Phil 89: General Feedback on Paper 1

Info on Rewrites

Your rewrites were originally due on Thu Nov 3, but I’ll extend it until the end of the day (midnight) on Sunday Nov 6.

Be sure you understand my feedback and what the most important things will be for you to address in your rewrites. If anything is unclear, find a way to explore it with me further and understand better what would help. The sign-up sheet for office hours (some in person, some by Zoom at link listed above) is available in the “Wiki” section of the Sakai course site

The rewrites are permitted to be a page or two longer. From reading your papers and from past experience, the most fundamental issues with most of your drafts wouldn’t directly be addressed by your just writing more. But if you do end up needing a bit of extra space to develop the best parts of your paper, you are permitted to take it.

Your rewrites should try to go beyond specific errors and problems I indicate. If you got below an A-, then your draft had some general shortcomings that could be improved throughout: perhaps it was difficult to see what your argument and the structure of your paper were supposed to be? Or perhaps you didn’t push back against some of the positions you discussed as much as you might? The scores you got for different categories explained in my grading rubric (link above) should help guide you here. The best way to address general shortcomings like these is to rewrite your paper from scratch. Start with a new, empty window in your word processor. Use your draft and the comments you received on it to construct a new outline, and write from that. This will tend to improve the paper a lot more than you’d achieve by just editing various sentences and paragraphs in the draft.

When I grade a rewrite, I may sometimes notice weaknesses in unchanged parts of your paper that I missed the first time around. Or perhaps those weaknesses will have affected my overall impression of the paper, and I just didn’t offer any specific recommendation about fixing them. So this is another reason you should try to improve the whole paper, not just the passages I comment on.

I expect everyone to make a serious effort at improving their paper in the rewrite — even if you’re already satisfied with the grade you got on the first version. Turning in a rewrite showing only minimal efforts to improve may earn you a lower grade instead.

Don’t be discouraged by your grades on these first papers. This is only a small contribution to your final grade for the course. It gives you feedback about the quality of the paper you’ve so far written. But you now have the opportunity to take that feedback and make a much better product. For most of us, it takes practice and feedback to learn how to do this well.

General Comments

I recommend reading through all of these, as it may be that some points apply to your paper though I neglected to explicitly refer you to them. (Especially true for points #1 and #2.)

  1. Write as though your paper is going to be read and evaluated by someone who hasn’t read the texts you’re talking about, and hasn’t read the question prompt either. You have to introduce the questions that the prompt raises; you have to tell us what the story about Alicia or Bennie are; and so on.

  2. Think carefully about when you say that someone “says/asserts” something versus “argues” for it, or you use other verbs like “objects.” Asserting is just saying, perhaps without giving an argument. To argue for something, you have to give an argument: that is, a collection of reasons that supports the conclusion of your argument. Sometimes this will be in the form of general principles; other times it will be in the form of a particular thought-experiment or counter-example to something their opponents say. But if there’s nothing you can call someone’s argument, then don’t say they’ve argued; they’ve merely asserted. You can say they’ve “objected” if they’re denying something somebody else has argued. You can say they’ve “proposed” something if they’ve offered it as an idea to try out. And so on. Try to pay attention to what these different verbs mean, and be careful about which of them you use. Think about whether it really does fit the situation you’re talking about.

  3. You don’t need to choose a particular side in your paper. It’s OK if you talk about some competing answers or proposals. But you should be argumentatively engaging with the views you describe. This could take the form of pushing back against one of the views to some extent about something they say. Or it could take the form of critically assessing at the end that one side seems to have certain advantages, at least if you believe such-and-such; it may be that the other side has other advantages. All of this is useful philosophical work. It’s not enough to just describe some competing answers to a question.

  4. Many of you mixed up necessary conditions and sufficient conditions. For example, you may say you’ll argue that having memories of X’s past are not needed/necessary to be the same person as X. But then what you actually go on to argue is that having those memories would not be enough (is not sufficient) for being X.

  5. By this point in the course, I also expect you to have mastered the difference between numerical identity and qualitative identity. Just because A and B are perfectly similar/qualitatively identical in some respects (or even in all respects), need not make them one and the same person (numerically identical). It might be instead that they are something like photocopies of each other. Also, talk of being “exactly” or “fully” the same, versus being “partly different,” only clearly makes sense for qualitative identity.

  6. Most views allow an object to remain numerically identical to itself while changing some qualities over time. We discussed in class and lecture notes how this can be reconciled with “Leibniz’s Law.”

  7. It’s important not to confuse epistemological questions (how can we know/tell whether it’s the same person?) with metaphysical questions, that is questions about the nature of someone’s identity (what facts would make them be the same person). We saw in the Perry dialogue that sometimes these can be connected: you might argue against some answer to the metaphysical question because it forces us to give an implausible answer to the epistemological question. But still you should write in a way that keeps clear that these are different questions.

  8. Some factor being important to the definition of something is not the same as that factor being important in the sense of being valuable. Being fit might be very valuable to an athlete, but not part of what defines them as being the person they are: that is, they could be a person who once wasn’t fit, but then became fit, and then later will cease being fit. Numerically the same person throughout. Being fit may be part of what defines the kind of person they identify with, or how they now understand their role in the world. But those are not the same as being the particular individual they are. In particular cases, there could be arguments that some factor is both important to the definition of something and valuable; and its being valuable may be connected in some way to its being important to the definition. But (as with general point 7 above), you should write in a way that keeps clear that being important to a definition is a different question/not the same issue as being valuable.

  9. Dualists have choices about what theory of personal identity to adopt. They may say you are identical to your soul. Or they may say you are identical to a combination of your soul and your body. Or they may say your soul is an inessential part of you; instead you are just identical to your body, or you are identical to a Lockean sequence of mental states that just happen to take place in a particular soul and body. Don’t equate “dualist” with any one particular of these theories about personal identity. (See also general comment 2 in my feedback on brief writing exercise 3.)

  10. Materialists also have choices about what theory of personal identity to adopt. They don’t have to say you are identical to your body. They could accept any of the views of personal identity we discussed, excepting Proposal #1, which required the existence of souls.

  11. [For prompt 3 on Bennie] Locke doesn’t discuss false memories much. (He relies on assumptions about God to assure himself they won’t be prevalent.) But is Locke’s theory incapable of accounting for the possibility of false memories, that is, you seeming to remember some event from someone’s life, without you thereby being identical to the person (if any) whose life those apparent memories really match?

  12. [For prompt 4 on Alicia] Call the person in Alicia’s body after the accident new-Alicia, the one before the accident old-Alicia. (These labels are intended to be neutral about whether new-Alicia is still the same person as old-Alicia.) The question about whether new-Alicia is responsible for promises made by old-Alicia is not supposed to be about how we could tell/prove that the promises were made. Suppose in every case there is convincing proof (video records, written contracts, testimony from reliable witnesses, and so on) that old-Alicia made the promise. On your view, is new-Alicia obligated to keep that promise? A simple answer would say yes she is if she is the same person as old-Alicia, no if she’s a new person. But more complicated answers are also possible. You could argue that she is the same person but doesn’t have to keep the promise because… (By contrast, ordinary people are usually considered to be obligated to keep promises they don’t remember making, so long as it’s demonstrable that they did in fact make the promise.) Or you could argue she’s a new and different person, but she still has special responsibility for things that old-Alicia did, like the promises she made. More so than other people like Alicia’s family and friends do.