Phil 101: Second Substantial Paper

Choose one of the four prompts below and write a 3–5 page paper in response (typically between 1000 and 2000 words).

Unless/until you hear otherwise from your TAs, submit your papers to them as PDFs using the course Sakai system by the end of the day (11:59 pm) on Tuesday Apr 19.

As before: Your papers should be prepared for anonymous grading. Name the file using your PID#, and inside the paper also put your PID# at the top. Don’t include your name inside the paper. The start of your paper should also include the UNC Honor Pledge: “I certify that no unauthorized assistance has been received or given in the completion of this work.” (What assistance counts as authorized will be addressed below.)

All the advice from the last assignment applies even more so this time. Try to write as clearly, straightforwadly, and accessibly as you can. As we’ve suggested to you, it can help to read your papers out loud. If your words sound unnaturaly complicated or formal as spoken discourse, or it’d be hard for an audience to keep track of what you’re saying, that’s a good sign that you could probably find a simpler way to express yourself.

You need to explain any special vocabulary you’re using, even if it was introduced and explained in class. Your readers need to know precisely what you mean by those terms. Write as though your audience has never encountered the vocabulary before.

Also write as though your reader doesn’t know what the question prompts are, or which one you’re addressing. But you definitely should be addressing one of the prompts, and you should make it clear early in the paper which one.

To write a good paper, you’ll need develop a clear plan or outline for how you want your paper to go. (You might only figure this out in the process of writing; that’s okay. But by the end you should know what your paper’s plan is.) You’ll also need to write several drafts. As before, you are welcome to share ideas and drafts with each other before submitting them. Just be sure the final product represents your own developed thoughts and expression, and you give others credit for how they substantially helped you achieve that. In other words, if someone gave you an idea, or helped you substantially to refine your own ideas, you should say so.

Here is more information about the university honor code; see also Papers submitted for this and another class (whether taken the same semester or not) must be substantially different.

As with any philosophical writing, your papers must present some reasons for or against something.

It was possible to do a fair job with the first papers without going too far beyond the lectures and readings. These questions ask you to do some more independent thinking.

Here are more guidelines about philosophical writing.

Here is the grading rubric we’ll use when assessing your papers.

Information about extensions and missed deadlines is on the course’s front webpage.

Read the topics carefully and be sure to answer the specific questions asked. Don’t try to write everything you know or think up about the topic. 1000-2000 words is not much space, so you will have to budget. What are the most important things to say? What can you leave out?

Topics (Choose and Respond to Just One)

  1. Is the character played by Hugh Jackman at the end of the movie The Prestige the same person as Angier, the person he played at the beginning of the movie — who saw his own wife drown, shot off Borden’s fingers, and so on? If your answer depends on how you’re understanding the teletransporter to work, be sure to explain why. What theory of personal identity are you basing your answer on? Explain what are the most challenging objections raised to that theory in our readings and/or lectures, and how you think those objections are best addressed.

  2. As discussed in our lecture notes, philosophers use “essential” to refer to properties it’s impossible for a thing to exist without. So if some change involves those properties being lost, it must also involve that particular thing ceasing to exist. Such properties need not be the same as the thing’s most interesting or valuable properties. Philosophers dispute which properties are essential to being the particular thing that you are. Consider three kinds of properties: (a) the ability to think and reason, (b) the ability to have experiences and certain memories, (c) having the particular physical brain that you do. Choose one or two of these groups of properties and make a case that they have a better claim to be essential to your existence than the others. You may draw from earlier parts of the course, as well as from our discussion of personal identity.

  3. I said that with the Ship of Theseus, some people think there’s no deep fact about which ship is really the original ship; it’s just a question of how we decide to talk, whether we want our concept of “same ship” to include the one ship, or the other, or neither. But with questions of personal identity, it’s less comfortable to take the same stance. Here we’re tempted to think there are real facts about whether I will still exist after some hypothetical process takes place. Defend the claim that these cases should not be treated differently: that is, either argue that we should take there to be “real facts” in both cases, or argue that we should say it’s just a question of what concepts we want to have, and how we decide to talk, in both cases.

  4. Near the end of the First Night in the Perry Dialogue, Gretchen Weirob asks, “Consider these possibilities. One is that a single soul, one and the same, has been with this body I call mine since it was born. The other is that one soul was associated with it until five year ago and then another, psychologically similar, inheriting all the old memories and beliefs, took over… What evidence do I have that the ‘single soul hypothesis’ is true, and not one of the others?” At that point in the dialogue, Sam Miller gives up: “I admit I have no answer.” Are there any better replies that a soul theorist about personal identity could give to Weirob’s question?