University of Pittsburgh, Fall Term 1997
Philosophy 0080: Introduction to Philosophical Problems
Tuesday/Thursday writing recitations
Ben Eggleston, recitation instructor
Write an essay of 3–5 pages on one of the following two topics. Your essay should make ample use of the relevant texts, not only representing authors’ views accurately, but also citing and interpreting specific passages where appropriate. It should also go into as much depth and detail as an essay of 3–5 pages can. Finally, your essay should conform to the instructions provided in “Guidelines for Writing a Philosophy Essay.” The rough draft of your essay will be due at the beginning of your recitation section on Thursday, October 9; and the final draft will be due at the beginning of your recitation section on Tuesday, October 21.
1. Descartes writes that “Surely great things are to be hoped for if I am lucky enough to find at least one thing that is certain and indubitable” (First Meditation). In order to find some point of absolute certainty on which he can then build a substantial body of knowledge, Descartes employs the method of radical doubt, in which everything is doubted so that nothing is taken for granted. This leads him to the conclusion (commonsensical to us today, but revolutionary in Descartes’s time) that what makes a person a person is the person’s mind—so that however permanently one might be associated with a particular body, one’s body is not really part of one’s identity. Critically examine the reasoning that Descartes uses to prove this point by writing a paper that answers the following questions in an organized and coherent way:
2. A crucial passage in Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy is his story about the wax (Second Meditation). Indeed the point that Descartes is trying to prove in the passage about the wax is one of the main points of the book itself, and distinguishes Descartes as the sort of philosopher known as a rationalist. Argue for or against the point of the passage about the wax by answering the following questions in an organized and coherent way: