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A paper of roughly eight pages (word-processed, double-spaced) will be adequate, but anything up to ten pages is fine.  The choice of philosophical topic is yours.  However, you are required to write on some text within the Rosen/Byrne/Cohen/Harman/

Shriffrin anthology (henceforth RBCHS) that we did not read as a class (which means that there is much to choose from).  You might choose to compare the discussion in the work that you choose with a similar discussion in some text that was read by the class over the course of the semester. 


Suggested articles that you might respond to in your paper


  1. Epistemology
    1. George Bishop Berkeley (pronounced BARK-lee) (1685–1753) is associated with so-called Berkeleyan idealism, the perhaps surprising doctrine according to which ideas in the mind (appearances or sensations) exhaust existence—that is, nothing but these ideas exist, in particular, physical objects do not. See selections from his Dialogues between Hylas and Phylonous in Rosen et al. 417–428.
    2. A view perhaps similar to that of Berkeley is presented by Buddhist monk Vasubandhu (c. 450 C.E.). See Rosen et al. 430–439, where claims, grounds, and argument are marshalled somewhat in the manner of Toulmin. 
    3. Nick Bostrom, “Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?”, Rosen et al. 443–451. This celebrated Swedish philosopher argues for a disjunctive claim: briefly, either (1) the vast majority of advanced human-like civilizations never become all that advanced, either technologically or inquisitively, or (2) it is all but certain that you are presently “living” in a computer simulation (a virtual reality) designed by some AI team belonging to such a civilization.  (If (2) holds, then you are not in fact living, it seems.)
  2. Metaphysics
    1. Susan Wolf, “Sanity and the Metaphysics of Responsibility”, RBCHS 445–656
    2. Nomy Arpaly, “Why Moral Ignorance Is No Excuse”, RBCHS 658–653
  3. Moral Philosophy
    1. Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”, RBCHS 678–684
    2. Onora O’Neill, “The Moral Perplexities of Famine and World Hunger”, RBCHS 685–695
    3. Judith Jarvis Thomson’s paper “A Defense of Abortion”, RBCHS 696–704
    4. Elizabeth Harman, “The Moral Significance of Animal Pain and Animal Death,” RBCHS 714–721
    5. Cora Diamond, “Eating Meat and Eating People”, RBCHS 723–729
  4. Philosophy of Religion
    1. Robert White, “The Argument from Cosmological Fine-Tuning”, RBCHS 29–35
    2. Alvin Plantinga, “When Is Faith Rational?”, RBCHS 107–117

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  1. Political Philosophy
    1. Harry Frankfurt, “Equality As a Moral Ideal”, RBCHS 1136–1143
    2. Martha Nussbaum, “Political Equality”, RBCHS 1146–1154
  2. Any of the articles in the section entitled “What Is the Meaning of Life”, RBCHS 973–1020
  3. The articles listed on page xix in Rosen et al. were written specially for this anthology and are hence likely to be most understandable. We read that of Hursthouse, which is hence not permissible as the topic of the paper.  However, this leaves many others.
  4. Students wishing to write on non-Western philosophy may write on any one of the papers of Baruch’s Professor H. Sarkissian, whose specialty is philosophy in the Buddhist and Confucian traditions. The instructor’s especially recommends his “Minor Tweaks, Major Payoffs: The Problems and Promise of Situationism in Moral Philosophy,” Philosopher’s Imprint 10(9) 1–15 (available on-line), which concerns Confucian ethics.


Suggestions for writing a good paper


  1. You should not include any biographical information concerning the author(s) of the reading(s) that you choose to write about unless this is of intrinsic philosophical interest. Submissions whose first pages comprise such information will be graded accordingly.
  2. There must be ample evidence that you yourself have read the reading(s) you have chosen. If your paper consists of little more than biographical information and general philosophical remarks, from Internet sources, that are not keyed to passages within the chosen readings, then your grade for the paper will suffer.
  3. On your first read-through of the selection you have chosen, you might have in mind the following questions:
    • At whom is the author’s article directed? Whose is the author’s intended audience?  Typically, that audience will turn out to be other philosophers or students of philosophers?  Does the author seem to have in mind philosophers inclined to a certain philosophical doctrine?  Or are the author’s words merely directed at those who have asked themselves certain philosophical questions without having arrived at any particular conclusions?  (Write up answers to these questions; they might serve as the basis for a first draft.)
    • What is the author’s topic? To what area of philosophy does that topic belong?
    • What is the author’s claim with respect to his chosen topic? Does the author present an argument for his claim?  What are the grounds for the claim?  Is the author’s argument convincing?  If not, can you see a way to improve the author’s argument so as to make it more convincing?  In general, you might try to apply Toulmin’s Six-Point Method of Argument Analysis here, identifying in writing how each of Toulmin’s six points is applicable.  For example, are there philosophical objections that the author is recognizing in advance and attempting to rebut?
    • Does your author’s introduce technical terms? If so, give some example of such terms and of how the author uses them.
    • Does your author rest his case on certain distinctions? If so, can you make sense of those distinctions?  This is especially important in the case of ancient writers, who frequently make distinctions that may make little sense on the face of it.  Can you provide a sympathetic interpretation that enables you to make sense of these distinctions?
  4. You may also find the “Notes and Questions” at the end of each selection helpful. Indeed, one or two of the questions raised there may provide the germ of your paper.
  5. There should be a bibliography, which might include just our course anthology. Citations should be minimal.  If all your citations are to our course anthology, those after the first one should be abbreviated—just a page number should suffice.
  6. Lastly, the most important determiner of your grade will be the instructor’s sense of the extent to which you yourself became engaged with the reading(s) you chose. In the past, a few students have chosen to write in the first person, perhaps on the model of a journal entry.  This is nonstandard for philosophy papers, where one tends to avoid the pronouns “I” and “me”.   However, the most important criterion for the instructor will be engagement.  If structuring your paper as a sort of journal entry helps you to achieve such engagement, then feel free to do so.
  7. Evidence of engagement takes many forms. Failing to proof-read your paper and/or ignoring your spelling checker are not ways  to convince the instructor that this project was meaningful to you.  You might find the introductory entries “A Brief Guide to Logic and Argumentation” and “Some Guidelines for Writing Philosophy Papers” in RBCHS to be helpful


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