First Paper

Choose one of the following topics:
  1. What does it mean to say that the physical world is "causally closed"? What bearing does the claim that the physical world is causally closed have on the dualism/materialism debate? If dualism were true, would the predictions of physics about how our bodies will move have to be incorrect somewhere?

  2. Suppose there were a computer programmed in such a way that it could pass the Turing Test, for almost all human judges. Would this give us good reason to say that the computer was intelligent? Why or why not? Suppose, next, that the computer were programmed in such a way that it perfectly duplicated the causal relations between inputs, outputs, and internal states in your brain. Would this be a better reason to say that the computer was intelligent? Why or why not? (When answering these questions, you should explain how you are understanding the notion of "intelligence," and what you take to be necessary conditions for being intelligent.)

  3. If you accept the Identity Theory, are you forced to say that a scientist with detailed neurophysiological information about your brain might be better placed than you are to know whether you're in a given mental state? If not, why not? If so, is that a problem for Identity Theory? Is it possible for someone else to know better than you what beliefs and desires and experiences you have right now? Or do you have some kind of privileged access to your own mental states? Defend your answers.

  4. [Hard] Summarize in a clear and concise way Putnam's criticisms of behaviorism, in his article "Brains and Behavior." Then take on the role of a behaviorist, if only for the sake of argument, and defend behaviorism against Putnam's criticisms. (Warning: explaining Putnam's criticisms, and engaging with them critically, will be difficult. So don't attempt this question unless you hve taken many other philosophy classes.)

Papers are due at the start of class on Wednesday, March 6. Please double-space your papers and use wide margins. Our policy for late papers is available on the web.

Your papers should be about 1500-1800 words (5-6 standard pages).

Read the Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper, before you begin writing.

We intend for these first papers to be relatively short and modest. It is really difficult to write a good philosophy paper, so we're going to start small. We will grade these papers, and give you lots of comments about what their problems are and how they might be improved. You will then rewrite the papers, and your rewrites will also be graded.

You should not try to write everything you know, or every thought you have, about any of these topics. Rather, you should aim to answer the specific questions asked above. Five or six pages is not much space, and we want you to stay roughly within those limits. So you will have to ask yourself: What are the most important things to say? What can you leave out? We want you to concentrate on what's central to the question you're discussing, and to leave peripheral issues out of your discussion.

As we explain in the Guidelines, if you want 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 talk to each other, and even to show your drafts to each other for feedback. We also encourage you to come talk to us about your ideas. Because there are so many of you, we won't be able to read your drafts. But we'll be happy to talk to you about the ideas you want to defend, and also about your thoughts about how you're going to organize your papers.

Our Upcoming Office Hours (sign up sheets will be on Prof. Pryor's door, Emerson 314)

  • Prof. Pryor: today (Wed 2/20) from 3-5, Wed 2/27 from 11-1, and Fri 3/1 from 2:30-4:30, all in Emerson 314
  • Anthony: Tues 2/26 from 2-3, Thur 2/28 from 12-2, all in Emerson 003
  • Asta: Wed 2/27 from 2-3, Thur 2/28 from 2-3, all in Emerson 003

After that, we'll have regular office hours each week, as follows:

  • Prof. Pryor: Wednesdays 11-1, or immediately after classes (note this is a new time), in Emerson 314
  • Anthony: Tuesdays 2-3, in Emerson 003
  • Asta: Thursdays 2-3, in Emerson 003

You should try to 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.)


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