Phil 89: 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).

You should submit a draft of your paper as a PDF using the course Sakai system by the end of the day (11:59 pm) on Thursday Nov 17. I won’t read these drafts, but you will be reading and giving each other feedback on the drafts. We’re still working out the details of who will be giving feedback to who else; but expect to be giving feedback to two or three of your fellow students. Your feedback should be submitted by end of the day on the following Tuesday Nov 22 (just before Thanksgiving).

Please pay attention to these directions. For the most recent papers (revised versions of first paper), five of you did something different than I asked:

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 I’ve suggested before, it can help to read your papers out loud. If your words sound unnaturally 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.

As with any philosophical writing, your papers must present some reasons for or against something. And 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 definitely should be addressing one of the question prompts, and you should make it explicit at the top of the first page which one it is. But write as though your reader hasn’t read the question prompts. You should explain to them what issues you are addressing and what answers you are arguing for.

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?

Here are more guidelines about philosophical writing.

Here is the grading rubric I’ll use when assessing the final versions of your papers. Neither the drafts nor your feedback will be graded. But submitting your contributions on time will be part of the collaboration expectations of the course. And it’s in your best interest to submit as fully-developed a draft as you can to get feedback on.

I won’t be reading and giving feedback on these drafts myself, but I will be glad to discuss your ideas and overall paper structure with you in office hours. Your final versions of these papers will be due on Fri Dec 2 at noon, which is our scheduled exam period. (We won’t meet for a final exam, but we will instead have a review/discussion meeting at that time on Zoom.)

As before, you are welcome to share ideas and drafts with each other at any stage: before or after you give each other written feedback. 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. It’s not necessary to explicitly acknowledge every improvement that another student’s feedback helped you to make. But if someone gave you an important idea, you should say so. Or if their suggestions substantially helped you refine your arguments, you might acknowledge that in a single note, rather than citing them repeatedly every few lines.

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.

If you want to meet with each other and give feedback in person, that’s fine with me and you may find it more helpful than written feedback. In that case, submit to Sakai a note saying that you met to give X feedback in person, with a bullet-point summary of the main suggestions you offered. In this case, I won’t expect the summaries to be as fully-spelled out. If you’re only submitting written feedback, on the other hand, please imagine yourself in the shoes of the recipient and try to spell out your advice in enough specific detail that they’ll be able to make good use of it. Try also to be kind and supportive; at the same time, the more relaxed standards you apply to their draft, the less benefit they’ll probably get from your suggestions. So you want to still be critical. Without being mean.

Topics (Choose and Respond to Just One)

  1. In one of our Parfit readings, he presents a case where a nineteenth-century Russian is going to inherit large estates. Because he has strong socialist ideals, he makes legal arrangements to give the land away to the peasants when he inherits it. These arrangements can be revoked only if his wife agrees. He obtains a promise from her never to agree to cancel the inheritance being given away, even if he abandons his socialist ideals and wants to keep the inheritance when he gets older. Now that the man is older and about to receive the inheritance, he finds he does want to keep it, and he begs his wife to agree to revoke the legal arrangements. She feels conflicted. She promised his “earlier self” to refuse. He declares that he now releases her from that promise; but she’s not sure if he’s able to do that. Perhaps his change of ideals makes him no longer the same person (at least in respects important to this decision) as the young man she fell in love with, and to whom she gave the promise. In a situation like this, there’s not going to be any solution that’s happy-all-around. Maybe it’s unfortunate that the man’s ideals changed; or maybe this reflects a more healthy realism. We haven’t considered the wife’s (or your) own political and economic opinions. Whatever the wife decides, she’ll have to live with the consequences. Don’t try to sort those issues out. They’ll distract from the most direct and interesting relation this case has to our course. Instead, address the question: In this situation, does the promise the wife made to her young husband still give her a reason to withhold her agreement to keep the inheritance? (Perhaps she also has other reasons to agree, which may or may not be weightier; we’re not trying to settle that.) If she gave her agreement, would it be appropriate to feel guilty for breaking the promise? Or has her husband’s changed attitudes, and declaration that he releases her from the promise, nullified the earlier commitment she made? What assumptions about the husband’s “changed identity” do your answers rely on?

  2. Suppose we tell you that in the far future, your body will still be alive, but the person inhabiting it will have (gradually) changed so much that they’ll 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, by then the person’s personality will have (gradually) changed so much that the future person will have little in common with your present self. Do you think you could survive changes of this sort; that the future person we’re talking about could still be you? Do you now have special reasons to care about what happens to this future person, a reason you don’t have with regard to your children, friends, neighbors? Defend your answers.

  3. You learn that you have cancer, and perhaps only a year left to live. You start thinking about what you could do in that year, to live it to its fullest. Still, the thought of dying so soon terrifies you. You ask your doctor isn’t there any hope at all? She says there’s no hope of eradicating the disease: the cancer is by now well-established in your body and started invading the left hemisphere of your brain. “But,” she adds, “it might be possible for you to survive this. We have a brain hemisphere transplant program that has a strong success rate. Since the two hemispheres of your brain are unusually similar, most of your memories, skills, interests, personality, and character will survive if we transplant the right hemisphere of your brain into a new cancer-free body. And this procedure has another advantage. For your kind of cancer, once the right hemisphere is out of the way, we’d be able to aggressively treat the left hemisphere, and most likely cure it to the point that it could also be transplanted into another healthy body. While we couldn’t reunite the two hemispheres, we could give them each a good chance to continue life in fresh bodies. But you don’t need to decide to do that. We could also just let the left hemisphere expire, with the rest of your current body. But that would be a shame; after all, with this procedure, you could beat the cancer twice! All we’d need are suitable body donors: people who have terminal brain damage but otherwise healthy bodies. And as it turns out, you’re lucky! There are two candidate bodies available for you in the hospital right now.” She says you don’t have to decide right away; you can take until tomorrow to give your decision. What should you do? Give the best arguments for each option, and explain which option looks most reasonable.

  4. 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.