Foundational Philosophy Paper (Descartes Inspired)

Foundational Philosophy Paper (Descartes Inspired)

INTRODUCTION: The philosophy of René Descartes is a search for fresh beginnings. This assignment asks you to suppose that you were going to establish a fresh beginning for philosophy of the person.  Your paper will respond to the following:

According to your reflections on the matter, what is the essential, first foundational principle or fundamental truth about the human person or its relationship with the world?

DUEFriday , Feb. 21, when collected in class.

FORMAT3 full pages minimum, 4 pages max typewritten, double-spaced, this size font (this is 12 point times new roman, 2 ½ pages is too short and 4 ½ is too long).

THESIS on PAGE ONE, paragraph one

This paragraph will be a very short statement of the truth or principle. It may be one sentence, though it could be longer. See suggestive thesis statements below.

IMPLICATIONS on PAGE ONE, should be the rest of page one, but not significantly more

The rest of page one will articulate the implications that follow if you are right in your choice of foundational truth or principle. What is the significance of your position should you be right? It should take up the rest of the first page and not spill over to the second page. See example of a first page  provided by Sven (I realize that implications naturally come last, but we put it here for reasons explained in class, namely to take the opportunity to emphasize that “buying into” a position has ramifications.)


These pages answer the question, “What is the evidence for your position, what are the most convincing arguments?  How do you know that you are probably right? Convince the reader by argument that this truly is the foundational principle. Don’t forget to anticipate, develop and argue against significant possible objections to your own position.

CRITERIA: Also, consult “Frequently Asked Questions” for this assignment below.

  • Argument is the master, as in all philosophy assignments. Make a thoroughgoing and largely successful attempt to back up your claim with reasoning. Try to logically convince a reader of the veracity of your point. It can be helpful to draw from other disciplines in your arguments. Be creative in arguing. (Imagine your audience is another intelligent student.)
  • The thesis should be clearly stated and implications should be appropriate to the thesis.
  • Grammar and spellingare also significant.



Below are merely suggestions. You may adopt them, adapt them or use something else entirely.  Let’s talk about your choice if you like.

  1. The foundational, fundamental truth about us as human beings is that we have senses and experience the world through sensation
  2. The first fundamental truth about us as human beings is our intellect.
  3. We are biological accidents, evolving here on earth. All other truths come second to this one.
  4. The foundational truth of human existence is the ability to experience pleasure and pain.
  5. Humans relate to the world in terms of power, and this is the essential truth about us.
  6. The essential principle of existence is that we can imagine or be creative.
  7. The first fundamental truth about us is that we are social beings.
  8. Love is the foundational principle of human existence.
  9. The first truth about us is our freedom.
  10. There is no foundational truth about human nature.*
  11. We can’t know any fundamental principle about the human person, although there might be one.*
  12. God exists, and this is the first principle of my philosophy of human nature.*
  13. God does not exist. This is the essential truth of the person’s relationship with the world.*

*If you choose 10, 11, 12, or 13, you and I must talk about your choice because they can be particularly tricky. 


An IMPLICATION has the form: “IF I am right that this is the first principle, then such and such follows or is also true.  And this also follows, and this as well.”  Etc. See provided page one example  on implications.

An ARGUMENT has the form: “A, B, C, etc., THEREFORE I am right that this is the first principle.”




WHAT ARE THE MOST FREQUENT MISTAKES on an assignment like this? First, students may have inadequate or inconsistent arguments. Second, students may forget to connect the arguments with the assignment question – why is this the foundational or fundamental principle? Third, students may throw around key terms without any attempt to meaningfully define them. Fourth, students may make arguments relevant only locally, e.g., to 21st century U.S. rather than to humankind.

HOW SHOULD I BEGIN TO WRITE? Make an appointment with the SU Writing Center. Begin by choosing a foundational principle. Then SKIP the implications part of the paper and start on the arguments instead. Pay attention to defining terms and linking each major conclusion back to the main claim of the paper. Why is your principle foundational? Finally, create implications.

WHAT IS A FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLE? For the purposes of this assignment, a foundational principle is the most fundamental thing about a human being or about its relation with the world. It may be what makes us unique, it may be that which grounds anything else one can say about us, or it may be the truth of our relation with other human and non-human things, it may be the most real element in our reason for existence. And so on. Each of these ways of putting it is distinct but legitimate. The strategy is to identify which way you mean your foundational principle to be foundational, and then consistently stick to it and press that point.

WHAT IS AN IMPLICATION? For the purposes of this assignment, an implication is a further claim that necessarily or most likely follows if you are right about your foundational principle. In other words, assuming you’re right, what else is suggested by your position, what other claims go along with it by extension? See page one example  provided.

HOW IS AN IMPLICATION DIFFERENT FROM AN ARGUMENT? An implication is a result of your foundational principle. An argument establishes your principle as first. So an implication answers, “Assuming that my choice for foundational principle is right, what else naturally follows from it?” While an argument answers “Why is this choice for foundational principle right?”

Suppose my foundational principle is that God exists and is our creator. An implication is that we have a soul and it will survive our death for some kind of judgment. Etc. Another implication is that Abrahamic inspired religions are right, and we must live how their holy books say, as much as possible. For a Christian, this means love thy neighbor. For a Muslim, this means practicing the five pillars of Islam. Etc.

