In addition to the four assignment papers given below, there are two debates scheduled for the course.


Paper 1

First writing assignment: Assigned in class 1 of week 2, due two days after class 2 of week 3 (in section).

Explain in your own words the Cartesian criterion of personal identity (one paragraph).

In Perry's dialogue, Miller defends the Cartesian criterion. As a part of that defence, he claims that when making judgements of personal identity, he relies on the principle "same body, same soul".

Why does Miller need this principle? Why can't he allow the possibility of numerous souls successively occupying the same body? (two paragraphs).

Explain Weirob's argument(s) that Miller cannot know that the "same body, same soul" principle is true. Would a "same body, same brain" principle be any easier to know? (two pages).

Weirob claims that immaterial souls, if they existed, would be totally irrelevant to questions of personal identity and survival. Is she right? Why or why not? Do her arguments, if successful, show that brains too are irrelevant to questions of personal identity? (two pages).

Remember: Give reasons for your answers. Don't even think about starting until you have read Jim Pryor's "Guidelines on writing a philosophy paper" and Richard Holton's "How to Build an Argument and Write an Essay".

Five double-spaced regular-sized font numbered pages. No footnotes, no quotations (you may use bits of terminology from the readings or the handouts, as appropriate). No late papers will be accepted unless you have a very good excuse, such as illness.

Paper 2

Second writing assignment: Assigned in class 1 of week 4, due two days after class 2 of week 5.

A person P survives some event E just in case P exists before E occurs, and when E is over, there exists a person who is (numerically) identical to P.

Teletransportation is the process described by Parfit on page 199 of Reasons and Persons.

Question: Do people survive teletransportation?

Explain how a proponent of, respectively, the Cartesian, Body, Brain, and Psychological criterion (i.e. Parfit's Narrow Psychological Criterion) of personal identity would answer this question. What about a proponent of Parfit's Widest Psychological Criterion (page 207)? What is Parfit's own answer to this question?

Suppose you are now offered the choice between stepping into the teletransporter, and taking a more conventional, but much more expensive and time consuming, spaceship to Mars.

According to Parfit, it would be irrational of you to take the spaceship, even on the assumption that you would not survive teletransportation. Explain why Parfit thinks this, and assess what you consider to be his strongest argument for it. Would you take the spaceship? Why or why not?

Remember: Roughly five double-spaced numbered pages. Give reasons for your answers. No footnotes, no quotations (although you may use bits of terminology from the readings or the slides, as appropriate). No late papers will be accepted unless you have a very good excuse, such as illness.

Paper 3

Third writing assignment: Assigned in class 2 of week 7, due two days after class 2 of week 9.

Please write a five or six page paper on one of the following topics.

  1. Sturgeon and Railton think moral facts can explain nonmoral facts. Thomson is not convinced this is possible. She considers three types of case in which a moral fact might seem to explain a nonmoral fact. A nonmoral fact might, she says, seem to explain "a person's having a certain belief, or doing such and such, or having such and such an attitude," say, discontent (87ff). Give examples (your own, not from the text) of alleged explanations of each type. What do you think Thomson's response would be to each of your examples? Are you convinced? If so, then do you take the argument on pages 74-5 to establish moral skepticism? Why or why not? If you are not convinced, then where do you think Thomson is going wrong?

  2. What is cognitivism about morality? What are some examples of non-cognitivist views about morality? Explain the Humean argument for non-cognitivism in your own words. Does the Humean argument succeed? How do Chilly and Very Chilly fit in (pp. 117-120)? Must the cognitivist maintain that people like that are really possible? Are they in your view really possible?

  3. Let the following be the Relativity Thesis: Sentences of the form: 'it would be morally wrong of P to D' have no truth value considered independently of any context of utterance. For example, suppose Adam is deciding whether or not to be cloned. Then, in one context of utterance, 'it would be morally wrong of Adam to be cloned' is true, while in another context that sentence is false. (Compare 'P is tall', 'P is moving', etc.) Harman thinks that the Relativity Thesis is a "reasonable inference" from the "most plausible explanation of moral diversity". Which explanation does Harman think is most plausible? Is he right? Is the Relativity Thesis a reasonable inference from Harman's favored explanation of moral diversity?

