Second Paper

Choose one of the following topics:
  1. In "A Conversation with Einstein's Brain," the Tortoise describes a process by which you can use the Einstein-book to carry on a "conversation." Defend the claim that this process doesn't merely create a simulation of an intelligent, thinking being; instead, it generates a intelligent, thinking being, in the way that turning the handle on a hand-cranked record player generates music. You may want to formulate and respond to objections to the view you're defending, like the ones Searle makes against the view that anyone in "The Chinese Room" understands Chinese.
  2. In one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the crew discovers that Will Riker had several years before unknowingly been in a teletransporter accident. The result was that a duplicate version of him was left behind on an abandoned planet. They rescue the duplicate, and complications ensue. Neither the current-day Will Riker nor his double has a better claim to be the same person as the "original" Riker. When "fission" accidents like that occur, we can't say that either of the people who step out of the teletransporter are numerically identical to the person who stepped in. Ordinarily, though, the characters on Star Trek seem quite happy to use the teletransporter. So they must think that in the ordinary case, when no accidents occur, the person who will step out of the teletransporter is the same person as them. (Or perhaps they don't really care whether the person who will step out is the same person.)

    Would you use a teletransporter? Does it matter how the teletransporter works? Make a case that in the circumstances you described, you would (or wouldn't) survive. If you think you would survive, how would you persuade someone who was afraid to use it, because they thought that the person who steps out would be a different person, no matter how qualitatively similar they were? If you think you wouldn't survive, what would you say to persuade someone who thinks we do survive teletransportation, in fact she "remembers" (or at least, seems to remember) using one many times in the past.

  3. Suppose we tell you that in the far future, you will remember nothing of your present life. (Just as the guy in the movie Memento can't remember what happened to him 15 minutes ago.) In addition, we tell you that by then, your personality will be very different, so that you have virtually nothing in common with your present self. Do you think you could survive changes of this sort, that is, that the future person we're talking about could still be you? Would you have any special reason to care about what happened to this future person (a reason you do not have with regard to your friends and children)? Defend your answers.

Email your papers to your TA. These papers are due by 11 PM on Wednesday Dec 6. Our policy for late papers is available on the web.

Your papers should be around 1500-2000 words (4-6 double-spaced pages).

As before, read the topics carefully and be sure to answer the specific questions asked. Write as clearly and straightforwardly as possible. Don't use any technical vocabulary without explaining it or giving an illustration of what it means. (You need to explain the technical vocabulary you're using even if it was introduced and explained in class. Philosophers often attach subtly different meanings to their technical words, so it's important that your reader knows precisely what you mean by those words.)

You may profit from going back and re-reading the Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper, on the course web site. There's probably a lot of advice there which you're now in a better position to appreciate.

It should now be clear to you that, to write a good philosophy paper, you must develop a clear plan or outline for how you want your paper to go. And you must write several drafts. We encourage you to come talk to us about your ideas. We also want you to talk to each other, and to show your drafts to each other for feedback. (Note that if someone helps you substantially to refine your ideas, or gives you a new idea, you should give them credit for doing so.)

If you'd prefer to write on a topic other than the ones listed here, then you may do this: Write up the questions that you'd like to answer, in the kind of format used above. Submit them to us for approval by 11 PM on Sunday Nov 26. If your questions are of reasonable scope, philosophically engage with the materials we've discussed, and look like they'll generate a promising paper, then we'll approve them. If we don't approve them, you'll need to answer one of the topics above, instead.