Terms and Concepts
The fallacy of equivocation
Rene Descartes (1596-1650)
Descartes’ method of doubt
Cogito, ergo sum (Je pense, donc je suis)
The “clear and distinct” criterion of truth
The reliability theory of knowledge
The principle of the uniformity of nature (PUN)
1. What senses of the word “know” does Sober discuss in his first chapter on epistemology, and which one is of primary epistemological concern?
Philosophy 100 – Guidelines for Writing Papers
An essential part of doing philosophy is getting clear about what an argument is asserting. The paper assignment in this class aims at giving you practice in achieving such clarity. After our initial three discussions, the ones concerning logic, each study guide will include a topic for you to write on, giving the pages in the Sober text that I want you to (potentially) engage with. Your assignment is simple: paraphrase what Sober says as accurately and fully as possible in about three or four pages. This means restating his argument in your own words with the object of convincing me that you have understood Sober’s main points. Additionally, at the end of each paper you will be asked to answer a question intended to stimulate critical reflection on some aspect of what Sober has said. For instance, I might ask, “In the face of what Sober says about St. Thomas Aquinas’ first argument for God’s existence what might Aquinas say in rebuttal?” So each short paper will have two parts: a longer, descriptive part where you recount what Sober has said, and a shorter, critical part where you respond to a question I pose and you give a brief justification of why you have responded as you have. The point of these papers is twofold: first, to give you practice with the easy-to-state but often not so easy-to-accomplish task of attaining clear understanding of philosophical arguments, and second to give you the opportunity to begin the process of critical interaction with such arguments.
1.In paraphrasing Sober, use only your own words. Do not quote Sober, even once. I want to see the sense that you make of what he says. Imagine sitting with another student who has read the pages in question and says, “I just don’t get it! What’s this guy trying to say?” Your task is to tell him or her. If reference to the relevant primary sources in the textbook or online – the actual words of Hume, Plato, or Kant – will help, you may quote them – sparingly. That is, if something Plato or Hume said in the relevant readings helps you to make clear what you want to say, you may use the philosopher’s words but you must put those words inside quotation marks and cite the page from which they are taken!
2. In answering the critical question I will pose, don’t simply say, “Well, Sober (or Hume or Kant or whoever) has his opinion and I have mine;” justify what you say. Give supporting reasons. My expectations in this area are modest since you are just beginning the philosophical journey, but practice in attaining critical insight into the thought of others is important. And here is where you begin.
4. To repeat, you only need to write one such essay over the course of the semester. The choice of which you write is up to you, meaning that you have flexibility. You will have at least four separate writing opportunities, but my suggestion is that you not let these essays go until the end of the semester when, typically, you have finals and other matters competing for your time and attention.
5. Please write using Standard English. Be as clear as you can. Clarity is a major part of what these exercises are about and besides, I won’t know whether you’ve understood Sober if I can’t understand you. If you cannot write clearly, get help in learning to do so. While I don’t grade on your ability to write English elegantly, know that simply and clearly written work makes a better impression than poorly written work.
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