Remember: give reasons for your answers. It might be worth looking over "Reading Philosophy" and the handout on arguments (PDF) before you begin writing. No late papers will be accepted unless you have a very good excuse, such as illness. No footnotes, no quotations (although you may use bits of terminology from the readings or the handouts, as appropriate). See the assignments section of the syllabus for further guidance.

Paper 4

Fourth writing assignment: Assigned in class 1 of week 12, due on class 2 of week 14.

  1. Consider a passage from Karl Popper's Conjectures and Refutations:

    "...Take one typical instance - Einstein's prediction, just then confirmed by the findings of Eddington's expedition. Einstein's gravitational theory had led to the result that light must be attracted by heavy bodies (such as the sun), precisely as material bodies were attracted. As a consequence it could be calculated that light from a distant fixed star whose apparent position was close to the sun would reach the earth from such a direction that the star would seem to be slightly shifted away from the sun; or in other words, that stars close to the sun would look as if they had moved a little away from the sun, and from one another. This is a thing which cannot normally be observed since such stars are rendered invisible in daytime by the sun's overwhelming brightness; but during an eclipse it is possible to take photographs of them. If the same constellation is photographed at night one can measure the distances on the two photographs, and check the predicted effect. Now the impressive thing about this case is the risk involved in a prediction of this kind. If observation shows that the predicted effect is definitely absent, then the theory is simply refuted. The theory is incompatible with certain possible results of observation--in fact with results which everybody before Einstein would have expected... These considerations led me in the winter of 1919-20 to conclusions which I may now reformulate as follows....

    -- A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think) but a vice.

    -- Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it. Testability is falsifiability; but there are degrees of testability: some theories are more testable, more exposed to refutation, than others; they take, as it were, greater risks.

    One can sum up all this by saying that the "criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability."

    Explain Popper's main points in this quotation. How would Putnam or Kuhn react to this picture of science (pick one)? Is Popper right? Are the criticisms Putnam or Kuhn would make correct? Or is Popper wrong for other reasons?

  2. Kuhn says that theories are not tested, but rather presupposed, during periods of normal science. What does he mean by this? Is it true? Why does our confidence in a theory grow over these periods, if the theory is not really put to the test?

  3. Is Kuhn right to suggest that scientists working under different paradigms have different experiences of the world? Is he right to infer from this that the worlds they experience are not the same? How is such a view to be reconciled with the common sense notion that we now know more about the world than, say, Ptolemy? If he is not right, what is the truth he is groping for?


Debate 1

Week 5, Class 2.

Debate Motion

Teletransportation is about as bad as ordinary death.

Debate 2

Week 9, Class 2.

Is abortion morally permissible? People disagree vehemently about the answer to this question. Yet the dispute appears intractable: the arguments advanced by each side rarely (if ever) persuade anyone to change his or her mind, let alone resolve the issue.

Some possible explanations for this are:

  1. People on one side of the debate are just stupid or irrational. For example, someone may accept the premises of a valid argument, yet refuse to believe the conclusion. Or she may fail more generally to connect some of her beliefs together (see Thomson on "Walling Off." page 205).

  2. The issue is very complex and difficult. Issues about abortion are connected to many other important issues, and it is not even clear what is relevant or not relevant to the question of its permissibility. Rational, intelligent people can disagree about complex issues simply because they are hard to understand (Thomson. page 205).

  3. Some people are not as well placed as others to discover the truth because they have very different background experiences and beliefs. "Different people with different starting points will rationally respond in different ways to the same evidence. There is no guarantee that people who start sufficiently far apart in belief will tend to converge in view as the evidence comes in" (Harman. page 12).

  4. Moral relativism (something like Harman's version) is correct.

Debate Proposition

The fourth point is the best explanation for the intractability of the dispute about abortion.