theory of identity, claiming, "The mind is a kind of theater, where several perceptions successively make their appearance: pass, re-pass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations. There is properly no simplicity in it at one time, nor identity in different…" What proof does he offer that Locke (and Descartes) are wrong? How does he expect us to live our lives without a notion of continuous, singular identity?
  5. Under what conditions does Kant believe one can have intellectual or religious freedom? What limitations does he allow on these freedoms, and how does he argue for their necessity?
  6. Any topic on Descartes, Locke, Kant, or Hume, on which you can write a good essay.