First Paper

Choose one of the following topics:
  1. We discussed two broad strategies for defining what life is. One tries to define life in terms of some characteristic process or activity that all and only living things engage in. The other strategy tries to define life in terms of some unique ingredient that all and only living things possess (for example, "vital fluid" or DNA). Feldman objects against the second strategy that a dead whale might contain the ingredient by containing the living Jonah, without thereby being alive. He thinks this kind of objection threatens any ingredient-based definition of life. It seems to show that what's important is the role an ingredient plays in "animating", or making the living thing engage in certain processes, not the details of what the ingredient is.

    Is he right? Formulate a good response on behalf of those who want to define life in terms of ingredients instead of processes. (If your sympathies are with Feldman, you can tell us why you think the response will ultimately fail. But before that you must sketch a good response on behalf of Feldman's opponent.)

    Keep in mind that the project you're engaged in is to define what we all already mean by life, not to identify a good scientific test for life, nor to redefine the word "life" in an arbitrary, stipulative way.

  2. When we were discussing Leibniz's Law and its use in arguments for dualism, we said that it's OK to use Leibniz's Law with properties like "is flying," as in:
    1. Superman is flying outside the window.
    2. Jimmy Olson is not flying outside the window, he's standing beside me.
    3. So Superman is not the same person as Jimmy Olson.
    But Leibniz's Law doesn't seem to work anymore when we're dealing with properties that have to do with what one believes, or has evidence for believing, or doubts, or hopes to be the case, and so on. For instance, this is not a good argument:
    1. I am afraid of Superman.
    2. I am not afraid of this reporter.
    3. So Superman is not the same person as this reporter.
    Keeping those points in mind, is there any good argument (or arguments) using Leibniz's Law to show that our minds are not the same thing as our brains or bodies? (Students who choose this essay topic must make a case for the "yes" answer.) What are those arguments? Explain why you think it's OK to use Leibniz's Law with the properties those arguments appeal to.
  3. One materialist criticism of dualism is that the dualist cannot give a satisfactory account of how the physical and the mental causally interact. What are the materialist's reasons for thinking that the dualist cannot give a satisfactory account of this? In your view, does the dualist have any effective replies? (We will be discussing this issue in class; it's also addressed on pp. 152-154 of the van Inwagen reading.)

Right now, we're trying to teach you how to write good philosophical prose. This is very different from the sorts of writing you've done before this class. Because our primary aim is to teach you how to write philosophy, it is not essential that your papers be totally original. It is OK if you wish to present some of the same arguments that were discussed in class or section. But your papers do need to contain some argument. Read the Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper, before you begin writing.

A bad strategy students sometimes employ is to write like this: "Theory T has to answer this question this way, and I believe theory T." That's not yet an argument. You need to offer reasons in support of theory T, or against competing theories.

Your papers should be 700-1000 words (2-3 double-spaced pages). Do not try to write everything you know about any of these topics. Rather, aim to answer the specific questions asked above. 1000 words is not much space, so you will have to ask yourself: What are the most important things to say? What can you leave out?

All papers are due by 11 PM on Monday Oct 23. Our policy for late papers is available on the web.

We will grade these papers, and give you comments on what their problems are and how they might be improved. You will then have the chance to rewrite the papers. These rewrites will also be graded.