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Introduction to Philosophy First Essay
This assignment exercises and assesses your ability to think critically about a philosophical issue or idea, and to clearly express your thoughts about it in writing. Your ultimate task is to present a compelling case for your own position on the issue. Prior to that, you want to thoroughly explain and examine the author’s position on the issue. The assignment allows some latitude in the way you respond to the passage that you write about, though it is imperative that you address the central issue or claim of the passage, and it is imperative that your essay be philosophical in nature. The author of an outstanding essay will do all of the following (but also not treat these as a laundry list):
▪ clearly identify the passage you choose at the start of your essay.
▪ identify the central issue that the passage concerns (an issue can almost always
be stated with the word ‘whether’ (e.g., “…whether ritual is critical to moral
development.”) or as a question (e.g. Is ritual critical to moral development?)
▪ identify the author’s position on the issue (yes/no)
▪ explain the meaning of the passage in the context of our larger study (pretend
that the reader is intelligent, but unfamiliar with this text), and explain the author’s
reasons for holding the position that he/she does.
▪ discuss the specific meaning of any of the key terms or concepts, especially if the
way you define or apply the term is important to developing your later perspective
on the issue
▪ question any assumptions that the passage seems to be making: are they
reasonable?
▪ agree or disagree absolutely with the claim, or agree with some parts and not
others (point out, if relevant, why the claim is “valid” in some situations but not in
others)
▪ develop your own position on the issue with reasons that support your overall
perspective
▪ if applicable, give examples, either real or hypothetical, that illustrate your
reasons and advance your point of view
▪ Consider the perspective of others who might not agree with your position or
reasoning. What reasons might someone use to refute or undermine my position? How should I acknowledge or defend against those views in my essay?
▪ proofread the essay (or have someone else proofread it) to check for spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, and poorly constructed sentences and paragraphs
Your essay should be 1000 to 1500 words. (3 to 5 pages in standard formatting, but use the “word count” tool in your word processor to check.)
NOTE: Your essay should contain your own thoughts and reasoning, in your own words. The essay should not require any research, but of course, you are free to do some. If you do wish to incorporate another writer’s words or ideas, you must fully document what you incorporate with a footnote, endnote, or parenthetical reference. In this case, full bibliographical details should also appear at the end of the paper. Any college-level writing manual will provide guidelines and examples of these.
Choose one of the following passages to write about: (make certain that you discuss one of these passages, and not merely a passage or issue related to one of these)
(1) “Yet evidently, as we said, it (happiness) needs the external goods as well; for it is impossible, or not easy, to do noble acts without the proper equipment. In many actions we use friends and riches and political power as instruments; and there are some things the lack of which takes the luster from happiness, as good birth, goodly children, beauty; for the man who is very ugly in appearance or ill- born or solitary and childless is not very likely to be happy, and perhaps a man would be still less likely if he had thoroughly bad children or friends or had lost good children or friends by death.” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, Section 8)
(2) With regard to whatever objects give you delight, are useful, or are deeply loved, remember to tell yourself of what general nature they are, beginning from the most insignificant things. If, for example, you are fond of a specific ceramic cup, remind yourself that it is only ceramic cups in general of which you are fond. Then, if it breaks, you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your child, or your wife, say that you only kiss things which are human, and thus you will not be disturbed if either of them dies. (Epictetus, Encheiridion, Chapter 3)
(3) “As a mark is not set up for the sake of missing the aim, so neither does the nature of evil exist in the world.” (Epictetus, Encheiridion, Chapter 27)
(4) “Everything has two handles, the one by which it may be carried, the other by which it cannot. If your brother acts unjustly, don’t lay hold on the action by the handle of his injustice, for by that it cannot be carried; but by the opposite, that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you; and thus you will lay hold on it, as it is to be carried.” (Epictetus, Encheiridion, Chapter 43)
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