But an argument, in contrast, might appeal to some analogy between the existence of the universe and the existence of other things that are created. The conclusions of arguments will support the main thesis, namely, that God exists as our creator.

DO MY IMPLICATIONS AND ARGUMENTS NEED TO BE EXPLICITLY RELATED to each other or continue each other’s content? No.

HOW MANY ARGUMENTS SHOULD I HAVE? This depends on the type of paper you are writing. A good strategy is to aim for three well-developed arguments (each a wonderfully full paragraph) that are each arguing from different angles (see next question) to the same conclusion (the thesis of the paper). Also, your supporting arguments should each conclude with a statement about how exactly the argument supports your foundational principle (your page one thesis) as foundational. Read this again, it is important, and is “Frequent Mistake” #2 mentioned at the outset.

HOW CAN I GENERATE FRESH ARGUMENTS? One strategy of writing arguments is to think like a major in one of the departments around the University – Biology, Law, The Arts (Culture), Psychology, History, Theology, Engineering, Medical Sciences, Communication Arts, Sociology, Business, etc. Also, bring in things you know from your other classes – e.g., does some theory you learned in business or history or science class apply here? You will find arguments by analogy and causation useful. In addition to academic disciplines or departments, other lines of argumentation can emanate from education, human development, trans-temporal cultural norms, government/leadership, creative arts or practice,  etc.

CAN YOU SUGGEST A SUCCESSFUL FORM OF ARGUMENT FOR THIS ASSIGNMENT? YES. There are many, but one way of arguing here involves two moves. First, establish the almost universal importance of something to human life, or society, or culture, etc. Second, argue that your foundational principle most essentially underlies this important thing, or allows it to exist. For example, if my foundational principle is that human emotion is the most essential thing about us, I could establish that successful mother/baby bonding is crucial to human life and to the continuation or survival of the species, etc. AND THEN ARGUE that this anticipation of the baby’s needs and bonding and socialization are made possible or grounded by human emotion, that human emotion is the most important principle about human beings that allows or supports human social structure in its most basic, fundamental form, (the latter which has already been established as crucial to human life).

THE GOD EXISTS CLAIM SEEMS THE EASIEST because we can find ready-made arguments in Descartes and in the Course Notebook already laid out for us. Is it the easiest? No. The arguments that establish God’s existence do not establish how God’s existence is the foundational principle of HUMAN nature. It takes creative thinking to link up through argument the existence of God with the essence of human beings. The question asks for the foundational principle or truth about humans or their relation with the world, and arguing that God exists is a necessary but not sufficient stop along the way to a possible answer. By the way, it also takes some creativity to put those “found” arguments, whether from the Course Notebook or from Descartes’ 3rd Meditation, into your own words and analogies or examples. Also note that philosophers do not accept the authority of holy books as proof for the existence of God, unless of course such a book is making a reasonable argument.

CAN I GO OVER TO FOUR AND A HALF PAGES? You will be penalized for this. However, four and a quarter pages is fine. You CAN edit even when you think you cannot. Stick to 12 point font, Times Roman, double spaced. And do not just write two and half pages.

IS THIS A RESEARCH PAPER? No, not necessarily. You can do superbly on this assignment without using an outside source. If you do use other sources, from the library, internet, etc., make sure that you fully cite them. Not citing them is illegal, immoral, and is called plagiarism. You will regret that choice.

CAN I FAIL THIS? Yes, by not fulfilling format requirements and/or by including little or no argument and/or committing massive grammar mistakes. And of course, plagiarism, buys you failure and more.

DOES IT HURT MY GRADE TO TURN IT IN LATE? Yes. There is a strong positive correlation between lateness and how much it hurts your grade on the assignment.


EXAMPLE of PAGE ONE Assume the formatting is double space print formatting, as described in assignment.


Arthur N. Nowen

Foundational Philosophy Paper

The foundational truth about us as human beings is that we have a sense of humor. Having a sense of humor means that we are capable of being amused at a variety of things in life – not just jokes and those things designed to make us laugh, but also our own faults and even our very existence. If I am right that having a sense of humor is the foundation of everything else important that we are, then some implications follow.
One implication is that the arts, which bring out our human foibles, should be more highly valued. This means we should value stand-up comedy, but also plays, films, songs, dance and any other kinds of performances that make us laugh, or at least, amuse use.
A second implication, if I am right about humor, is that those people who can laugh at themselves in a healthy way will be the most healthy people. I mean that they would be mentally healthy, but also, I would speculate, having a sense of humor is probably good for one’s physical health. Humor being the foundational reality of humankind suggests that the more we indulge in this reality, the better will be our attitudes towards our lives. It follows from this implication that those people who take themselves too seriously will be unhappy or maladjusted, especially when tragedy or high stress affects their lives.
A third implication is that if a sense of humor is so important, then it should be cultivated in our early education. Children are required to go to school in developed countries, and are taught all the fundamental things they need to be successful, except perhaps, how to laugh and be humorous. We should value humor in our classrooms enough to make it a standard part of the curriculum. We can teach children how to be humorous without being mean, and how to enjoy a good laugh without it being at others’ expense.


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